Words cannot express the delight every Kenai Peninsula resident must be feeling in the month of May. With the beautiful summer days and tree buds already blossomed, it’s a far cry from 2013, when cold and rain kept many high school sports teams from action.
The weather could not have cooperated any more than it has this year, and local athletes on prep track and field squads have been benefitting immensely, as a few state records have either fallen or have been in danger of being eclipsed.
“We’ve had springs totally unlike the spring we’re having now,” said Kenai coach Joe Trujillo.
Skyview coach Rob Sparks may even have to break his outside training rule. Sparks said he always wants his team to wear workout sweats, even on the warmer days.
“If it’s like this tomorrow, we might suspend the sweats rule,” Sparks said. “Compared to last year, the kids love it, and even if it’s 80 degrees outside, I usually have them in long sleeves and such.”
The Region III championships are set to begin today at Palmer High School. Kenai and Soldotna are in the Class 4A side of the meet, while Homer, Skyview, Seward and Nikiski compete on the Class 1-2-3A side.
When a new track is combined with ideal weather, records could fall by the wayside.
“It’s just an outstanding facility,” Sparks said. “(Palmer staff) said it’s OK to use quarter-inch spikes, running is not great with eighth-inch spikes so we’re kind of excited to use that.
“It also depends on the wind. Palmer’s like Kenai, the wind comes off the (Matanuska-Susitna) glacier.”
Field events begin today at 10 a.m., with the 3,200 meters at 2 p.m. Running preliminaries follow at 3 p.m. Saturday, running finals begin at noon.
Who stands the greatest chance of placing highest?
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
Kenai coach Joe Trujillo is a realist, and did not beat around the bush when asked if he thinks his boys or girls squads can win a region team title.
“We’re not gonna go after a region crown, we’re trying to get as many kids to state as we can,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo said he believes Colony and Kodiak are the favorites to win the team titles, but his Kenai boys team could ride the strength of their Kenai Peninsula Borough championship and grab a podium spot.
Currently, the Kenai boys distance corps leads the charge. Jonah and Jordan Theisen have dominated races 800 meters and longer this year, and the brothers hold the second and third fastest times in the 1,600 meters with nearly identical times of 4 minutes, 27.93 seconds for Jonah and 4:27.98 for Jordan. The only runner faster than that this year is Kodiak’s Levi Thomet in 4:24.30.
“Thomet is very special,” Trujillo said. “He’s the male counterpart to Allie (Ostrander).”
Trujillo said it’ll take a special race for either of the Theisens to beat Thomet in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.
“The sad part is he’s a junior like Jordan and Jonah, so he’ll be around next year too,” Trujillo said. “If you’ve ever seen him run, he’s got the upper body of a sprinter, with wider shoulders, and he’s got a nasty kick. His last lap in the 3,200 is incredible.
“On a good day, the only thing I hope for is we end up second and third behind him.”
The Theisens will join Travis Cooper and Mac Lee in the boys 3,200-meter relay, which is currently ranked fifth in the state with a time of 8:35.96.
As far as what Kenai junior Allie Ostrander plans to run on the girls side, Trujillo said she’ll be going all out this weekend in the girls 800, 1,600, 3,200 and 3,200-meter relay.
Last week at the borough meet, Ostrander won all three of her individual events, but took it easy in the 3,200 by running the first three laps at a conservative pace before taking off to win it.
“It would be foolish to deny her that opportunity to get a region record,” Trujillo said. “Nothing’s holding her back, she’s going for time on all of them, because there’s no sense in trying to save anything.”
Official state records can only be set at the state meet, which will be held next weekend in Anchorage. Ostrander’s fastest times in the 1,600 and 3,200 this year would be fast enough for the state record in both events.
Ostrander will be anchoring the girls 3,200-meter relay, which will be led by Alex Bergholtz, Katie Cooper and Julieanne Wilson.
Trujillo also said boys sprinter Josh Jackman will be back in competition after missing the borough meet. Jackman currently ranks 10th in the state in the boys 200 with a time of 23.48 seconds.
Additionally, the Kenai girls 400-meter sprint relay holds the ninth-quickest time in the state with a 54.05, set by the team of Bethany Coghill, Kiana Harding, Lexi McKinstry and Kyla Whannell.
The Stars bring a strong girls contingent to the region meet, one that won last week’s borough championships.
Topping the list of individual performers is senior Makayla Wong, who is currently leading the state in the girls discus event with a high toss of 109 feet, 8 inches, set at the Homer Invite in mid-April. Wong is also ranked fifth in the state in the girls shot put, with a heave of 34 feet, 8 inches.
“She’s actually been in a bit of a slump recently,” said SoHi coach Phil Leck. “I think it’s ironed out now, so we’ll just go up, relax and have fun.”
If Wong’s been in a slump, then there’s no telling what she could accomplish at the Region III meet.
Joining Wong in the girls shot put is Kiana Hendricks, who is currently ranked 10th in the state with a throw of 33 feet, 3.5 inches.
The SoHi girls 3,200-meter relay team is not only looking to win a region title and compete at state, they could be on the verge of breaking the state record.
The team ran a blistering 9:38.38 at the Anchorage Invite on May 3, second only to the 2004 state record of 9:35.21, set by West Valley. But coach Leck said the team — this week comprised of Daisy Nelson, Dani McCormick, Sadie Fox and Olivia Hutchings — will not be necessarily shooting for the record this week.
