The high school track and field season is already off and running, while outside there is still feet of snow on the ground.
That has not dampened the spirits of the coaches and athletes, however, and early season meets in Anchorage have shown a glimmer of what to expect from local athletes.
With the heavy snowfall this winter, an early concern for coaches was exactly how long it would be before the outside tracks would be clear of snow and other debris. However, some of the area tracks have already been cleared off.
“Our track has been cleared of snow, and we’re running on it now, so it’s great,” Kenai coach Tim Sandahl said. “We were all worried about what was going to happen, so this is great news.”
With Region III competitors Wasilla and Kodiak looking once again like the biggest competition, coaches are preparing to build up their teams with a consistent, balanced roster.
The Big C Relays at the Dome in Anchorage will be held April 13 and 14, and most of the teams in the state will be participating.
“Wasilla girls will be strong, and Kodiak is a perennial contender, because they don’t have soccer, so their team is big,” Sandahl said.
Sandahl returns as the head coach for Kenai Central, and has expressed excitement for the upcoming season.
“I think we’re going to be OK, we don’t have the depth to hang with the Wasilla girls, but we have some solid individuals,” Sandahl said. “We have a little bigger girls team, and we have some young talent, so that might not result in a lot of wins, but it bodes well for the future.”
Sandahl listed Bailey Beeson, AJ Hull, Joe Sandahl, Kiana Harding, Andrew and Nate Mole, and the Theisen twins as athletes that should have good results for Kenai.
“Bailey will do well in the 400 meters and 800, and she’ll probably help us in the relays, with the talent that she is,” he said.
Speaking of Jonah and Jordan Theisen, both of whom are freshmen, Sandahl said they are the young talent the team has, as well as Nate Mole, a sophomore. They are primarily distance runners, partaking in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races.
“Andrew Mole is a senior, and he is kind of leading the charge with the younger guys on the distance side, and they’re all basically equal in their abilities, and they’re on the same workout plan, so I have similar expectations for them,” Sandahl said. “It’s so early, and as freshman, they’ve never run a 3,200 before, so we’ll see where that goes.”
Junior Brad Smithwick will be returning as a discus thrower, Sandahl also said, and he has high expectations for him.
“We’re not in contention for a region title, but I’m excited with who we have, all these athletes have been involved with sports all year long,” Sandahl said. “Bailey leads our practices every day, just taking charge, so it’s nice to have that.”
Soldotna high track coach Pat Nolden is taking over coaching duties from Dave Emery, and admits that after the graduation of a few key seniors last year, this year could be a rebuilding year.
“We have good numbers, not a lot of experience, but we have the numbers with some talent,” Nolden said. “We ought to have a good showing in the borough, and our girls should do good, but our boys side may be lacking a little this year.”
The biggest hole in the roster this year may be that which used to be filled by Colton Schneider, a senior last year. Schneider was the region champion in the 400 meters last spring, and was competitive in a number of other events, including the 200 and high jump.
“We had Colton scoring most of our points last year, and now he’s gone, but hopefully that will mean more kids will be interested in joining the team,” Nolden said.
Nolden said Mariah Ulen should be outstanding in the hurdles and high jump, and Lagi Wong, who is a transfer in from Utah this year, will be in the shot put and discus.
Other athletes to watch for include Hannah Cristiano in the throwing events, Jay Ulen in the jumping events, and the distance relay teams that include Maranda Merkes, Bree Mucha and Melanie Smith.
The Homer high school squad is another school that is looking to rebuild its program.
Head coach Bill Steyer says there are currently about 22 athletes on the team, which is more than last year.
“We have a lot of new kids and younger members, which is very promising for rebuilding the program,” Steyer said. “There are a few athletes returning who are experienced, which will help.”
The biggest loss from last year’s graduation likely will be Ross Kalke, a sprinter who also competed in the shot put, as well as Mitch Wyatt, who finished third in the 300 meter hurdles at the region meet.
“We’re in rebuilding mode, and hopefully we’ll have a new track here soon, too,” Steyer said.
Steyer also mentioned that there are 12 girls on the current roster, up from only five last year, and that list includes sophomore Cassidy Soistman, who last year competed at the state meet in the triple jump. Soistman will also likely continue to be a member on the 800 and 1,600 relay teams.
Tayla Cabana is another sophomore who Steyer is hoping will be strong in multiple events.
“I nominated her to compete in the pentathlon at the Big C Relays in Anchorage,” he said. “She is just an all-around great athlete.”
Steyer said the upcoming track, when built, will help, but for now, the team is taking alternative ways to train.
“We’re doing a lot of stuff in the hallways, core-strength training, and running on bikeways and in the school parking lot,” Steyer said.
As for the Seward track team, head coach Lori Krier says the team is looking strong, with great numbers so far this year.
“Our boys will be stronger in the distance races, and this year in the girls we have a number of throwers, a lot of sprinters, and it will be interesting to see where that goes,” Krier said. “We had only three or four girls last year due to injuries, and this year I have 15 girls.”
Krier listed thrower Tessa Adelmann as a possible point scorer, as well as Laura Dyer and Lindsey Kromrey in the distance races, Emily Brockman in the hurdles, and Sasha Hamner and Ashley VonBorstel in the sprint races.
“We had six seniors graduate last year, so we’re going to miss them,” Krier said.
On the boys side, Jacob Marshall will be returning on the team that won the 3,200 relay last year at state. That team included seniors Austin Gillespie, Brett Chase and Andrew Buchanan, all three which have graduated since then.
Jayna O’Leary will be returning for his senior season as a sprinter, as well as a force in the long and triple jump, and Miles Knotek, last fall’s state champion in the Class 1-2-3A boys cross-country meet, should be strong in the distance races, Krier said.
“There are a number of kids that should score points for us, so they’ll add to our team for sure,” she said.
While the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles sport lower numbers of athletes due to their school size, there are reasons to watch for them.
“We have around 13 or 14 middle-schoolers,” head coach Drew Dickson said. “We’re actually pretty even all around.”
Dickson listed distance runner Seth Davey, thrower Zac Taplin and thrower Cara Davidson as potential pointscorers for CIA. Taplin is the returning region champion in both the shot put and discus events, and Davidson is returning to defend her state title in the discus.
“It’s pretty low key now, but they make their own goals at the beginning of the season, and we just help them reach those goals,” Dickson said. “We make sure we can help them be successful, teach them the best techniques for their sport, and make sure they are prepared, working hard, smart and building character.”
Dickson said the use of the Skyview High School track will help, as CIA does not have a track of its own.
“We’ve started in the gym, and we’ll be using the track at Skyview, so that is kind of them,” Dickson said. “It’s going a little better than expected with the snow.”
Skyview will certainly be a force to be dealt with on the boys side.
The returning 4-by-200 meter relay team of seniors Albert White, Richard Reynolds, Kyle Shedd and Jasen Suonvieri will likely be strong, as they are the defending Region III champions.
White and Reynolds have already been posting fast times in the sprint events, along with senior Kyle Pietro.
Junior Sydney Roumagoux has been fast on the girls side in early season meets as a sprinter, and junior Marlee Cunningham has been strong in the long and triple jump events.
The Nikiski High Bulldogs will likely be looking to sophomore Kerry Ross and junior Sienna Wallis to lead the girls squad this year, as both athletes have proven their mettle in the sprint events, as well as taken part on the 400 relay.