Watching Kenai Central senior Lierin Flanagan play basketball this winter, I couldn't help thinking of the track season.
Turns out I wasn't the only one.
"Basketball was really good for her," said Tim Sandahl, Kenai's track and field coach. "She really looked at the whole season not only as a way to play basketball, but to stay in shape for the track season. When it was time for conditioning, she and Bailey (Beeson) thought of it as a track practice."
My thoughts turned to track watching Flanagan play basketball because of her role as a defensive stopper. She would be assigned the other team's guard and spend 30-second bursts ferociously hounding that guard. After a few minutes, she would rest on the bench, only to re-emerge a few minutes later to do the same thing.
It was ideal training for the 400-meter dash, as has become apparent early in the track season.
At the Big "C" Relays on Saturday in Anchorage, Flanagan ran and won the 400 in a school-record 57.19 seconds. The state record, which can only be set at the state track meet, is 57.14 seconds. Track times traditionally drop drastically as the season goes on, so for Flanagan to put up such a time in early April is ...
"A jaw dropper," Sandahl said. "It's only our second meet of the year."
In her first meet of the year, Flanagan had posted a time of 58.44.
"She's capable of running in the 56s," Sandahl said. "She also wants to win an individual event at state."
Flanagan also would like to help her team defend its 1,600-meter relay state title. The Kards won that last year with a time of 4:04.96, while on Saturday the team ran 4:05.92. Flanagan, Beeson and Shaynee DeVito return to the team, while freshman Leah Sandahl replaces the graduated Kristi Louthan.
The team nearly matched its state-title time of a year ago on Saturday even though Sandahl had never run a 400 before Saturday.
Beeson spelled Flanagan as the defensive stopper, while Sandahl also played varsity basketball and got a full winter of basketball coach Stacia Rustad's demanding conditioning sessions.
Basketball has clearly given Flanagan and the Kardinals a head start on the track this season.
There are two key parts for bettering the Kenai River Brown Bears program: retain head coach Oliver David and move players on to the college level.
The Brown Bears have done both.
After the season ended, Kenai River's fourth coach in three years, Oliver David, went to work for the 2010-11 campaign. I interviewed David last week for a Brown Bears-related story while he was in Chicago on a recruiting trip.
"It really feels like this was an event that couldn't be missed," he said. "I'm seeing a lot of guys that can help our team."
Next on the list is making the program more attractive. Success during the regular season and postseason are major contributors to that attractiveness, but so are players' post-NAHL careers.
Former Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Jake Musselman recently became the first player in franchise history to go from the team directly to an NCAA Division I school. He will attend the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Patrick Sullivan and Andrej Sustr, both former Brown Bears, will also play Division I hockey.
Sullivan, who played with Kenai River last season, committed to Canisius College for the 2010-11 season. Sustr signed with the University of Nebraska Omaha. He played with Kenai River during the 2008-09 season and with the Youngstown (Ohio) Phantoms in the United States Hockey League this year.
Defenseman Braden Kinnebrew, goaltender Mike Martin and forward Brad Fusaro will play for Division III schools. Kinnebrew is attending Castleton State College in Vermont, Martin's going to St. Norbert College in Wisconsin and Fusaro will play for St. Mary's University of Minnesota.
Other players are likely to sign with Division III schools and Johan Skinnars has the potential to play pro hockey.
As more players advance to the collegiate level, more will be interested in playing for the Brown Bears.
"It's definitely a two-way street," David said.
I couldn't agree more. And Kenai River has taken vital steps to increase its roadway traffic.
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