A warm week of weather was finally granted by Mother Nature as high school track teams prepare for the Region III championships in Nikiski on Friday and Saturday.
Homer had to cancel its invitational meet three weeks ago, and the Skyview Invite was moved to Homer two weeks ago, both due to wintry conditions. The Kenai track team has been without a track all season as a new surface is being constructed.
Through it all, Peninsula coaches are ready to see who will make the cut for the state meet in Fairbanks, and who will stay home, and it all comes down to this weekend.
Both the Class 3A and 4A meets will be held at the Nikiski track.
The Kards are coming off the borough championship meet in Homer as champions, where they swept the boys and girls team titles.
“Coming off boroughs we’re on a little bit of a high,” said Kenai coach Tim Sandahl. “The expectations are there, although without having a track all year long, it’s weird, because we haven’t had repeats of anything.
“We were really happy, I knew it was going to be close with SoHi on the girls side, they are tough and have depth, especially with the sprints.”
The biggest point scorer for Kenai is sophomore Allie Ostrander, who won all four events she competed in last week at the borough championships in Homer — the girls 800 meters, the 1,600 meters, the 3,200 meters and the 300-meter hurdles. To top it off, Ostrander also played in the Kenai girls soccer game that same day.
Ostrander scored 40 of Kenai’s 162 points on the girls side at boroughs, so naturally the team will be relying on her to grab a hefty amount again at regions, but coach Sandahl said she will also be facing a heftier challenge.
Colony’s Audrey Michaelson currently holds the fastest girls time in the 800 meters this season (2 minutes, 17.98 seconds), with Ostrander in second, 1.3 seconds behind.
“She’s legit, she beat Allie in the 800,” Sandahl said. “You know, finally Allie is going to have someone to push her.”
Ostrander’s best race is arguably the longest — the 3,200 meters. No one has finished within 25 seconds of her this year in that race.
The Alaska state record in the girls 3,200 meters is 10:37.7, ran by Kodiak’s Kristi Klinnert in 1986. Just over a month ago at the Big C Relays in Anchorage, Ostrander ran the distance in 10:38.93. State records must be set at the state meet.
“We’ve been lucky to have kids like that come through here every couple years,” Sandahl said. “If we have good weather this weekend, I expect her to do very well.”
Jonah and Jordan Theisen, sophomore twin brothers who run the distance events, also have expectations of going to state. Jonah holds the edge in the 800 and 1,600 meters, but Jordan is quickest in the 3,200 meters, and both are favorites to go to state, as well as score points for Kenai at regions.
Senior Brad Smithwick is a state threat in the 200- and 400-meter sprints, and will be anchoring the 800-meter and 400-meter relays for Kenai. Smithwick is ranked fourth in the state this year in the 400.
Sandahl said sophomores Kiana Harding and Hannah Barcus have been pleasant surprises in the high jump and triple jump events this year, and senior Leah Sandahl and sophomore Beverly Schindler are adept hurdlers who are also looking at state.
SoHi coach Pat Nolden thinks that the Stars’ best chances for state lie with the relay teams.
“For regions, we are focusing on the relays and think we can get all our girls relay teams and our boys 4x100 to state,” he said via text message. “We are optimistic for regions and hope to qualify a couple of vans full. Still having trouble with shin splints but hopefully they will come around.”
Dani McCormick, Sadie Fox, Olivia Hutchings and Kaillee Skjold currently hold the fourth-fastest 3,200-meter relay time in the state (10:23.2).
That same group leads the Stars in the running events as well. McCormick holds the fastest time in the 200 meters, 800 meters and 3,200 meters, while Hutchings is fastest from Soldotna in the 1,600 meters. Daisy Nelson, a freshman, leads all Soldotna runners in the 400 meters (1:03.75). Skjold will be aiming for top-three finishes in the triple jump, discus throw and high jump events as well.
“(They) were outstanding in the running events and we asked a lot of them and they responded,” Nolden said.
Senior Jay Ulen is one of the Soldotna headliners, and has been a constant threat in the high, long and triple jumps. Ulen currently is ranked third in the state in the high jump, reaching a height of 6-foot-1 at the Big C Relays, only 2 inches behind the top jump this year.
