For many Kenai Peninsula prep athletes, this weekend will represent a major stepping stone to greatness.
Today and Saturday at the Region III Track and Field Meet at Skyview, peninsula competitors who have posted some of the state's best marks this year will vie for individual and team region championships, as well as an opportunity to compete for state titles.
Coach Mark Devenney's Soldotna girls team is looking to repeat their team win from last year.
"We're not going there to get second," he said. "We have two teams we have to worry about for the girls -- Palmer and Colony."
He pointed out that Palmer will also bring a strong boys team, as will Kodiak, which won the 2002 regional meet.
Having had a short winter and plenty of time to get on the track, teams have enjoyed increasingly improving times on the track and stretching distances in field events. Unfortunately, the added time practicing and competing has allowed time for injuries.
"This is the time of year everybody's injured," said Skyview coach Rob Sparks. "Everybody's got a sore foot or a shin splint or a tight quad."
Skyview will be led by a pair of hurdlers and a pair of hurlers who sit atop Alaska's current rankings in their respective events.
Seniors Adam Kosydar and Levi McKay have the state's best and second best distances in the discus, with Kosydar maxing out the list with a 168-foot, 10-inch throw.
Senior Trevor Tompkins tops the state best for the 300 hurdles with a time of 41.09 seconds from his win last Saturday at the Borough Championships, and he posted a second-best time in the 110 hurdles.
Sparks said if junior Kaleb Shields -- who normally is faster than Tompkins -- has recovered well enough from a foot injury, the two should finish one-two in both hurdle events.
The Panthers also look to get big finishes from sprinters Jack Reed (in the 100-meter dash) and Mike Waer (in the 200), and from their boys 400 and 800 relay teams consisting of Waer, Reed, Ty Pepper and Jacob Bellinger. The team, however, could face stiff competition from Palmer.
Nikiski's star girls performer, senior Svenja Lau, has qualified for seven events, but coach Ned Clooten said she was experiencing some soreness in her foot.
"If we can get Svenja healthy, we'll be in great shape," he said. "Determining where she goes is going to affect everyone. But that's a good problem to have."
Lau has qualified in both hurdle events, the discus and shot put, the long jump, the 1,600 relay and the region favorite girls 400 relay, which she will share with sophomore Eirleen Lee and freshmen Angie Doty and Georgi Heaverly. Doty is also a favorite in the 100.
Both Kenai's girls and boys have speed on their side with depth that Kardinal coach Liz Burck said the team hasn't enjoyed in some time. A core group of boys middle distance runners on the 3,200 relay and a state-leading high jumper are favorites, but quickness from the Kardinal's ranks could surprise many.
"We have a strong contingent of sprinters," she said, referring to Nathan Schmidt, John McGlasson and Shaun Kaiser and her girls sprint relay teams.
Kardinal senior Mick Boyle and junior Trevor Baldwin look to contend against Palmer's Dickson brothers -- Aaron and Drew -- in the open 800, and 1,600. But the two also will join seniors Clifford Cochran and Morgan Saltenberger for a 3,200 relay team that is a strong favorite.
Senior Dallas Baldwin has set the state mark for the girl's high jump this year at 5-4, and she is expected to win the event.
Homer senior Cody Smith has the state's best time in the 400 and is the Mariner's top competitor. He said he expects to finish in the top three in Region competition, so he can return to the state meet and improve on his 15th-place state finish from last year.
For Soldotna, Ari Goldstein has the best times in the region in the 800 and the 1,600 races and promises to lead the pack in both races. Junior Tracy Pitts is expected to make a strong showing in both hurdle events, and junior Brittany Gardner has logged the region's longest triple jump.
For the boys, junior Josh Tonione has the state's second best time in the open 400 and sophomore Brian Chase will be a top contender in the 300 hurdles.
Seward's 3,200 relay is the region's best with sophomore Whitney Anderson leading that group and carrying promising performances in the open 3,200 and the 1,600 into the weekend's meet. In field events, look for Monica Banic to excel for the Seahawks in the triple jump, and for Michelle Dieckgraeff to flourish in the shot put and discus.
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