As the freshly crowned borough champions, both the Soldotna girls and Kenai Central boys track and field teams head to the Region III track and field championships at Palmer High School Friday and Saturday with shots at the team crown.
The experience of setting sights on the region crown couldn't be more different for the two teams.
The Stars, who finished second last year to Colony at regions, will be looking for their eighth region crown in 12 years.
The race for the region crown will probably come down to Colony and Soldotna again.
"Colony's got some really good athletes," Soldotna coach Mark Devenney said. "They're stronger than us in the sprints, we're stronger than them in distance. They're pretty good in the high jump, we're pretty good in the throws. In the horizontal jumps we're about equal.
"I think we're probably a little bit deeper."
The Kenai Central boys, meanwhile, are new to being region royalty. As of midweek, Kenai Central coach Liz Burck did not know when the last time the Kardinals had made off with a boys crown.
Therefore, Burck knows just how hard it is to have everything come together at the region meet.
"There are several teams that we know are real competitive and historically have done well at the end of the season," Burck said. "When we get to the region meet, we're not taking anything for granted.
"We've been talking strategy and trying to work hard at practice. We know we're in for a tough weekend."
While most other teams on the peninsula don't have the depth and quality it takes to win a region title, there is still plenty at stake at regions.
The top finisher in each event at regions earns an automatic bid to the state tournament May 21 and 22 at Bartlett High School. Plus, those with the next 10 statewide best times qualify for state in individual events. In the relays, the next two statewide best times will qualify.
The following is a closer look at the Kenai Peninsula's track teams as they head to regions:
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
The Eagles, a Class 2A school, will be competing at the Region II track and field championships at Susitna Valley High School.
Cook Inlet Academy will be led by distance runner Brian Beeson. At the borough meet, Beeson finished fourth in the 3,200-meter run, fourth in the 1,600 and fifth in the 800.
The other one of the Eagles to place at the borough meet was Stephanie McNutt, who was sixth in the 200.
The Mariners received a couple of performances at the borough meet that show they will be in line for some state berths.
Monte Garroutte was first in the 1,600, second in the 800 and third in the 3,200. He will not run the 3,200 at regions, so his times in the 800 and 1,600 should improve.
The Mariners also had Jared Weaver place second in the shot put and Josh Blanchard place second in the discus.
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The Kardinals are a threat to win the region title because they are so balanced.
John McGlasson is one of the region's top sprinters, Mick Boyle and Trevor Baldwin are two of the region's top distance runners, Papapa Nicholas is one of the region's top throwers and Dakota Craig is one of the region's top long jumpers.
However, Burck knows she'll need other good performances if the Kardinals are to triumph.
"I think we've got some depth in the sprinting events," Burck said. "We have to have lots of kids step up."
On the girls side, sprinter Candace Walker and hurdler Amber McGlasson are top candidates to qualify for state.
Nikiski coach Ned Clooten has a few athletes that have great shots at state, but has many that will be on the edge and need great performances to extend their seasons.
Angie Doty, who has been hampered by foot injuries, showed that she is coming along by winning the 100 and 200 at boroughs.
Billy Anderson also has his sights set on state, but Clooten is not sure which events Anderson will run. Anderson is good in the 110 hurdles and long jump, but also has put up solid times in the 300 hurdles and the 400. However, the 300 hurdles and 400 are too close together to run competitively at a top level.
Debbie Duggin, who took second in the discus and fourth in the shot put at boroughs, also has been coming on strong and is in line for a state berth.
First-year Ninilchik coach Chris Hanson will be heading up to the Region II meet for the first time.
He doesn't know what to expect, but if the way his team has worked is any indication, Hanson is expecting nice results.
"I've really challenged the kids this year," Hanson said. "I've been tough on them with some hard workouts.
"They've done some things I don't think they're used to, but they've responded well."
Amanda Peterson surprised a few observers by winning the shot put at boroughs, but Hanson said Peterson's performance wasn't a surprise to those at Ninilchik.
Other individuals with good shots at advancing to state are Vincent Kruzick in the 100, Emily Wood in the 100, Amanda Matson in the long jump, Charles Pulliam in the long jump and Jason Schollenberg in the 300 hurdles.
Hanson also likes the chances of the 400 and 800 relay teams.
Seward turned in some performances at the borough meet that show coach Cliff Draper should produce a few state qualifiers in his final region meet.
At boroughs, Matt Adams finished second in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600. Nate Buchanan was third in the 400, while Monica Banic was second in the triple jump and Lisa Steinbrecher was third in the discus.
While Skyview coach Rob Sparks does not have the depth on the boys side to compete for the region title again, the Panthers should still gobble up some state berths.
Kaleb Shields has put up the top times in the state in both the 110 and 300 hurdles.
Shields also will team up with Nathan Schmidt, Andrew Smith and Tyler Wehrli for 800 and 1,600 relay teams that will battle for state berths.
Schmidt will look for an individual berth in the 200, while Schmidt and Wehrli will both go after berths in the 400.
On the girls side, Ella Fehrer has qualified for state in the hurdles as a freshman and sophomore, and Sparks is looking for her to extend that string this year.
Other Panthers that are right in the mix for state berths are Christina Shadura in the shot put, Jennifer Holland in the high jump and Gabbie Merry in the discus.
Ari Goldstein will lead Soldotna's push to reclaim the region crown when she runs the 3,200, 1,600 and 800. It's a tough triple to accomplish, but Goldstein has the top time in the state in all three events.
Soldotna also should get a lot of points from Tracy Pitts in the hurdles, Kaylee Wilbanks in the shot put and discus and Brandi Denna in the 400.
Brittany Gardner has a damaged tendon in her heel, but if the injury doesn't slow her down, she should provide points in the long jump and triple jump.
Also, thanks to runners like Brittany Osland, Katy Pankoski and Rachel McCartan, Soldotna also has depth in the distance events and good distance relays.
"You win a lot of championship meets with fourths and fifths, and I think we have some people like our young hurdlers or throwers that are going to score there," Devenney said.
On the boys side, Matt Hicks is returning from an injured ankle and will make a difference in the shot put and discus. Patrick Lybrand is one of the region's top triple jumpers, while Brian Chase and Alex Pfaffe give Soldotna state threats in the hurdles.
Devenney also said Ryan Walton has done a good job in the 800, but added that 800 times in the state are so good this year that Walton would have to put forth a top performance to qualify. The coach also said the Stars have a chance to send their 400 and 800 relay teams to state.
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