Persistent rain showers have moved the Region III cross-country meet to Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School on Saturday.
The meet was originally supposed to be held in Seward, but continuing deteriorating conditions there forced the meet to be moved to Tsalteshi Trails.
The race schedule is as follows: girls open at 1 p.m., boys open at 1:45 p.m., Class 1-2-3A girls at 2:30 p.m., Class 4A girls at 3:15 p.m., Class 1-2-3A boys at 4 p.m., and Class 4A boys at 4:45 p.m.
The cross-country season, as short as it may seem, concludes for many runners this weekend.
For others, the season will continue one more week, as they set their sights on the state meet in Anchorage on Sept. 29.
Peninsula teams sport many athletes that have a good chance of making it to state, but none more likely than Kenai Central sophomore Allie Ostrander.
Ostrander is undefeated in her high school running career in races that she has finished, and won last week’s Kenai Peninsula Borough championships with ease, but mother and coach Teri Ostrander said earlier this season that she wants Allie to have a complete season.
“The girls got second at boroughs, and we have an outside chance of qualifying as a team,” coach Ostrander said. “But most likely we’ll be looking at our individuals to run well.”
While Ostrander may be the fastest Kenai runner, senior Hope Steffensen hasn’t been far behind this season, and found a boost with a runner-up finish last Saturday on the Tsalteshi Trails.
The Kenai boys hope to qualify as a team this year, according to Ostrander, and with a showing like they had at the borough meet last week, where they won the team title, it should be a breeze.
With strong performances all year from Jordan and Jonah Theisen, Nate Mole and Fox Michaud, Ostrander said there is a strong possibility of bringing the boys team to Anchorage. Both Theisens have been running at or under 17 minutes for five kilometers this season, less than a minute behind the fastest runners in the state.
Ostrander mentioned that the team was even mixing it up in practice, taking a break to splash around in the large puddles from the amount of rain this week.
“It was fun, we started inside and went outside, and the kids enjoyed it,” she said. “We had Monday and Tuesday that were dry and we were able to practice in between rain showers.”
The only factor to consider each and every year is whether or not the teams will be hit with the usual round of illnesses or injuries. This year is different, as most local teams have reported almost no runners dropping out.
The Soldotna Stars have produced a strong girls team this season, which should carry them to state, and took the team title at the borough competition.
Led by sophomores Dani McCormick and Sadie Fox and freshman Olivia Hutchings, the future looks bright for the young athletes, but coach Dan Harbison said it will take another team effort.
“We have to catch at least one other team up front in order to go,” Harbison said. “I don’t think they’ll catch Wasilla or Colony, and then there’s a couple others sitting there. We’re hoping to do that, we’ll see if it’s possible. If not, then we’re hoping to place as many as we can into that top 15.”
The fastest Soldotna male runners this season have been senior Dillon Jensen and freshman Aaron Swedberg. Harbison said the likely scenario will be individual qualifications.
“If (Swedberg) has a great run and is smart in how he does it, he might do well, but he’s going to have to really put it together,” Harbison said. “One school in particular we’ll be contending with is Kodiak, so that’s one we have to watch out for, we have our eye on them. It’s a really strong team, and it will definitely be close.”
While the Class 4A schools like Kenai and Soldotna will not be racing for state berths against schools like Homer and Seward, the two smaller 3A schools will be facing the running powerhouses of Anchorage Christian Schools and Grace Christian. Skyview and Homer dropped a level this season, due to school population declines.
Skyview coach Ted McKenney said the challenge for the team will be coming up with big performance from every runner.
“4A is just as hard to qualify as 3A, so it’ll be challenging,” he said. “We can get there, but it adds up just enough so you really have to work hard. On a good day, we could qualify, but both ACS and Grace are really strong, and ACS was second at state last year, so they’re good, and Seward always brings a strong team.”
Junior Micah Hilbish, Sam Janorschke and Brenner Musgrave headline the boys team that McKenney hopes will qualify for state.
“The muddy, wet weather favors the more compact runner with the shortest stride,” McKenney said. “You can lose up to 30 seconds off a good time if you’re not prepared, and with the right spikes.
“I always say that you teach them to run at the beginning of the season, and at the end of season, you teach them to race.”
The Skyview girls team, according to McKenney, is still rebuilding and will be looking to capture personal race record times.
The quaint fishing town boasts a deep field of contenders going into the weekend, and while the Mariners haven’t been flashy this season, Homer coach Bill Steyer thinks both boys and girls teams can qualify for state.
“We’re looking pretty good. Of course the racing conditions are going to be interesting and adverse this weekend so anything could happen,” Steyer said. “Barring that we have a clean race, and our kids are going in healthy, I feel pretty confident in our girls and boys moving on to state.”
Pedro Ochoa and Connor McCarron finished in the top 10 in the borough race, and have been the leading candidates for the Homer boys to bring the team to state, running at the 17-minute mark or faster for five kilometers this season.
“On the girls side, positionwise, they have a legitimate shot at coming in second behind Grace,” Steyer said. “They have five girls faster than Aurora (Waclawski), and our girls haven’t really competed against Seward in a while up to last week, but they have against the other teams.”
Homer dropped to the 3A level this year and is fighting for a spot at state against schools like Houston, Anchorage Christian Schools, Grace Christian and Seward.
Aurora Waclawski leads a contingent of Homer runners, including Barae Hirsch, both of whom are freshmen runners.
“I think we have five or six pretty strong runners on the girls side, and an equally strong number on the boys side for regions,” Steyer said. “We don’t have any superstar runners, but we have depth.”
The Mariners look to be the only team suffering from illness or injury, as Steyer said there are a few injured runners that will not race in Seward, such as Aziza Shemet-Pitcher.
“Aziza won’t be racing, she was probably our third strongest runner, and she got injured a couple weeks ago,” Steyer said. “But they’ll all be back next season, which is good.”
Seward senior Miles Knotek, the defending Class 1-2-3A State champion, will be out in full force. Knotek also won the boys borough title last Saturday at Skyview.
Joining Knotek on a strong boys team will be Matthew Moore and Michael Marshall, the same three runners that led the team to a third-place team finish at the boys 1-2-3A state meet last year.
Laura Dyer and Alice Pfeiffenberger led the Seward girls at last week’s borough meet, and have done so all season for the team.