Runners sprint across the field at Kenai Central High School Thursday afternoon during a track and field practice.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"We just want to be ready for regions."
It's a cliche that can be uttered by any coach at any time in any sport.
But rarely, with the exception of spring-sport partner soccer, is it spoken with as much urgency in the preseason as it is in track.
The 2005 track season begins for peninsula schools this weekend. Homer will host a meet at 3:30 p.m. Friday with Ninilchik, Kenai, Seward and Nikiski set to attend, while Skyview will travel to a meet at Wasilla this weekend.
After this weekend's opener, teams have just four weeks to get ready for the Region III tournament at Colony High School.
"We're just focusing on the region meet right now," said Kenai Central coach Liz Burck late last week. "With so many new kids, it's really hard to know what to expect at this point, but we're looking to have some really great performances at the region meet."
Mark Devenney, in his 14th year as the head track coach at Soldotna, said this season will be the shortest ever for his squad, especially since Devenney will not take his team to a meet this weekend.
"We're not ready to run a meet, we've just got so many first-year people," Devenney said Monday. "Today was the first day we practiced on a track."
The combination of the usual reluctance of winter to release the track from its grip and a state tournament on May 20 and 21 has produced the shortness of the season.
The May 20 and 21 state tournament is the earliest going back to at least 1993. Gary Matthews, the executive director of the Alaska School Activities Association, said schools have been increasingly moving final exams and graduations close to Memorial Day weekend.
In order to stay away from those final exams and graduations, ASAA has moved the state soccer and track tournaments to the week before Memorial Day weekend. Before 2004, the state track tournament was usually held on the last Friday and Saturday of May, no matter where Memorial Day fell.
"We've usually had six or seven weeks of meets, but this year we only have five," Devenney said. "We could have had six if we would have run this weekend, though.
"If anybody has a little owee, the whole season is out the window. Everybody's living with that, though."
The Soldotna girls and Kenai boys will be looking to defend borough titles this season, while the Stars also will look to hold on to their region crown.
The following is a closer look at the peninsula's track and field teams:
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
Heath Fulk, assisted by Trish Kopp and Clint Hall, has about 20 kids out for the team in his first year as coach of the Eagles.
"We've got a good group of kids doing what we're asking them to do," Fulk said.
The lone returning state qualifier for CIA is senior Brian Beeson, who qualified last year in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs and is a team captain this season.
Fulk also said senior Alyse Bell and senior Andy Hall are looking good in the sprints and serving as good team leaders.
Freshman Nathan Byrd also is showing a lot of talent in the shot put and sprints for the Eagles.
Harry Rasmussen, assisted by Jen Chapple, David Fisher, Luke Peterson and Kevin Lamb, has 25 boys and eight girls out for the team this season.
"I like the quality of the kids we have but I wish we had more," Rasmussen said.
It is the first year coaching the track team for Rasmussen, who has coached the middle school track team the last three years.
The Mariners do not have any state returners.
"We're starting over from scratch," said Rasmussen, who has just two seniors on his squad.
On the girls side, Rasmussen is excited about sophomore sprinters Tatiana Gruber and Erika Klaar, freshmen mid-distance runners Tia Halpin and Anna Duz and freshman thrower Melissa Hamer.
On the boys side, Rasmussen sees potential in junior sprinters Justin Smith and Canyon McKinstry, junior mid-distance runner Alex Inglima, sophomore thrower Erik Rasmussen and senior thrower Cody Crum. Sophomore Kory Romanchuk can do it all for Homer, from shot put to hurdles to sprinting.
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
Burck has 15 girls and 30 boys on her team as she begins her sixth season as coach.
The coach, who will be assisted by Renee Henderson, Clayton Holland, Tim Sandahl and Bruce Jackman, likes the way her boys team is shaping up as it seeks to defend the borough crown.
"We have a good distribution that's going to be able to give us some valuable points," Burck said. "We have somebody in every category, really."
Senior Trevor Baldwin, who qualified for state last year in the 800 and 3,200 runs, gives Kenai distance power. Senior John McGlasson went to state in the 100 and 200, while senior Dakota Craig qualified in the long jump and junior Papapa Nicholas made it in the shot put and discus.
Junior Mackenzie Boyle and senior Michael Scheffert joined McGlasson and Craig on a state-qualifying 400-meter relay. Burck also said junior Clint Keener will be valuable in the throws, plus the Kardinals have some additions that show promise.
"We've picked up some really strong athletes, and they're showing us a lot of potential," Burck said.
On the girls side, Burck said the team has some great athletes, but not a lot of depth.
Junior Amber McGlasson qualified for state in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and high jump, senior Elena Bird qualified in the 3,200, sophomore Lauren Baldwin qualified in the 800 and sophomore Candace Walker qualified in the 200. Junior Alee Rowlee and senior Michelle Oberg joined Baldwin and Bird on the 3,200 relay at state.
Burck said a number of upperclassmen and newcomers also are showing promise.
Ned Clooten and assistant Lee Chadwick have 20 athletes to work with this season.
Clooten said his girls team is low on numbers but the team also has some quality athletes.
Junior Angie Doty qualified for state last year in the 200 and also joined with junior Georgie Heaverley and sophomore Hannah Thompson on a 1,600 relay at state. Clooten said junior Laura Rooper will run distance this year and could be a candidate to plug into the 1,600 relay.
Senior Debbie Duggin also returns to the team after qualifying for state in the discus last year.
On the boys side, Clooten said the team is young with a lot of potential. The boys do not return any state qualifiers.
