Last year, the girls title at the Region III Track and Field Tournament came down to the final race.
Expect more of the same this year.
"It's going to be really close," said first-year Wasilla coach Dan Michael, whose team most would consider the girls favorite. "I'm too new to this game. I've never cared about scoring points before this year.
"I think the meet's going to come right down to the 4 X 4 (relay)."
The Region III meet will be hosted by Colony at Palmer High School Friday and Saturday.
At stake for the 15 teams will be more than region glory. The top finisher in each race will automatically qualify for next week's state meet, which also will be held at Palmer. Individuals and relays also can qualify based on the rank of their times in the state.
The only time all the teams of Region III have been in one place this year was the Skyview Invitational on April 28 and 29.
Taking titles at that meet were the Wasilla girls and the Colony boys.
Most expect the Wasilla girls to repeat the trophy-winning performance at the Region III meet under intense pressure from Colony, Soldotna and Kenai.
"With those teams all right there, this is by far the closest it's been," said Soldotna coach Mark Devenney, in his ninth year with the Stars. "I'm not sure about the first year I was here, but there's been nothing like this after that."
If either Kenai or Soldotna are to catch Wasilla, it will be because of X-factors. For the Stars, that factor is Devenney. For Kenai, it's Michelle Edwards.
Devenney has led the SoHi girls to six of the last seven region titles. Fellow region coaches respect his ability to figure out what points he needs to win a meet, then inspire his girls to get those points.
Last year, the Stars did not come close to defeating Colony all year until they edged them at the region meet.
"Everybody has been warning me about him," Michael said of Devenney. "When we were at Skyview, everybody was warning me about Kenai.
"But it was Soldotna that ended up staying right with us."
Performers Devenney said he will be counting on for big points at regions are Janna Schaafsma in the hurdles and sprints, Annette Rhoades in the 400, Lissa Cristiano in the sprints, Sasha Cvetkovski in the throws, and the 400- and 3,200-relay teams.
Kenai finished seventh at the Skyview Invite, more than 50 points behind Wasilla. But the Kards had a number of scratches that day due to the prom, and they didn't have Edwards.
Edwards, who finished second in the state in the 400 as a freshman, showed how much of a difference she can make at last weekend's borough meet. The sophomore took the 400, 800 and anchored the winning 1,600-relay in helping Kenai beat Soldotna by 60 points.
"The dynamics of the team scoring change when you get in a large meet like this," said Kenai co-coach Tim Delaney, whose school has not won a region title since the mid-1980s. "You have to have a very strong performance in an event to score points.
"Having Edwards will definitely make a difference."
Delaney said the Kenai girls also should get points from Tamanika Haynes in the sprints, Dallas Baldwin in the high jump, Erica Smith in the high jump, Erin Smith in the high jump, Mary Krusen in the distance events and Nicole Spence in the sprints.
Elsewhere on the peninsula, girls teams don't have the depth to compete for the team title. But there are many individuals who will push for a state berth.
At Skyview, coach Rob Sparks said the Panthers' best chances come from Erika Edwards in the distance events and Christina Rice in the throws. Edwards has the region's best times in the 1,600 and 3,200. Sparks also said distance runner Kaleena Schouweiler and the 3,200-relay team have a chance at state.
At Nikiski, coach Reid Kornstad said to watch for Katie Floyd in the hurdles and Inger Hulien in the discus. Sally Glaze, who has the region's best long jump, will not compete due to injury.
At Homer, coach Alan Olson said to watch for Karen Parkinson in the discus, Nahanni Wills in the 300 hurdles, Erin Pate in the triple jump and Sara Thorsrud in the triple jump. Both Pate and Parkinson have the region's best marks.
In the boys meet, Colony is favored to make off with its fourth region title in the last five years. The Knights won the Skyview Invitational, but lost at their borough meet last week to Kodiak and Palmer.
Colony coach Pat Cunningham said that's because his team has quality, not quantity. The borough meet only had eight teams. With the whole region present, points will spread out between other teams, but Colony should keep its points because it has region best marks in seven events.
"We won the Skyview Invitational, and this meet should be like that," Cunningham said. "I'm concerned about Kodiak and Soldotna."
The Stars were the last boys team from the peninsula to win a region title. That win came in 1994.
"I think Kodiak is really strong and I think Colony is really strong," Devenney said. "I think our guys are going to do pretty well.
"This team is a lot better than they think they are."
Soldotna has a solid competitor in nearly event, but the only member of the team with a top-two mark in the region is Derek Tarr in the triple jump.
Devenney said other key performers for the Stars will be Billy Moiles in the shot put and Brandon Newbould, Andy Liebner, Kyle McBride, Brent Knight and Mark Musgrove in distance events.
None of the other boys teams on the peninsula have the depth to mount a challenge for the team title. However, those teams will send performers with chances at earning state berths.
At Nikiski, senior Mario Bird has the top time in the 1,600 and the third-best time in the 800. Fellow Bulldog Jeremy Kouf has region bests in the 100 and long jump.
Nikiski's Josh Reilly will be a competitor in the 300 hurdles, while Bird, Kouf, Reilly and Ryan Wicker make up an improving 1,600-relay team.
At Skyview, Sparks said Paul Begins will have to make it in the neighborhood of 51 seconds to have a shot at state. Sparks also said his 1,600-relay team is Skyview's biggest hope for state.
At Kenai, Rocky Fanning has the region's second best time in the 300 hurdles, while Jason Kornfield will compete in four events and Jacob La Shot will go in the 800 and 1,600.
Finally, at Homer Olsen mentioned Josh Chambers in the 100, Michael Abbott in the 200 and Aaron Ulmer in the 800. He also said the sprint relays have been putting up solid times.
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