Senior Luke Michael leads the SoHi boys sprinters, and currently holds the fastest time in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 races.
Longtime Skyview coach Rob Sparks remains excited about the move down to the 3A level.
“We’re looking forward to it, there’ll be some different matchups,” Sparks said. “Technically it’s a step down, but there’s still some awesome athletes. The depth might not be there but there’s some individual athletes.”
Sparks also said this year is one of the worst on record that he’s seen regarding the weather.
“In terms of cold and snow not going away and kids having to find other ways of training, it’s been bad,” he said.
Sophomore Tim Duke leads the boys team in the hurdle events and as a leg on the 400- and 800-meter relays. Duke is currently ranked fifth in the state in both hurdle events, and is tied for seventh in the state in the high jump with a season-best effort of 5—10. Duke will join Brandon Rice, DJ Collier and Charles Gibbons in the boys 400- and 800-meter relays.
In the boys 400 and 800 stands junior Micah Hilbish, who rankes sixth in the state this year in the 800 with a time of 2:02.48.
Sparks also said sophomore Brenner Musgrave has an outside shot of making it to state in the boys 3,200.
The Skyview girls 400- and 800-meter relays are expected to compete for a state slot. The shorter relay will consist of Sidney Roumagoux, Marlee Cunningham, Kaylee Fisher and Heather Tolliver, while the longer relay will subsitute Hayley Ramsell for Tolliver.
Sparks said Ciara Mahan and Holly Ramsell have been impressive this year in the girls throwing events, and on the verge of making the cut to state.
Coach Dan Adair said the Nikiski track, which was under snow until recently, is dry and ready to go for the region meet.
“All the lanes are clear, there’ll be some wet spots but we’re open for competition,” Adair said. “We had two snowblowers that broke this week that were clearing areas on the track.
“I want to thank all the volunteers for all the man hours, it helped a lot.”
Nikiski’s top prospects for qualifying athletes to the state meet include senior Lincoln Johnson and junior Seth Carstens.
Johnson currently holds the fifth-longest discus throw in the state this year with a toss of 133 feet, and Carstens is tied for fourth in the state in high jump with a leap of 6 feet, and is an adept sprinter in the 200 and 400 events.
“Lincoln is throwing really well. If he peaks he can win shot and disc,” Adair said. “He expects just as much, and he should qualify for state.
“His brother Luke has come a long way too.”
Adair said Luke Johnson, a freshman, has hit 5—8 in the high jump and could possibly go as high as 5—10, which could earn him a state berth.
Junior Kerry Ross will be racing the girls 100 and 200 sprints, along with running a leg in the girls 400-meter relay. Sienna Wallis, Jeanelee Stock and Arianna Parrish will join Ross.
The boys 400-meter relay will consist of Carstens, Luke and Lincoln Johnson and Tristin Apted.
“They are a group of hard working, mature young men,” Adair said. “They’ve literally almost coached themselves.”
The Mariners’ top hopes lie with senior Mark McGregor in the boys hurdling events, Aurora Waclawski in the girls sprints, and Pedro Ochoa in the boys distance races.
McGregor is ranked 11th in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 16.92 seconds, while Waclawski is tops on the team in the 200 and 400. Ochoa’s best event remains the 800.
Sam Reinert also presents a formidable challenge, holding the top spots for Homer in the boys 200, 400, high jump and long jump.
Senior Miles Knotek is a state prospect in the boys 1,600 and 3,200 events, and holds the 15th-fastest time this year in the latter (10:12.05).
On the girls side, Laura Dyer is sitting as the top Seward girl in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races.
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
Junior Zach Taplin can hold his own as a small-school thrower against the bigger schools. Taplin currently holds the second furthest throw in the state in the shot put with a lob of 48’7”, and is ranked third in the discus with a throw of 146’10”.
Sophomore Madison Orth also finds speed against the top dogs in the state, holding the second-fastest time in the girls 100-meter hurdles with a time of 16.51, the eighth fastest triple jump length and the 12th longest long jump.
Cara Davidson, a senior, is ranked fifth in the state in the girls discus, owning a throw of 103’3.5”.