Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Kenai Central junior Tyler Spalding's athletic prowess is his personality.
"He's someone you'd want your own kids to be like," said Kenai jumping coach Heidi Harding.
Harding said Spalding, a soft-spoken, 6-foot-5 jumping and throwing machine, is one of the most coachable athletes she's ever coached.
"He's always willing to do whatever you tell him," she said. "He makes my job easy."
Spalding turned in the most impressive performance of the Skyview Invitational on Friday and Saturday, combining wins in all three jumping events with a first place in the discus to help the Kardinals boys to a second-place team finish behind Colony. Matt Jaronik led the Knights by sweeping the sprints, winning the 100, 200 and 400 meters.
Wasilla won the girls team title.
Kenai throwing coach Joe Trujillo said he'd like to take credit for Spalding's new-found discus prowess -- Spalding only started throwing last year -- but said he had little to do with the junior's powerful right arm.
"That's not me, that's just natural athletic ability," Trujillo said.
Spalding's work in the field events was just one of the highlights for Kenai, which also turned in a second-place performance in the girls team race behind two individual wins from Lierin Flanagan (200, 400) and victories in three of four relay events.
The host Skyview Panthers finished fifth in both the boys and girls team competitions, highlighted by wins in both the 400 and 800 boys relay events thanks to the work of speedsters Jordan McNamara, Albert White, Kyle Pietro, Kyle Shedd, Jason Sounveri and Vlad Federer.
"Now they must feel like they can compete with the best," remarked Skyview coach Rob Sparks after watching his sprinters' stellar showing.
Skyview distance specialist Ivy O'Guinn won the 3,200 meters on Friday and placed second in the 800 despite battling stomach pains. O'Guinn nearly held on for the 800 win, losing out to Wasilla sophomore Morgan Dampier by just two-hundredths of a second.
The Soldotna girls finished sixth, while the SoHi boys were ninth. The Stars didn't pick up any individual wins, but they came awful close on Friday, when girls high jumper Mariah Ulen leaped 4 feet, 10 inches, to tie Susitna Valley's Bailey Stevenson. Unfortunately, Stevenson took fewer jumps to clear the height and take the first-place ribbon.
The annual early season track meet gave athletes from schools across Alaska -- teams traveled from as far away as Nome -- a chance to gauge their fitness as Alaska's truncated track season begins its mad dash toward region and state competition.
"It's nice because most of my competition is here," O'Guinn said. "You know where you stand."
The meet played out under sunny skies, although a persistent breeze did keep athletes in their sweats until the last possible moment before each event.
Kenai head coach Tim Sandahl said he was very pleased with his team's showing. Though the Kardinals are dwarfed in size by schools like Wasilla -- which had more than 90 kids go out for track this season -- Sandahl said his team is learning how to maximize its potential.
"Right now we're just trying to figure out how many kids we can get to the state meet," he said.
It helps when athletes like Spalding are able to score points in multiple events. Despite turning in the meet's best performance, the multisport athlete said he was more stoked about getting to pal around with his fellow competitors outside the thrower's ring and sand pit.
"I like that you get to meet a lot of different people," said Spalding, who also plays football and basketball.
However, he did admit he's not too nice to take his spot atop the podium.
"I just like the competition, because it helps you keep getting better and better," he said.
And he doesn't just clean up when it comes to collecting first-place ribbons. Coach Harding told a story about Spalding from last year's region meet in Kodiak. While bunking at Harding's parents' house on the Rock, someone else clogged a toilet, flooding a bathroom. Tyler to the rescue.
"He was the first one in there cleaning it up," she said. "He didn't even do it, but he just wanted to help out."
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