As the snow melts and breakup continues, local high school track teams are preparing for the upcoming season. The year's first event, the Big C Relays, will be held Friday and Saturday in Anchorage.
Two Soldotna High School students, Mariah Ulen and Alex Kauffman, will compete in the pentathlon at the relays. Just six boys and six girls were selected from the state to compete in the event. Each athlete will compete in the shot put, high jump, 100-meter dash, 300 hurdles and the 800.
"That will be a really cool experience for both of them," SoHi track coach Dave Emery said. "That both fit that role well in that they're well-rounded as far as being able to participate and be competitive in several events."
Along with Ulen, Bree Mucha, Jaimee Morris and Jessie Duke are key returners, Emery said.
Ulen placed at state last year in the high jump as a freshman.
"Not only are we looking for her to be a contender in the high jump, I have high hopes for her in the hurdles also," Emery said.
Chris Nolden, Colton Schneider and Tanner Minogue join Kauffman as top returners on the boys side, Emery said.
"We're looking for good things from those young men," he said. "They're our leaders."
Emery said he anticipates tough competition from all teams in the region this season.
"I expect Kodiak to have good boys and girls," he said. "I expect they're gonna be very competitive."
Emery said his goal is to win regions on both sides. He'd also like to get as many athletes to state as possible. One or two relays on the girls and boys side should qualify for state, Emery said.
Kenai Central Kardinals
Senior Lierin Flanagan is the key returner for the girls, said Kards head coach Tim Sandahl. Flanagan was part of the 1,600-meter relay team that set a new state record of 4 minutes, 4.46 seconds, last year. Other relay members included Kristi Louthan, Shaynee DeVito and Bailey Beeson. Flanagan finished fifth in the 100 and second in the 200 and 400. Kenai's girls finished third as a team.
Sandahl said Flanagan's goal is to improve on her individual events from last season.
"She's looking really good right now," he said. "She's looking to step up and she wants to be a champion again in one of her individual events."
Beeson, a sophomore, and DeVito, a junior, are other returners for Kenai. While Beeson will essentially mirror Flanagan's events, DeVito is a hurdle specialist, Sandahl said. DeVito competed in four events at state last year. Senior Samantha Hull is another hurdler. Hull was part of the 800-meter relay that placed fifth at state last year.
Senior Kailey Mucha and sophomore Carolyn Kiefer are Kenai's two main distance runners, Sandahl said. Kiefer went to state as a freshman. Mucha, who transferred from Soldotna this year, will run the 800 and 1,600. Though known for her success in cross-country skiing, Mucha is already impressing Sandahl with her running.
"Her reputation is preceding her on the track," he said.
While Colony and Kodiak can never be counted out, Sandahl said his team and Wasilla will be strong in the region.
"Wasilla is looking real tough," he said.
The girls are looking to repeat as region champs and have a top-two finish at state, Sandahl said.
On the boys side, senior Billy Kiefer is a key returner, Sandahl said. As a distance runner, Kiefer set a new school record in the 1,600, finishing fifth at state last year. He also took fifth in the 800. This season, Kiefer is looking to break the school's 3,200 record, Sandahl said.
"He's just real mentally tough and physically gifted," he said. "That's a good combination."
Junior Tyler Spalding returns as Kenai's top jumper, competing in the high, triple and long jump. He also throws discus. Spalding finished third in the triple jump and sixth in high jump last season at state.
"He would like to have a state title in the triple jump," Sandahl said. "He has the potential to get it. If he stays healthy, he's gonna go really big this year in the triple."
Sophomore Brad Bible is another strong triple jumper, Sandahl said. He went to state in the event last year.
Andrew Mole, a sophomore transfer student from Chicago, has been keeping up with Kiefer, Sandahl said. Mole is a great addition to Kenai's strong distance team, he said.
"This year our strength is kind of in our distance," Sandahl said.
Adam Agosti, a junior, is another top distance runner for Kenai, Sandahl said.
There isn't an outright top team on the boys side, Sandahl said. Palmer has great sprinters and Colony has good distance runners, he said.
"Kodiak is always really tough for the boys," Sandahl added.
With just two seniors and several sophomores and freshmen, winning a region title isn't realistic for the boys, Sandahl said. But he said several have the ability to make state, which will be a main focus.
Senior Allison Barnwell will lead the girls team, said Seward head coach Lori Krier. Barnwell missed last season as she was studying abroad in Portugal. Cross country runner Kristina Atherton, a junior, will be running track for the first time this year. Atherton finished 10th at last year's cross country state meet. Barnwell was third. Seward's girls finished third overall.
Last season, five of the nine girls on the team went to state.
Krier said Anchorage Christian Schools and Grace Christian look to be the strongest in the region.
"ACS and Grace both have some pretty powerful teams," she said. "It looks like they have quite a few numbers."
On the boys side, defending Seward's first state title will be difficult due to the loss of seniors Travis Price and Dylan Beck. Price, last year's 1-2-3A outstanding performer, and Beck combined for seven first-place finishes at the 2009 state meet.
