The annual Steel Bucket Cup is usually just a warmup meet between Dimond and West to start the cross-country running season.
But on a glorious Tuesday afternoon, things turned quite serious when a charter bus full of fit kids sporting neon yellow jackets with a big letter K on the front showed up ready to run at Valley of the Moon Park.
Trevor Dunbar and the two-time defending Class 4A state champion Kodiak Bears made an appearance here on their week-long Southcentral road trip and, suddenly, changed the 11th annual Steel Bucket Cup into a party for three.
Kodiak won the meet, but the Bears didn’t take home the bucket trophy. That was saved for West, which swept Dimond for the second straight season.
"This definitely made our event bigger," West coach Joe Alward said. "Kodiak is a team people want to come see."
And Dunbar, Alaska’s two-time defending 4A champion is a runner people want to watch. After all, this is his senior year, a season in which he wants to punctuate with another individual state title in October.
If so, Dunbar would become the second boy in Alaska cross-country running history to capture three straight individual state championships. Chris Gilbert of Wasilla won three in a row from 1986-88.
So how good is this fleet of foot who hails from The Rock?
Dunbar runs so well, the 17-year-old hasn’t lost a cross-country race in Alaska since he placed seventh at the state meet his freshman year.
"He always wins," teammate Sam Salus said. "It’ll be hard to break his streak."
Salus, who finished fourth at the state meet last year, has a lot of respect for his speedy teammate. So much he set a goal to finish runner-up behind Dunbar at the state meet.
"Or at least within 20 seconds of Trevor," Salus laughed. "I just want to beat (South’s) Aaron Fletcher this year."
Dunbar’s biggest goal this season — other than winning another state title — is to break a Kodiak Island record that has stood for 16 years.
In 1992, Miguel Gomez, a former two-time state champion for West, once ran the course at Fort Abercrombie in 15 minutes, 24 seconds.
The hilly course in a historical park that hugs the shoreline of the Gulf of Alaska is just shy of five kilometers, Kodiak coach Marcus Dunbar said.
His son has two attempts to break the record: Labor Day Weekend when West visits the island and the weekend before regions when the Bears host Grace Christian.
In the meantime, Kodiak continues its road trip with an appearance at the Skyview Invitational on Saturday at the Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna.
It started with a 13-hour ferry ride from Kodiak to Homer. The Bears race at Bartlett’s meet last weekend and found an opening date in their schedule on Tuesday.
"We just came in as a guest here," Dunbar said. "It’s team bonding before school starts."
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