Mack, Alfonso to share course one last time

Ray Maloney, Sports
Devils Lake High School cross country standouts Travis Mack, left, and Owen Alfonso are both looking for Top 20 finishes Saturday as they lead the Firebirds into the 2009 North Dakota state cross country championship meet in Valley City. The pair both earned All-EDC honors at the conference meet in Grand Forks.

For a span of about 16 or 17 minutes on Saturday a pair of Devils Lake High School harriers will be focused on fulfilling goals etched out during countless miles of running during hot summer days that right now seem to be a distant memory.

Travis Mack and Owen Alfonso are both expected to be among the top finishers at the 2009 North Dakota state cross country championship meet in Valley City. Both are hoping a strong finish will earn them all-state honors as the season comes to a close.

Mack, a senior, and Alfonso,  a junior, are certain to have a sense of nostalgia as they run along the tree-lined course near the Sheyenne River. Saturday’s run will be the final time the close friends will wear their school colors together in a sport both took up as freshmen and who have become great friends and competitors in their three years on the team.

“(Alfonso) has really been important to have as a teammate,” said Mack, who is hoping a strong finish at Saturday’s meet will help him draw the attention of college coaches. “Owen pushes me every day at practice and without him it would be a challenge for me to do as well I have.”

Alfonso said the two standouts are looking forward to their final run as teammates. “We’re both excited,” he said. “We are going in with a mindset that we are going to both run our best races of the year.”

The two have been the top finishers for the Firebirds all season. They even finished 1-2 at the Grafton Invitational earlier this season, with Mack finishing ahead in that race. It was one of two titles for the senior in 2009.

Mack also finished fourth at a meet in East Grand Forks and fifth at the Grand Forks Invitational before finishing ninth at the EDC?meet two weeks ago as a final tuneup for the state meet.

“A top 20 finish at EDC was my goal last year ... and it didn’t happen,” Mack said.

Mack and Alfonso, who finished 17th at the EDC meet, both figure Devils Lake can make some noise at Saturday’s meet.

“If (Alfonso) and I both run smart races, like I believe we can, I think the younger runners can hopefully get something from that and if we can get our 3-4-5 runners to drop their times ... we should be alright,” said Mack, who delivers a speech to the team before each meet and is also the spiritual leader of the squad.

“I think our goal is to finish about 13th or 14th as a team,” Alfonso said. “We got some young runners who have some real talent and have been right on the verge of busting loose all season long. If we want to achieve that team goal we are going to need those runners to each step up a few places.

“Devils Lake has not been known as a powerhouse in cross country,” Alfonso added. “But it would be fun to make it known to people that Devils Lake can be a contender.”

Mack agreed with his teammate in that assessment.

“Hopefully we can surprise some people,” Mack said.

Bismarck High School is the defending Class A boys champion and is expected to repeat this season. The Demons could be pushed by as many as three teams for the team title.

The Class A girls race could come down to as many as five teams, with West Fargo, Fargo Shanley and Fargo South being strong contenders from the EDC, while Bismarck is expected to be the top team from the Western Dakota Association.