Kenai Central junior Lierin Flanagan is working tirelessly on starting quicker in the 100-meter dash, an event in which she took 5th at state as a freshman and third in last season.
Don't let that fool you, though.
The reigning Region III MVP is still off to the fastest start of her blossoming career.
Having set her personal best in the 400 in the first meet of the season and following that up by breaking the school's 200 record in the Kardinals only other competition so far this year, Flanagan fosters hopes of defending her 200-meter state crown, and possibly earning one or two more to boot.
"She's easily one of the best (in the state)," Kenai Central track and field coach Tim Sandahl said. "I think any other coach in the state would agree with that."
Skyview coach Rob Sparks certainly does.
"This is a girl that's running the 100, 200, 400, 800 and she's got one of the top three to four times in each of those categories in the state. That's pretty incredible," he said. "You don't generally see a 100 sprinter that's really good at that, running 800s and being really good at that, too."
Sandahl attributes much of Flanagan's success to a vigorous offseason workout which includes playing volleyball and basketball for Kenai Central.
"She will always come into the track season in great shape. That's not anything I've ever worried about. This year she's worked extra hard," he added. "Anything can happen. I would say it's very, very, very realistic that she could get (state titles) in the 200 and the 400."
Not only did Flanagan win the 200 at state last year after taking seventh as a freshman, but she finished second in the 400, third in the 100 and was a member of the third-place 800 relay team.
And keep in mind, she was only a sophomore.
So with two seasons to go, including this year, an improved start in the 100 can go a long way toward another championship.
"It's crucial in the 100 and it's not as crucial in the 200 and 400 and you can see with the way she's done in the past," Sandahl said, adding they've also been experimenting with different relay combinations to figure out which has the best chance of advancing to state. "Whichever relay she's going to be in, barring any handoff problems, it's going to go to state."
That journey to a late-May date in Fairbanks really begins with today's Skyview Invitational, an event canceled due to snow last season.
"It's really exciting because they have such an awesome track there," said first-year Homer coach Lance Williamson. "For us it's probably the biggest one as a team."
It's hopefully just the first big meet of many for a handful of Kenai athletes.
Sandahl wouldn't say his girls team was as talented as the 2007 Kardinal boys, who placed second at state, yet he did say they should have a strong showing this season.
Behind Flanagan's outstanding state meet last year, the Kenai girls took seventh place, one year after placing 18th. Before placing second in 2007, the boys tied for fourth in 2006 and finished seventh in 2005.
Not quite the same, but not far off, either.
"I'm guessing that this team can do that, climb that high," Sandahl said of the girls matching the boys fourth-place finish from 2006.
With an influx of young talent and a solid crop of sophomores and juniors, next season may be the year for the Kenai girls.
"We're a year away from talking about that. We're going to get some help next year from the middle school," he said. "The girls team is on the rise and you can see it all the way through the middle school.
"I think it has a lot to do with girls like Lierin, who is getting a lot of state recognition," Sandahl added. "The whole team is doing really well. It makes kids want to do that, and be that."
Aside from Flanagan, Sandahl has high expectations for returning sophomore Shaynee DeVito (hurdles, 800 relay, 1,600 relay), who went to state last year in the hurdles but just missed out on the finals, and seniors Molly Watkins (1,600, 3,200, 800 relay) and Kristi Louthan, who competes in nearly every event.
"She came into the season in great shape from cross-country skiing and has more speed than she has had in the past," he said of Watkins, adding Louthan also boasts a great attitude and will hopefully qualify for state in one of her many events.
He also said freshman Bailey Beeson (200, 400, 800 relay, 1,600 relay) and Carolyn Kiefer (800, 1,600, 3,200 relay) have bright futures, newcomer Adriana Taylor (shot put, discus) is showing promise and junior Samantha Hull is running for the first time following two surgeries in two seasons and is looking fast and equally reliable.
"She's almost going to mirror what Lierin does ... they have similar styles of running," Sandahl said of Beeson. "She has a really beautiful running form and once she gets up on step, she can hold it for a long time. She has great stamina."
The Kenai boys team won't be as strong as the girls, but does feature a plethora of talent, including senior Nikita Naumoff (triple jump, long jump, high jump, 110 hurdles) and junior Billy Kiefer (800, 1,600), who placed second in the 800 and fourth in the 1,600 at state last year.
"We're kind of hoping that we match that or better that," Sandahl said.
Sophomore jumper Tyler Spalding has potential due to his long legs and is seeking a return trip to state, while freshmen Joe Sandahl (300 hurdles, 400 relay, 800 relay), Kyle Daugherty (shot put, discus, sprints) and Brad Bible (jumper) are a group of youngsters to keep an eye on.
While some coaches believe the Kenai girls are one of the top teams in the state, Sandahl defers to Dimond, adding that Bartlett and Kodiak will be formidable on the boys side.
But as always, peninsula teams are behind the eight ball as squads from Anchorage have already been competing in the comfortable temperatures of The Dome, an indoor track and field facility in the city.
On the contrary, the Kardinals' first day outside was Monday, when they learned a thing or two about themselves.
"We thought we were in pretty good shape, then we found out we were just in shape to run around hallways," Sandahl said. "(Anchorage teams have) got great temperatures and they're running low times and they get in there at least once or twice a week for practice ... it's hard to say where kids are, not knowing how those kids would do just running in the hallways ... but it's got to help them."
Here is a closer look at the remainder of Kenai Peninsula track and field teams that responded to inquiries from the Clarion:
Troy Minogue, in his first season coaching the Stars, isn't quite sure what he's got as far as talent. He's about to find out, though.