"Track is a fun sport because you're always competing against yourself," Clooten said. "What we tell young athletes is you may not be able to compete to win at regions and state yet, but you still can compete to better yourselves."
Senior Levi Lounsbury will run sprints for the Bulldogs, and after that the team is young.
Clooten said some promising athletes are sophomore Nick Whitaker in middle and long distances, sophomore Justin Trenton in the throws and freshmen Elliot Tuttle, Hunter Gallien and Dustin Couch in the throws.
Chris Hanson, assisted by Eric Skjold, has about 15 athletes this year.
"Our goal is just p.r.'s. Every week we just want to get a personal record," Hanson said. "All the other stuff takes care of itself."
On the girls side, senior Emily Wood and juniors Angela Singh and Jennifer Bartolowits were part of a 400 relay team that qualified for state last year.
Hanson also said freshman Ashley Bartolowits could give the team a boost in the jumps.
On the boys side, senior Tony Nakjau and sophomore Jesse Leman were part of a state-qualifying 400 relay last season.
The boys also should be solid in the jumps with senior Conner Cooper and freshmen Deonte Powe and Chris Smith.
Hanson also welcomes seniors Javin Halpin and Blaine Smith to the team. Both should give the Wolverines a boost at middle and long distance events.
Mark Woodward takes over the program after longtime coach Cliff Draper retired. This is the first time Woodward has coached track, but he said assistants Dan and Lori Krier have lots of track experience from the Lower 48. Woodward said he is handling many of the organizational details, while the Kriers are interacting with the athletes.
"It's been working awesome," said Woodward, who also mentioned that the team has been able to get on the track since practice began.
In recent years, Seward has had a tough time drawing a lot of numbers to track. The sport competes with baseball, softball and soccer and many students also like getting a head start on summer fun or work. This year, there are 34 on the team.
"We told them that we're going to make them bigger, faster and stronger if they believe in us," Woodward said. "Track's just a part of that. This is a workout program that allows them to get a head start on spring sports."
Woodward also said the team has been having fun together, even taking a day off of practice to go to Anchorage and watch the girls basketball team compete at state.
Woodward said Dan Marshall's cross country program also did a good job of feeding the track team. Senior Matt Adams qualified for state last year in the 3,200 and returns this year after leading the Seward boys harriers to a Class 1-2-3A state team title by taking the individual title.
Woodward also is expecting solid performances from senior James Aase in the shot put, junior Nate Buchanan at mid-distance and junior David Apperson in the distance events.
The only returning state qualifier on the girls side is senior Lara Loomis, who qualified in the shot put. Senior Monika Banic, who does sprints and the long jump, also has qualified for state in the past.
The team also will get an injection of talent from freshmen Rubye and Denali Foldager. Rubye finished first and Denali finished second at the Class 1-2-3A state meet. Woodward also expects points from senior Anna Clock at mid-distance.
Rob Sparks, in his 14th year with Skyview's track program and ninth year as head coach, has 19 boys and 15 girls out for his squad. Sparks will be assisted by Paul Zobeck, Betty Miller and Bev Edwards.
On the girls side, Sparks said he is hoping his squad has the depth to field some competitive distance and sprint relays.
The team will be led by senior Ella Fehrer, who qualified for state last year in the 100 hurdles, and sophomore Jennifer Holland, who went in the high jump.
The depth Sparks desires could come from sophomore Johnnie Dexheimer in distance events, senior Marcie Mohler at jumps and distance events, and freshman TJ Pfaffe and juniors Amy Himmel and Cheryl Ramey in the sprints.
On the boys side, Sparks said his team would be different than in years past.
"We've always had a strong hurdler in past years, but we're not there anymore," Sparks said. "We've also always taken a sprint relay to state, but we're going to have to push to get there this year."
The Panthers took an 800 and 1,600 relay to state last season, but senior Tyler Wehrli is the only one to return from those teams. Wehrli also qualified for state in the 400.
Juniors Clark Buffington and Josh Carlon and freshman Eddie Buffington will look to pick up the sprinting load this year. Senior Kenny Dean also should give the Panthers points at mid-distance events.
Senior Matt Smith and junior Justin Dahlen will provide power in the throws, while Sparks said he also has seen a lot of improvement from sophomore Jason Kincaid and freshman Jamie Duke.
Mark Devenney, who will be assisted by Joe Trujillo and Galen Brantley, has 54 athletes out for the program this year.
On the girls side, Soldotna's bid to retain the borough and region titles and make a run at the state title begins with senior Ari Goldstein, who swept the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at state last season.
Soldotna is much more than Goldstein, though. Senior Katie Franzmann qualified for state in the 1,600 and 3,200, junior Brittany Osland qualified in the 3,200 and 1,600, sophomore Lauren Olendorff qualified in the 100 hurdles, sophomore Lindsey Sanders qualified in the 400 and seniors Katy Pankoski and Rachel McCartan helped a couple relays qualify for state.
Devenney said sophomore Annie Gardner also will earn valuable points in the jumps. In addition, Devenney sees potential in some freshman on the team.
"We'll be tough," Devenney said. "We won't have great numbers but we'll have a lot of big point scorers."
The boys team is not as stocked with state qualifiers, but Devenney is excited about his team's potential.
"We've just got a bunch of young kids that I think are going to be pretty darn good," Devenney said.
Senior Matt Hicks qualified for state in the shot put and discus, while junior Patrick Lybrand went in the triple jump and senior Brian Chase went in the 300 hurdles. Junior Caleb Chase also was part of a 3,200 relay that qualified for state.
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