Alec Klassen has been on hundreds of training runs, but he'll never forget a particular one this summer.
The Parkview cross country runner was training with former teammate Scott Jarvis at Juhan Park when the two were attacked by an owl. Yes, an owl. Klassen has fought off dogs nipping at his heels, but never a wild animal.
"It's just one of those weird things that you get to tell people that they don't understand," Klassen said.
Klassen and Jarvis were OK except for some minor scrapes and continued their run. A little owl scare wasn't going to stop Klassen. After a breakout season last year, the senior is determined to bring a state championship back to Parkview.
"There are a bunch of guys that are going to give my team a tough time to accomplish what we want to do at state," Klassen said.
Parkview was state runner-up to Brookwood last season and hasn't won a state championship since 2006 when it three-peated. Klassen is one of seven Parkview seniors hoping to end the drought for the Panthers, who have eight state titles to their credit.
"I don't want to put pressure on that, but they've got an opportunity," Parkview coach James Tigue said. "This has been our best chance for the last couple of years. The kids know that and they're geared up for it."
Klassen has emerged as one of the Panthers' leaders despite limited cross country experience. A knee injury in eighth-grade forced him to have surgery and miss his freshman cross country season. He made the varsity as a sophomore, but his breakout season was last year.
"As a sophomore he was solid and last year he came in and won our team trial by a lot," Tigue said. "I was thinking either he had a good day or everybody was sandbagging it. His first 5K he ran a huge PR and hasn't looked back."
Klassen ran a time of 16 minutes, 13 seconds to place eighth at the Berry Invitational in that first race. He finished in the top 10 in all six meets last year, including third at county and ninth at state. His state time of 15:58 was part of an unprecedented group of nine runners to finish under 16 minutes at state.
Klassen even shined on the national stage, placing 12th at the Nike Southeast Regional with a PR of 15:44.
But it's those last two meets -- state and Nike Southeast -- that have motivated Klassen this summer. The Panthers finished second to rival Brookwood at state and were six points away from earning a berth to Nike nationals.
"We want to contend for the state title, obviously, but we got snuffed last year with a third-place finish at Nike Southeast," Klassen said. "Both things have kind of been motivating me."
Klassen is very familiar with Parkview's storied tradition. He's seen the top 10 list and knows the legendary names by heart. Some of the Parkview greats include Alex Erickson, Michael Winston, Josh Pinson, Marcelis Lynch, Brian Detweiler and that's just in the last five years. The list could go on. But all those runners had something in common, they helped lead Parkview to state championships. A state title certainly wouldn't define Klassen, but it could cement his legacy with the program.
"I've definitely looked at the history and we all have big shoes to fill. There's expectations from us that you don't see from other schools," Klassen said.
"I definitely want to leave my mark here. I definitely want to be part of a title."