"This is a rebuilding year," Krier said. "We're gonna see not so much strength as an overall team but in individual events."
Krier said much of her team is made up of juniors.
"We have a really good contingency of junior boys," she said.
One of those juniors, Brett Chase finished second behind Price in the 800 at state last year. Austin Gillespie and Andrew Buchanan are two other key juniors for the Seahawks, she said. Senior Jesse Atherton and sophomore Jacob Marshall also are important returners, Krier said.
Her team is young this year, Krier said.
"We have several freshmen out," she said. "I'm looking for some of those freshmen boys to contribute in the relays."
Skyview senior Ivy O'Guinn, the reigning 800 state champion, is one of three key female returners for head coach Rob Sparks. O'Guinn finished second in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600 last year at state.
Seniors Paris Cooper and Casee Penrod round out the trio.
"They just bring a lot of leadership and experience," Sparks said. "I really rely on them a lot."
Marissa Mahan and Elisha Hollers are other important returning team members, Sparks said.
Sparks said he has 21 total girls on the team.
"It's a really awesome number," he said.
Twenty-seven boys have come out for track for the Panthers this year. Sparks said head football coach Eric Pomerleau wanted his team to participate in track or soccer to stay in shape, which has helped increase the size of the track team.
"We're pretty excited on both the boys side and the girls side with the numbers," Sparks said.
Eight boys are returning from last year. Those include Derrick Parham, Braden Holt, Cody Williams, Jordan McNamara, Joe Ben Hawkins, Bud Sparks, James Tonione and Joey Bishop.
"We have a really strong sophomore class on the boys side," Sparks said.
Sparks said much of his team is young but both the girls and boys have a lot of talent.
"The kids have had a great attitude, they've worked hard," he said of the early season practices.
On the girls side, Kenai Central will be the team to beat in the region, Sparks said.
"The Kenai girls are loaded," he said.
Kodiak is Sparks' favorite on the boys side. But Palmer and Wasilla are always contenders, he said.
With several inexperienced kids, Sparks said his main goal is to teach the team about track and field. Running in Alaska is different from the Lower 48, he said. It's important to know how to warm up properly and dress appropriately, Sparks said. By the end of the season, Sparks said he hopes his team with have jelled.
Megan Hansen, who won the discus at state last season, and Kassi Johnson, who took fifth, are the only two returning seniors for Nikiski's girls. Despite having just three girls at state, the Bulldogs finished seventh last year.
So far, 16 kids are running track, said head coach Dan Adair.
"We've increased our numbers from last year," he said. "We're happy about that."
The girls will have a relay team for the first time since Adair took over as head coach two years ago, he said.
On the boys side, four sophomores are returning from last year's all-freshmen team, Adair said. This season another influx of freshmen have joined the team.
"We have a really strong group of freshmen that came in this year," Adair said.
Adair said he couldn't pick one team as the favorite in the region.
"There's a lot of good competition out there," he said. "It's hard for me to pin down just one team."
Adair said he'd like to see Hansen and Johnson return to state this year. Another goal would be to send a boys relay team to Fairbanks, he said.
"It would be quite an accomplishment, half of our relay team is going to be freshmen," Adair said.
"They're young, but they're a really hardworking, dedicated group of kids," he said. "I really enjoy working with them."
Three-fourths of Homer's track team is made of boys, said head coach Bill Steyer. Seniors Maggie McCarron and Denali Critchett are the only returners for the girls.
"Our girls squad is pretty small this year," Steyer said. "We have a lot of guys."
Senior captains Anthony Resetarits, Peter Hendrickson and Tux Seims are key returners for the boys, Steyer said.
As a first-year head coach, Steyer said he isn't sure which teams are favored to win regions.
"I really don't know," he said. "I'm excited to see how we're gonna do.
"Kodiak is always strong," Steyer said. "They've got an excellent coaching staff."
Steyer said he is still finding the right events for his kids and it will be a few weeks before the potential of his team shows.
"I think we're going to have a better team this year," he said. "In the points category, I think we're gonna be an improved team."
Steyer's goals include performing better in the relays and sending as many kids as possible to the state meet. With increased numbers, the Mariners have the potential to achieve both, he said.
Cook Inlet Academy Eagles
Lauren Bauder, Keely Powers and Sadie Arneson are the top returners for Cook Inlet Academy's girls, said head coach Drew Dickson. Bauder, Powers and Arneson were part of the 400-meter relay team that placed third at state last year. Bauder took sixth in the long jump.
The girls finished second at the conference meet.
The girls would like to repeat a strong performance at regions this year, Dickson said.
Cole Davidson, Tyler Solie and Josh Holly are key returners for the boys, he said. Holly finished third in the 800 and fourth in the 3,200 last year at state.
The rest of his team is made up of mostly freshmen, Dickson said.
As far as who the top teams in the region are, Dickson didn't have a prediction.
"We'll have to wait and see with that one," he said.
As his team hasn't raced anyone yet, Dickson said he couldn't say how the team looks this early in the season.
Amie Smithwick, who won the 300 hurdles at state last year, is not running this season, Dickson said.
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