"I'm anxious to see where we stack up in the region," he said. "I'm hoping we're going to be right in there in the borough."
Leading the way on the boys team is junior Nathan Strieby, seeking a return trip to state in both the shot put and discus.
"He's definitely the leader of our team as far as point getter. We're looking for him to place at state this year," Minogue said, adding today will be the first time he throws in competition this season. "We're looking for a good high mark (today) and just build on that for the season."
Senior Kyle Wood, currently out with an injury, will likely anchor the 800 and 1,600 relay teams, which also include sophomores Phillip Bennett and Colton Schneider.
The fourth spot, however, is still up for grabs.
"We have a lot of guys who really want to be on that team," Minogue said, "so we're having some good, healthy competition."
He also said senior Chase Jensen, who qualified for state last year in the 300 hurdles, is looking to make it back again.
Senior sprinter April Heffner anchors the girls' squad, which also includes sophomore Megan Gordon, a state placer in the long jump last year, and freshmen Melanie Smith (3,200) and Bree Mucha (800, 1,600, 3,200).
Smith finished sixth in the 3,200 at the Big 'C' Relays at The Dome.
"First time on the track and she placed sixth, so that says big things," Minogue said, adding he has yet to see Mucha run, as she hasn't competed this season. "I've heard stories. ... I heard she just has the heart of a tiger."
After last year's Skyview Invitational was called off due to snow, Sparks is excited to be hosting the event again this year.
"The kids have worked hard chipping ice off and moving snow and everybody's pitched in," he said.
The Skyview girls, led by junior Ivy O'Guinn (800, 1,600, 3,200), should be strong again this year.
"In years' past she doesn't come in as tuned up as she did this year. She's really in shape and really has a focus," Sparks said. "Everybody knows she usually peaks at the end of the season. ... This year she came in that first meet and she still has two of the state's best times" in the 800 and 3,200.
Returning state qualifier Paris Cooper (400, relays), junior Casee Penrod (400 relay, 800 relay, discus, triple jump), sophomore state qualifier Megan Janorschke (100, 200, relays) and freshman Amanda McDowell (100, 200, relays) all possess the potential to make state trips.
"I've got a pretty strong core group of sprinters there who have got some experience and some fresh talent," Sparks said. "We're looking to be competitive in the girls relays."
Led by senior thrower Keny Mahan, who went to state last year in both the shot put and discus, the Skyview boys have 20 athletes competing this season.
"Keny's looking good. He did pretty well up in The Dome," Sparks said. "He's just matured a lot this year as a senior thrower. He's a little bit more in control."
Also looking for strong senior campaigns are Michael Thornton (hurdles, triple jump, relays), Shaun Newsome (100, 200, long jump, relays) and Ryan Harris (distance).
Sparks also mentioned junior Justin Marsh (distance), sophomores Brayden Holt (1,600, 3,200, relays) and Daniel Rozak (400, 800, relays) and freshmen sprinters Jordan McNamara and Joeben Hawkins as athletes who could succeed this season.
Assistant coaches Barry Hartman and Aaron Dickson, working with distance runners and throwers, respectively, have been integral to the program thus far this year.
"They've definitely inspired the kids and got them excited about some things," Sparks said.
First-year coach Dan Adair is encouraged with the turnout for this season's team.
After just four students showed up last year, Adair this season has the privilege of coaching 15 athletes, 10 of them boys, who are all freshmen.
"We're just real excited at the turnout we have this year," he said. "So we're excited to hopefully start building a strong tradition in the track department."
He mentioned Jordan Taylor (800) and Sayyid Parrish (100, 200) as two of the boys to keep an eye on.
Kaden Spurgeon (100, 200, 400 relay, 800 relay) is another rookie who could make a splash this year after returning in a couple of weeks from freestyle wrestling.
"This kid's a stud. And he just works. His work ethic is just awesome," Adair said. "He is a kid you just love having on your team because he just raises everybody up with him."
The girls are led by senior Eliza Chadwick, a hurdler who recently had her appendix removed but should return for the Kenai Peninsula Borough track meet on May 8-9 at Skyview.
"I don't see a reason why she won't go to state. She is definitely the strongest (on our team)," Adair said.
Junior Megan Hansen (shot put, discus) placed seventh out of 61 discus throwers at the Big 'C' Relays a few weeks ago, already topping her best throw from a year ago, while junior Kassi Johnson (shot put, discus, 800) is perhaps the team's strongest thrower and finished 15th at the Big Cs.
Williamson said his team has been struggling to get outside early this season. Not because of snowfall, though. Rather due to ashfall from Mount Redoubt's eruptions.
"The snow's gone, but all the wind is blowing down here and the ash is down here, what do you do?" he asked. "You go back in the halls and it's just really frustrating. That's been our problem, just that combination."
Leading 11 boys are junior distance runner Tux Seims and junior Mike Pate (200, 400).
"He's come on real strong," Williamson said of Seims. "He's showing a lot of steady strength in the distance events. He's our strongest distance runner."
There are also seven freshmen on the boys squad, a strong sign of things to come.
"That's a good start, especially if we can just do OK this year and help build the program up, that's what I was hoping to do when I came on."
Sophomore Kayla Williamson (400) qualified for state last year and along with junior Denali Critchett (100, 200, 800 relay) and senior Katie Miller (1,600, 3,200) will guide the team of nine girls.
He said the 800 relay team of Kelsey Haas, Brittney Wyatt, Critchett and Williamson is looking strong, too.
Like all coaches, Williamson is anxiously anticipating getting his team on an actual outdoor track for true competition.
"I think it's going to be a good meet up there," he said of today's Skyview meet.
"It's a good combination of teams that look like they can compete instead of getting blown out."
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