By JEFF HELMINIAK
The Kenai Central boys cross country team and Kenai Central junior Allie Ostrander are not afraid to say they come to the state cross-country meet at the Bartlett High School Trails on Saturday in search of Class 4A titles.
“It’s the biggest race in the state, that’s the importance of it, and they’re all running really strong,” Kenai Central coach Teri Ostrander said. “The boys and Allie have been fantastic this week in practice.
“I want them to go up and run without fear. Run to have fun and do what they know they can do.”
Allie Ostrander will try to cap off a second-straight undefeated cross-country season. She is aiming to be the 11th Class 4A girl to own two state crowns, an exclusive club currently occupied by only one other Kenai Peninsula runner — Ari Goldstein.
The junior, who has not let a Class 4A runner get within a minute of her this year, said racing has gotten a little easier with experience, but that does not mean it is easy.
“It’s a big deal, so it’s not like I’m completely relaxed about it,” she said. “It’s important to me.”
Ostrander has learned through experience that victory is never a sure thing.
In the state meet as a freshman, she went into the state race undefeated but became dizzy running up a hill midway through the race. Her teammates walked with her to the finish 42 minutes after the starting gun sounded, but Ostrander was disqualified for receiving outside assistance.
It remains the only loss in her high school career.
Last season in the state meet at Bartlett, Ostrander again started having trouble midway through the race, but this time she fought through what she called at the time the fog in her head for a victory.
“I just want to have a really solid race and a good end to the season,” Ostrander said. “I want to feel good, run with confidence and have fun.”
The Kenai Central boys went into Saturday’s Region III meet in Seward with designs on keeping the Kodiak boys from their 12th straight crown, but finished third in a tight race with the Bears and Colony.
According to coach Ostrander, regions did not shake the boys confidence in the pursuit of a state title.
“My boys are unafraid,” she said. “Why not? Why not, if you are capable of it, why not shoot for it? Why not say that’s what you are shooting for?
“The boys team has put in a lot of work this year, and it was with the goal of being No. 1.”
The boys team is led by junior brothers Jonah and Jordan Theisen. Kodiak junior Levi Thomet is the favorite to repeat as the Class 4A champion, but Ostrander expects the Theisens to be in the mix.
Also running for the Kards will be seniors Fox Michaud, Mac Lee and Nate Mole, junior Travis Cooper and sophomore Quincy Fuller. Ostrander said a group of those runners has the ability to push into the top 15 or 20.
The Class 4A girls race at state also will feature the Soldotna girls. Last weekend at the Region III meet, the Stars could not keep Wasilla from a fourth-straight crown.
“I don’t think you saw our best run,” Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. “Not to take anything away from Wasilla. They ran great and beat us.”
While regions shaped up almost like a dual meet between the Stars and Warriors, there will be plenty of more talented runners mixed in at state.
“At state, all kinds of things can happen,” Harbison said. “We’ll shoot for a top-five finish. That’s a very real goal.”
The Stars will be led by sophomore Olivia Hutchings, who Harbison said is a threat for a top-10 finish.
After that come potential scorers in juniors Dani McCormick and Sadie Fox, sophomores Daisy Nelson and Emily Werner, and freshmen Molly Erickson and Ashlyn Johnson.
In the Class 1-2-3A girls race, Homer will take a shot at keeping Grace Christian from a sixth-straight state crown.
At regions, Homer had the top individual and all scorers in the top 11, but still finished second to the Grizzlies.
“Anything is possible,” Homer girls coach Bill Steyer said. “I think we have just as good of a chance as they do of winning.
“Realistically, we’re coming in as an underdog, and we like that position.”
The Mariners will be led by freshman Megan Pitzman, the region champion. Steyer said defending champion Taylee Nyquest of Thorne Bay and Glennallen’s Briahna Gerlach will be tough to beat in the individual race.
“I won’t discount Megan in any event, but those girls are running really fast,” Steyer said. “We have a goal for her, and we have to be realistic.”
Homer’s other scorers are expected to be sophomores Aurora Waclawski, Molly Mitchell and Ziza Shemet Pitcher, and freshman Lauren Evarts. Senior Mattea Peters also will toe the starting line at state.
“They are more veteran than we are,” Steyer said of Grace. “They have a greater number of juniors and seniors.
“We’re looking forward to finishing off a great year of competition against Grace.”
The Seward girls also finished fourth at regions to qualify for state. Alice Pfeiffenberger, Josephine Braun, Brooke Estes, Laura Kromrey, Malia Acovak, Emily Brockman and Audra Atwood make the trip for the Seahawks.
In the boys race, Grace seeks an eighth-straight crown.
“Our goal is top three, and that’ll be a challenge because Seward will be there,” Steyer said. “The boys had a really good run in Seward.”
At regions, Grace was first, Anchorage Christian Schools was second, Homer was third and Seward was fourth.
The Mariners will be led by senior Pedro Ochoa. Steyer said Ochoa will be in the hunt for the individual crown, along with Grace’s Daniel Serventi, Austin Monzon of ACS, Matthew Moore of Seward and Kaleb Korta of Galena.
Skyview coach Ted McKenney also would like to see senior Micah Hilbish in the mix in his third trip to state.
“Top five would be nice. That would be a success,” McKenney said. “He’s capable of really going out strong. He just didn’t have a good week in Seward.”
Homer also will be represented by seniors Josh Vantrease and Nahoa Jette, junior Brandon Beachy, sophomores August Kilcher and Dakota Alward, and freshman Jared Brant.
In addition to Moore, Seward will start senior Tannen Berry, juniors Michael Marshall and Brandon Moore, sophomores Keith Ivy and Thomas Zweifel, and freshman Hunter Katz.
Nikolaevsk also qualified Greg Trail and Megan Hickman for the Class 1-2-3A races.