“Our main goal is to just get through the weekend, and the record would be something that comes second,” Leck said. “It would be icing on the cake.”
Leck said Nelson will be running the first leg in order to help her compete in the girls triple jump, which is running at the same time. Nelson also is competing in the 400 and 1,600-meter relay.
Leck said that relay also has a great shot of making it to state, as the team currently ranks fourth in the state with a time of 4:21.72. The team will consist of McCormick, Hutchings, Lindsey Wong and Emily Werner.
Leck believes that Hutchings and McCormick also stand a shot of placing well in the girls 800. Hutchings holds the third-best time in the state at 2:21.29, and McCormick is at sixth with a 2:23.48.
On the boys side, Leck said sophomore Dalton Best has an outside chance of qualifying to state in the throwing events, and freshman Preston Weeks is in the same situation in the triple jump.
Sparks is on his final two weeks as coach of the Panthers, and doesn’t deny that he’s been thinking about it a little more.
“But we’ve been so busy, seeing who’s qualifying for regions, putting in workouts, dealing with homework, that it’s still business as usual,” Sparks said. “We’re trying to enjoy it. It’s really not much of a topic at practice.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Tim Duke will not be competing after injuring his knee at the Homer Invite meet earlier in the season. Duke tumbled on the first hurdle in the boys 110-meter event and sustained the injury, knocking him out for the rest of his senior season.
Duke is currently ranked second in the state in the boys triple jump with a leap of 41 feet, 4.5 inches, and is seventh in the long jump at 19 feet, 5.25 inches. He is also ranked third in the state in both boys hurdling events, with a 15.69-second run in the 110-meter hurdles and a 41.57-second effort in the 300-meter hurdles. Both times are also tops among 3A competitors.
With Duke out of the picture, Skyview will be relying on others to qualify for state.
Senior Micah Hilbish brings a lot of speed in the middle distance events. Hilbish is ranked third in the state in the boys 800 with a time of 2 minutes flat, and fifth in the 400 with a time of 52.28 seconds.
“Micah won gold in both events last year at state,” Sparks said. “So we’re hoping to be very competitive there.”
Hilbish will also anchor the boys 400-meter and 800-meter relay races, joining Logan Hemphill, Colton Yancey, Brenner Musgrave, Sky Schlung and Daniel Shuler.
Sparks said junior Adam O’Guinn also could get to state on the strength of his throws in the shot put and discus.
The Skyview girls sprint relays also stand as a big threat. The 400-meter relay team currently ranks fourth in the state (and fastest in Region III) with a time of 53.06 seconds. The 800-meter relay is currently eighth at 1:53.03 (second-fastest in Region III).
Consisting of Jessie McNamara, Haille Landess, Hayley Ramsell and Heather Tolliver, Sparks believes both relays have what it takes to win regions.
The biggest threat the Bulldogs have had in 2014 is senior Seth Carstens, who ranks in the top 10 in the boys jumping events.
Carstens holds the sixth-best high jump in the state at 6 feet even, and is ninth in the long jump at 19 feet, 2-3/4 inches.
Sophomore Luke Johnson stands as a dark horse in the boys throwing events, with throws of 122 feet in the discus and 42 feet, 7-3/4 inches, in the shot put (good for 14th in the state).
Senior Kerry Ross has been tops among the Bulldogs in the girls sprinting events in 2014, with times of 13.30 seconds in the 100 (15th in the state) and 27.82 in the 200.
The Mariners hold a few top-10 places in the state.
The girls 3,200-meter relay team won the borough championship last weekend with a time of 10:13.73 (fifth-quickest in the state), nipping Soldotna’s squad at the finish line, but the group will not be running it this weekend with that lineup.
Consisting of Tayla Cabana, Ziza Shemet-Pitcher, Molly Mitchell and Aurora Waclawski, the team also holds the ninth-best state time in the 1,600-meter relay with a time of 4:26.17.
Senior Pedro Ochoa ranks as one of the state’s fastest middle-distance runners, ranking eighth in the boys 3,200 with a time of 9:59.66 and ninth in the 800 with a time of 2:02.34.
The Seward boys 1,600-meter relay holds the eighth-fastest time in the state at 3:42.88, and is comprised of Tannen Berry, Michael Marshall, Zach Martin and Paxson Berry.
Tannen Berry, a senior, also holds the seventh-best time in the boys 300-meter hurdles, with a time of 43.41 seconds under his belt, and Marshall, a junior, has been quick in the 800 with a 2:07.35.
REGION II CHAMPIONSHIPS
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
Small-school Cook Inlet Academy will be road-tripping up to Talkeetna for the Region II Championships at Susitna Valley High School. Field events will begin today at 3 p.m. and finish off at 10 a.m. Saturday, while the running events begin with the 3,200 meters immediately following Friday’s field competitions are done. All races on Friday will be preliminaries except for the 3,200-meter relay final.
CIA has proven it can run with the big dogs, as junior Madison Orth swept the girls hurdle races at last week’s borough championships. Orth currently ranks sixth in the state (best in Region II) in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 16.37 seconds.
On the boys side, senior Zach Taplin swept last week’s throwing events. Taplin is ranked fourth in the state in both throwing events, with a throw of 46 feet, 9-1/4 inches in the shot put, and 141 feet, 1 inch, in the discus.