The snow and ice blanketing the peninsula's high school tracks has been receding at a glacial pace, but athletes already have visions of warmer days, fast times and long throws dancing in their heads.
"This has been tough. I've been here 11 years, and this is the worst we've had it," Soldotna High School coach Mark Devenney said of this spring's training conditions. "We had a time trial (last) Saturday, and we performed well -- better than we thought. You could see a difference in the teams' spirits with the weather being nice."
All over the peninsula, coaches have had to be creative with their workouts as most teams have been able to practice outside just three or four times since workouts began March 11.
"What I tried to stress this year, since we were going to spend so much time indoors, was to learn about the technique of track," said Skyview coach Rob Sparks. "They've bought into that, and seen a lot of improvement."
Homer coach Tari Hoeft said she's tried to incorporate fun team-building activities into practice, such as a scavenger hunt or a trip to the beach to play ultimate Frisbee, at least once a week.
"We're trying to break it up as much as we can," Hoeft said. "It's been pretty frustrating with the weather being as it's been this spring, but the kids have been working hard. It was nice for them to get to compete (at Skyview Thursday)."
Ninilchik coach Bernie Clark said his squad has taken the weather in stride.
"They're truly Alaskan kids," Clark said. "They look outside for themselves. They can judge what's going on. We have a varied routine we do in the building -- they all like the weight room -- but I know if we get a few sunny days, they do want to be outside. Our dirt circle is almost thawed now. We can see most of it."
Soldotna's Brent Knight laps Nikiski's Lance Penhale on his way to a win in the 1,600-event Thursday at Kenai Central High School.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Teams and coaches are looking forward to next weekend's Skyview Invitational, the first big meet of the season, to gauge their standing with the rest of the region.
The Colony girls edged Soldotna for the Region III title last season while the Kodiak boys ran away from the field for the team crown.
The following is a closer look at the peninsula's high school track teams:
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
Coach Noah Shields has about 10 athletes out for the team, and he said that right now, it's a learning process.
"We have a lot of freshman and sophomores and its their first time doing track," Shields said. "The kids are trying a lot of different events and finding out what they're interested in."
On the girls side, Shannon Powers has had success throwing the discus. Leading the boys team is Brian Beeson, the top runner in Region II during the cross country season.
"We're still in a building mode," said coach Tari Hoeft. "We've got a good crew of freshman, which is really nice, and a couple of seniors who hadn't been out before, which is really nice too. I'm pleased that we had a good number of freshman out."
The Mariners have about 35 athletes out for the team. Leading the charge on the boys side is sprinter Cody Smith, a state qualifier in the 400 meters last year. Hoeft said that Andrew Peters and Travis Kauffman have shown good potential in the distance events.
On the girls side, Nahanni Wills, a 100- and 300-meter hurdler, is back to pace the Mariners.
"Most of our top-level runners, their goal is to get a qualifying time at regions, but with not having a track until recently, it's hard to see what kind of personal bests we can go for," Hoeft said. "Now that we a have a meet under our belts, we can sit down and talk about things."
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The Kenai girls continue to improve while coach Liz Burck expects the Kenai boys to come into their own this season.
"We have a lot of confidence in that boys team. I think they're going to step out of the shadow of the girls team and come on strong this year," Burck said.
Dane Myers anchors the team in the throwing events. Nathan Schmidt, John McGlasson and Shaun Kiser are coming on strong in the sprints, Nick Boyle is running well in the middle distances and Morgan Saltenberger and Trevor Baldwin pace the team in the long distances.
"We've got depth across the board," Burck said. "We've got some really fast sprinters, the mid- and long-distance boys continue to improve, we picked up a freshman hurdler we think is going to do well, and we've picked up several new boys that are going to throw for us. They're enthusiastic about it."
Burck said the mid- and long-distance runners should continue to lead the girls team, following the lead of Michelle Edwards and Mary Krusen, members of the Kardinals' state record-holding 3,200-meter relay.
