The pressure of qualifying for the state cross-country running championships is over, so Kenai Peninsula speedsters can now focus on performing at their best this Saturday at the Bartlett Trails in Anchorage.
Two teams that have qualified both their boys and girls squads are Homer and Seward. The Soldotna girls and Kenai boys teams are also making the trip up to state, but there are a few individuals that made the cut on their own merit.
The class 1-2-3A girls race starts at noon on Saturday, while the class 4A girls take off at 12:45 p.m.
The class 1-2-3A boys begin at 1:30 p.m., and the class 4A boys at 2:15 p.m.
Kenai sophomore Allie Ostrander leads that group, as she has made winning races a habit throughout her high school career. The only race she has left to conquer is the most important of all, the Class 4A state title.
For those that don’t know the story, Ostrander was leading the season finale last year, only to collapse halfway through due to cold weather. She unofficially finished the course with help from teammates, and now returns a year later looking for the win that escaped her.
Kenai coach Teri Ostrander, Allie’s mother, said she has kept practices low key to allow Allie, along with the rest of the team, to have a peak performance.
“I just tell her that it is a new year and she’s healthy and she’s had a solid season, and to keep it low key,” coach Ostrander said. “It’s just another race.”
Senior Hope Steffensen joins Ostrander in the girls race.
The Kenai boys head to state after a third-place team finish at regions, and are looking to place high with personal best races from Jordan and Jonah Theisen, Fox Michaud, Nate Mole, Dustin Everett, Travis Cooper and Quincy Fuller.
“They’re looking good, really fast and fit, and they run well as a team,” coach Ostrander said. “We haven’t had a race where all seven of our runners have had their best race, so it’ll be gratifying to see that at state.”
Ostrander said Kenai is typically a team that can hold pace and not get caught up in the pack at the beginning of races, which can help the Kards succeed.
“I think everybody is a little fast on the first kilometer, and our kids are just trying to stay on pace,” she said. “We try to stay on pace, get them their time, and whether they’re ahead or behind we tell them to pick it up or slow it down. When you’re in the race, you often times don’t really know what place you’re in.
“We don’t have a special, secret plan.”
The Stars find themselves in a similar situation, except it will be the girls team making the trip up to Anchorage. No Soldotna boys made the cut.
The Soldotna girls team qualified to state with a third-place team finish at regions, led by a strong core of consistent runners.
Sophomore Dani McCormick and freshman Olivia Hutchings lead that group, buoyed by top-ten finishes at the region meet, along with Sadie Fox, Rachel Thomas, Hannah Pothast and Emily Werner. McCormick was the highest finishing Soldotna runner at the Skyview Invite a month ago in 24th.
The Homer Mariners have made good on their early season promise of qualifying both boys and girls teams to state, as the Homer girls finished second in the team standings to powerhouse Grace Christian last Saturday at the region meet. The boys just made it in with a fourth-place finish in the standings.
“We’re super excited to bring both teams,” Homer coach Bill Steyer said. “3A makes our team more competitive, but the teams are actually much improved. I feel pretty good about both teams chances.”
Steyer is hoping the girls team can bring home a runner-up finish at state, if the Mariners can stay healthy and produce their best races of the season.
“There’s strong competition but that’s our goal,” he said. “We’ve been down with injuries, but we’re looking at hopefully maintaining a strong performance.”
The members of the team will be Aurora Waclawski, Barae Hirsch, Pam Jantzi, Rebecca Seneff, Casey Ferrell, Valerie Mastolier and Mattea Peters.
Steyer said the Homer boys have a more competitive field in terms of the top four or five teams.
“My experience is depending on who has the strongest performance, we could be one of the top two teams,” Steyer said. “Seward and Grace are the strongest boys 3A teams, and from there, it’s going to be really competitive between Anchorage Christian, Delta and us for third.”
Pedro Ochoa, Connor McCarron, Josh Vantrease, Jake Worsfold, Brandon Beachy and John Walsworth will comprise the Homer boys state-bound team.
The most important thing for Homer, according to Steyer, is having the right strategy.
“Not going out too hard, but staying in contact with the front-runners, that’s what we hope to do,” he said. “These runners know who their competition is, and they shouldn’t go out with people they don’t know, that will compromise the second half. It’s about being aggressive but intelligent.”
The small town of Seward will be bringing both boys and girls squads for the 11th year in a row.
The star runner of the year for Seward has been senior Miles Knotek, who has won most of the races he has competed in. The Skyview Invitational in mid-August serves as a good indicator of the state competition, and he finished third in that race with a time of 16 minutes, 17 seconds.
Joining Knotek will be Matthew Moore, Michael Marshall, Tannen Berry, Brandon Moore and Paxson Berry.
Laura Dyer, Alice Pfeiffenberger, Josephine Braun, Lindsey Kromrey, Brooke Estes and Emily Brockman compose the Seward girls squad.
Skyview’s Micah Hilbish came in fifth at the region meet and Sam Janorschke came in tenth, which resulted in the pair qualifying for state individually. Hilbish finished 36th at the Skyview Invite in August to lead the Panthers with a time of 17:15, but has run under 17 minutes numerous times this season.