A new prep track and field season has dawned on the Kenai Peninsula, and sprinters, hurdlers, distance runners and throwers have all shaken off the rust and are springing into action.
In Alaska, it is almost a given that teams will be forced to use alternative methods of training because of the winter snowpack that never seems to go away. However, starting in 2008, there has been some relief.
The season receives a boost of life at the Big C Relays at The Dome in Anchorage. Last year, the meet featured 37 teams and over 1,100 athletes from around the state.
On Friday and Saturday, Peninsula teams had a chance to see where they ranked among other schools.
Stars head coach Pat Nolden holds a lot of confidence in this years team, saying the numbers have not dropped at all.
“We’re progressing, the numbers are big as they’ve ever been in last five or six years,” Nolden said. “With those numbers we can put some good relays together, get some throwers together, and compete within our conference.”
The biggest hole in the roster may be that of Bree Mucha, a senior sprinter last year who took season wins in the 200 meters and was a key runner on the girls 800 meter relay team. In addition, Mariah Ulen graduated, leaving a spot open on the 800 team. Ulen was also a constant threat in the hurdling events and high jump.
Soldotna’s only state champion last year, Lagi Wong in the girls shot put, has also graduated. Wong won the title last season with a throw of 37 feet, 1.25 inches, and also won the discus event at boroughs. Makayla Wong and Kiana Hendricks look to be the biggest threats to replace Lagi Wong.
On this year’s girls distance team, sophomores Dani McCormick and Sadie Fox return as top prospects in the 3,200 and 1,600 meter runs. McCormick could also double up in the middle distance races, alongside teammate Kaillee Skjold in the 800 meters.
Junior Jelly Nolden returns as the Region III long jump champion, and will also continue competing as a sprinter.
Coach Nolden also mentioned Luke Michael, Shaylee Anderson, Drew Gibbs and Jay Ulen as sprinters to look out for. Ulen was also the Region III high jump champion last year.
“We got a lot of running inside the schools, the pollen allergies, shinsplints, inflamed feet, it’s just hard inside,” Nolden said. “We’re evaluating and sitting kids out. We don’t want them slipping on the ice and getting hurt, but it’s Alaska track, you got to expect that.”
Galen Brantley Jr., Phil Leck, Tracy Pitts and Dan Gensel join Nolden as assistant coaches.
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The Kards, like the Stars, have also been held to hallway-only practices, with the small exception of the distance runners getting out on the snow.
“It’s business as usual, we live in Kenai,” said coach Tim Sandahl, who said he would like to get a dozen students to the state competition this year. “We have access to the beach, there’s snowy roads so we tell them to be careful of not slipping.”
Kenai will be without the use of their track this year, which is being torn up in favor of a brand-new one, to be built soon.
“We just drove a big backhoe off a trailer two days ago, and any day now they’ll tear it up,” Sandahl said. “All the coaches are just being super about it.”
Joining the girls track team this year for Kenai is cross-country running star Allie Ostrander, who has been fast in early season races in the 3,200 and 1,600, as well as the girls 4x400 relay. Ostrander clocked 10 minutes, 38 seconds in the 3,200 meters at the Big C Relays on Friday in Anchorage — good enough to win the state title most years.
“She’s got a lot going for her runningwise. She should do well,” Sandahl said. “She’s got unbelievable cardio. She can go all day long it seems, like she can go run five miles and go play a soccer game.”
Ostrander’s talent will hopefully help ease the loss of last years star runner, Bailey Beeson, who has since graduated. Beeson broke the Kenai girls 800-meter record last season with a 2:16.30 at the state meet.
Also missing from last year is AJ Hull and Joe Sandahl, two powerful sprinters that combined for many points for Kenai. Sandahl was also a hurdling specialist, qualifying for the 110-meter hurdles at state.
Leah Sandahl will join Kyla Whannell, Beverly Schindler and Hannah Barcus on the girls 4x400 relay — which finished second at state a year ago — with Ostrander and Kiana Harding possibly filling in as well. Sandahl also qualified for state in the girls 100-meter hurdles last year, and Barcus is the reigning triple jump champion at the Region III meet.
The Kenai boys distance team is looking stronger than ever, with sophomore brothers Jonah and Jordan Theisen leading the way in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and will be joined by junior Nate Mole.
“The Theisen twins are looking sharp and motivated. They can’t eat up enough miles in a day,” Sandahl said. “They just want to go go go.”
Sandahl mentioned that Kenai alum Levi Sutton has been working with the team as an assistant coach, along with Heidi Harding. Sutton won the state title in the boys 400 meters in 2006, and subsequently ran for UAA.
“The kids love him, he’s got great workouts,” Sandahl said. “They’re tough, but similar to what he did at UAA.”
