The competition will definitely get tougher for the five Kenai Peninsula schools that competed in the Nikiski Class Races on Monday at Nikiski High School.
The courses also will get easier than Nikiski’s rugged, roller-coaster layout.
And as for the weather? Will it improve on Monday’s rainy, cold and windy effort? Here’s hoping.
Kenai Central junior Jordan Theisen, who won the junior-senior boys race in 17 minutes, 36 seconds, said the season-opening race at Nikiski is the toughest course the runners face all season.
Ten practices isn’t enough to prepare most runners to face a five-kilometer race at Nikiski . For that reason, the Class Races often determine who trained in the summer, and who didn’t.
The winners of the freshmen-sophomore races used disappointing performances at the tail end of their freshmen years to fuel a summer of training.
In the girls freshmen-sophomore race, sophomore Molly Mitchell led Homer to the team championship by taking first at 21:40. Teammate Megan Pitzman was just six seconds behind as six of the first eight runners across the line were Mariners.
Mitchell said that she had anemia during her freshman year due to an iron deficiency. The lack of iron led to a lack of hemoglobin, which meant Mitchell couldn’t efficiently carry oxygen in her bloodstream.
Except she didn’t know it at the time.
So her performance got worse as the cross-country season went on.
“I’d work twice as hard to go half as far,” she said.
By the end of the season, she was laboring to climb steps and knew something was wrong.
With the iron deficiency out of the way, Mitchell trained all summer, leading to her victory Monday.
“Not in the least,” she replied, when asked if she expected to win. “This is the first race I’ve been able to run healthy, but those hills were still really tough.”
Mitchell, who took the lead for good just before the four-kilometer mark, said her team trained hard all summer, with some members even attending a running camp.
She said the future of the Homer program is bright, with six of the top seven runners being freshmen or sophomores.
Kenai Central sophomore Quincy Fuller, who won the boys freshmen-sophomore race by over two minutes at 18:47, also had plenty of inspiration to train this summer.
Fuller said that last season he ran with the Kardinals at the Region III meet, where Kenai qualified for state as a team.
But a junior varsity runner from Kenai beat Fuller by a few seconds that day, knocking him off the varsity squad, but earning him a third-place region medal — a medal he brought to Nikiski on Monday.
“I had a really bad race last year,” Fuller said. “I took a look at the medal before the race and told myself that was never going to happen again.”
Fuller started pulling away from the field from the outset, and kept pulling away.
“I realized when I had first, I had to keep it,” he said. “I felt like I had to keep pushing up the hills.”
He said his best time in a cross-country race is 18:15, but due to Nikiski’s difficulty, he was more than happy with 18:47. That was the fourth-best boys time of the day.
In addition to putting in the mileage this summer, Fuller said his coaches and teammates gave him good advice on technique.
“This race was only for freshmen and sophomores, and there’s a lot of good juniors and seniors,” he said. “As we do more workouts, I should be able to get better times.”
SoHi’s Aaron Swedberg was second and Brian Dusek was third to lead SoHi to the freshmen-sophomore team championship.
The Kenai boys capped Fuller’s performance by winning the team title in the boys junior-senior race.
Theisen led the way with a win in 17:36, while runner-up Pedro Ochoa of Homer was next at 18:20. Skyview’s Micah Hilbish was third at 18:42.
Theisen was a regular champion at both the Salmon Run and Cycle series this summer, but near the end of the summer, he started having calf problems.
“I’m just starting to be able to do strenuous training,” he said.
For that reason, he was happy to get under 17:40. Once he gets in better shape, he wants to break the 17-minute mark a few times this season.
“I’m still not sure about the calf injury,” he said. “It’s actually starting to hurt while I’m standing here now.”
In the girls junior-senior race, Dani McCormick led the Stars to the team title by winning in 21:44. Teammate Sadie Fox was second at 21:55.
McCormick said she did not train a lot this summer. About halfway up the hills, she determined that she probably should have logged more summer miles.
“Halfway up, I really started to feel those hills,” she said.
McCormick said the Stars should have a good, young team this year, with seven runners entered in the freshmen-sophomore girls race.
Nikiski Class Races
at Nikiski High School
Freshmen-sophomore team champion: Homer.
Freshmen-sophomore 5K — 1. Molly Mitchell, Hom, 21 minutes, 40 seconds; 2. Megan Pitzman, Hom, 21:46; 3. Olivia Hutchings, Sol, 22:32; 4. Aurora Waclawski, Hom, 22:59; 5. Daisy Nelson, Sol, 23:37; 6. Ziza Shemet-Pitcher, Hom, 24:14; 7. Shenandoah Lush, Hom, 24:27; 8. Lauren Evarts, Hom, 24:27; 9. Rachel Thomas, Sol, 25:00; 10. Emily Werner, Sol, 26:05; 11. Molly Erickson, Sol, 26:37; 12. Audrey Rosencrans, Hom, 27:05; 13. Samantha Draves, Hom, 27:52; 14. Ashlyn Johnson, Sol, 28:43; 15. Hannah Pothast, Sol, 29:21; 16. Mieka Chythlook, Sky, 29:22.
Junior-senior team champion: Soldotna.
Junior-senior 5K – 1. Dani McCormick, Sol, 21:44; 2. Sadie Fox, Sol, 21:55; 3. Pam Jantzi, Hom, 25:14; 4. Matea Peters, Hom, 27:37.
Freshmen-sophomore team champion: Soldotna.
Freshmen-sophomore 5K — 1. Quincy Fuller, Ken, 18:47; 2. Aaron Swedberg, Sol, 20:48; 3. Brian Dusek, Sol, 20:51; 4. Jared Brant, Hom, 20:54; 5. James Butler, Ken, 20:56; 6. Seth Hutchison, Sky, 20:59; 7. Levi Michael, Sol, 21:20; 8. Dakota Alward, Hom, 21:36; 9. August Kilcher, Hom, 22:03; 10. Terrance Slates, Sol, 23:08; 11. Tommy McCormick, Sol, 23:18; 12. Addison Downing, Sol, 23:22; 13. Tristan Landry, Ken, 23:55; 14. Talon Musgrave, Sky, 24:10; 15. Shane Larrow, Sol, 25:53; 16. Drew Kant, Sol, 26:47; 17. Jackson Blackwell, Sol, 27:08; 18. Marley McQuire, Hom, 27:15; 19. Cy Dull, Ken, 28:43.
Junior-senior team champion: Kenai.
Junior-senior 5K — 1. Jordan Theisen, Ken, 17:36; 2. Pedro Ochoa, Hom, 18:20; 3. Micah Hilbish, Sky, 18:42; 4. Fox Michaud, Ken, 18:58; 5. Josh Vantrease, Hom, 19:02; 6. Brenner Musgrave, Sky, 19:13; 7. Brandon Beachy, Hom, 19:38; 8. Nate Mole, Ken, 19:55; 9. Mac Lee, Ken, 20:31; 10. Dustin Everitt, Ken, 20:56; 11. Colton Diehl, Sol, 21:12; 12. Jared Wallace, Nik, 21:35; 13. Coltin Yancey, Sky, 21:36; 14. Logan Hemphill, Sky, 21:54; 15. Calvin Johnson, Hom, 22:16; 16. Antonio Ochoa, Hom, 23:57; 17. Nahoa Jette, Hom, 25:27; 18. Kyle Cooper, Nik, 27:13; 19. Tanner Best, Sol, 28:49.