Burck expects big things from Kylee Vienna in the throws, and Dallas Baldwin already has improved her personal best in the high jump from last year.
"We're just working to develop our team," Burck said. "A few more weeks down the road, we'll start looking at how things are shaping up, but we've got a lot of work to do right now."
The Bulldogs have almost 50 athletes out for the team this year.
On the boys side, the team will be paced by Josh Reilly, who is a returning state champion hurdler.
Many of the senior athletes that led Nikiski to two small-schools state football titles are out for track and looking to leave high school with a bang.
"We're going to try and see if we can make some noise at the state level," said Nikiski senior sprinter Kyle Alexander.
The girls team may not be thinking it has a shot at the state title, but coaches think the girls team should be able to field a solid lineup.
The team will be paced by senior Sally Glaze, who has placed twice at state in the long jump.
The Wolverines are looking forward to hosting the Region II meet this season at Skyview High School.
"The kids are excited about being able to run on a softer surface and seeing if they can improve their times," said coach Bernie Clark. "The adults in the community that are track fans are looking forward to it too -- it's a pretty big undertaking."
Molly Bosick is the defending state champion at 400 meters, and Kelsey Deiman is doing well in the throwing events. Melissa Deiman runs the 300 hurdles and Amanda Matson is coming on strong.
John Matson, an excellent long jumper, leads the Ninilchik boys team.
"Like everybody else, we've started a little slow because of the weather," Clark said, "but we've got a good number of kids out, and they're excited to run a couple of meets."
Skyview coach Rob Sparks has a group of athletes just ready to come into their own.
"I have a lot of experience back on the boys side," Sparks said. "We have a core group of juniors. It's their third year of track. They made the commitment as freshman to stay with it, and it's their time to shine."
That group of juniors includes Mike Waer, Kevin McGrady, Trevor Tompkins, Jack Reed and Ty Pepper.
Adding to the mix is transfer student Josh Tonione, while Adam Kosydar and Nick Pyfer have demonstrated their proficiency in the throwing events.
The Panthers did suffer a huge loss when hurdler Caleb Shields broke his collarbone in a snowboarding accident.
The Panthers don't have a ton of experience on the girls side, but Sparks said he does have a talented group of underclassmen, led by Marci Mohler.
Freshman Ella Fehrer and Hannah Thorton also have looked good in practice.
Hurdler and mid-distance runner Kaleena Schouweiler also has been doing well for the Panthers.
"We've had a lot of fun. It's been a good preseason," Sparks said. "They've all kept a real good attitude and been patient with the conditions. We had a mini-meet, and we had some excellent times. The kids have kept it in perspective."
"I think we're on the way to having two pretty good teams," said coach Mark Devenney.
Janna Schaafsma is back to defend her state titles in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, and Sasha Cvetkovski will try for another state title in the shot put. She also is solid in the discus.
Devenney was excited by the talents of jumpers Brittney Gardner and Tracy Pitts, as well as the progress of sprinter Brandi Denna and distance runner Ari Goldstein.
"I think they have the potential to be state-level competitors," Devenney said.
Devenney said the Soldotna boys team also has the potential to make some noise in the region.
"Nobody is considering us to do much, but we have three pretty good jumpers, a really fine freshman prospect, and of course, our distance corps is really tough," Devenney said.
Devenney said he expects jumpers Alex Jackson and Ricky Simpson to fare well this season while distance runners Kyle McBride and Brent Knight should provide some big points in those events. Devenney added that Bill Keller has been running very well too.
"Kyle's a star, and the rest are just really good, solid athletes," Devenney said.
"(The Skyview Invitational) is the first real competition, that's when we'll see Colony. We like to think that we're in the hunt for a region championship and being one of the better couple of teams in the state.
"I'm proud of this team. Considering how tough it's been, they've stayed real positive."
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