The boys sprint team will feature senior Brad Smithwick at center stage, and for the throwers, Duncan Brewer is hoping to make the trip to state in the discus and shot put.
The biggest addition to the Homer track team this season is the opening of the brand-new track, which head coach Bill Steyer said hopes will attract new interest in the team.
“Indirectly, it (draws interest) with regard to the school,” Steyer said. “We’ve got four years of kids at school who haven’t experienced a home track and haven’t had that exposure to track and field. We encourage kids to come out.
“It’s an exciting year for us. We’re constantly in rebuilding mode, but our numbers are up to 26 kids now, and we keep growing.”
Steyer said the new track is fantastic but is still at least a week away from being used, due to the snow that continues to cover the surface.
“We’re dying to get on it. We have a meet scheduled on April 19th and 20th,” Steyer said. “It’s an Olympic-grade track.”
As for the team, Steyer said one of the things he is excited about is the girls 3,200 relay, composed of Barae Hirsch, Azizza Shemet-Pitcher, Aurora Waclawski and Cassidy Soistman.
Junior Pedro Ochoa has showed promise in the boys 800 meters, running 2:07 at the Big C Relays on Friday. Steyer said that was the first time he’s run that distance.
Sam Reinert (high jump, hurdles), Tayla Cabana (sprints), Connor Seay (hurdles), Mark McGregor (hurdles) and Christal Crane (long jump) are all athletes to also watch for, according to Steyer.
Homers assistant coaches are Mary-Kate Green, Randall White and Randy Richter.
Head coach Dan Adair said the current crop of athletes number 17, but among the pickings are a few gems.
“We’re matching up really well against some of the other region III small schools,” Adair said.
Among the boys throwers is senior Lincoln Johnson, who notched a fifth-place finish in the shot put at the Big C Relays with a throw of 123 feet, 7.5 inches.
“Lincoln’s looking sharp, he was really happy with that result,” Adair said. “And that was among all the guys in the state.”
Joining Johnson is Seth Carstens and Luke Johnson in the high jump. Carstens is a state placer the last two years in the boys high jump, with a career high of 1.78 meters.
Adair mentioned that Carstens was a participant in the boys pentathlon, an event that combines five completely different skill sets. According to Adair, Carstens had never competed in three of the five events, but still finished fifth.
Tristin Apted will join the Johnson brothers and Carstens in the boys 400 relay, which Adair said should be competitive, as well as the girls 400 relay which consists of Kerry Ross, Sienna Wallis, Jeanelee Stock and Arianne Parrish.
“We’ve been completely in the halls. We practice inside,” Adair said. “Because of that, I’m absolutely thrilled with how the kids performed this weekend.”
Adair said a goal of the team is to return all previous region and state athletes, and take one girls and one boys relay team to state.
The biggest loss for Skyview will be the core group of sprinters on the boys side. The team graduated Albert White, Jasen Suonvieri, Richard Reynolds and JoeBen Hawkins, the entire makeup of last year’s sixth-place 400 relay team at state.
However, junior Micah Hilbish (800 meters) and sophomore Tim Duke (hurdles) have proved that they are capable of scoring points for the Panthers, and did so at the Big C Relays on Saturday. Duke placed fourth in the 110-meter hurdles and Hilbish was fourth in the boys 800 with a time of 2:02.
Senior Sydney Roumagoux and sophomore Kaylee Fisher placed solidly in the sprint events on Saturday. Roumagoux was a representative in the girls 200 meters at the state meet last year, and Fisher added a third-place finish in the high jump on Saturday.
The biggest change for the Seahawks this year is the departure of longtime coach Lori Krier. In her place is Seward resident Solomon Snyder.
Seahawks senior Tessa Adelmann scored an impressive third-place finish in the girls shot put on Friday in Anchorage with a throw of 33 feet, 10.25 inches, and sophomore Michael Marshall should figure to be a consistent challenger this season in the boys 800 meters, a race Marshall qualified for state last year.
Along with Marshall in the middle- and long-distance events will be Miles Knotek, who ended up going to state last year in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races last spring. Knotek came within nine-tenths of a second of breaking the 10-minute mark in the 3,200 last year.
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
Junior Zach Taplin headlined the Eagles on Friday with a third-place finish in the boys shot put, tossing the ball 45 feet, 9.5 inches. Taplin did one better in the discus with a lob of 133 feet, 3 inches, good for runner-up honors.
On the girls side, Cara Davidson is a threat in the girls throwing events, and is the defending state champion in the girls discus throw.
Madison Orth is an adept hurdler, and will be looking to defend her state titles in the 100-meter hurdles and triple jump.