Tyler Spalding's quest began on the central Kenai Peninsula when he was a freshman in high school.
Thit Bak's started in Denmark when she was 10.
The athletes took different paths to the Class 4A state track and field championships, which are today and Saturday in Fairbanks.
Yet they both expect to win individual titles.
"It means a lot," said Spalding, a senior at Kenai Central and the defending state champ in the high jump and triple jump. "I want to go out with a strong finish."
Added Bak, a junior foreign-exchange student at Skyview who holds the state's top mark in the high jump: "Just do my best and enjoy it."
Athletes from Soldotna and Homer also will compete at the Class 4A event, while Nikiski, Seward and Cook Inlet Academy will compete in the Class 1-2-3A meet. It's Spalding and Bak who figure to bring home the hardware.
A lifelong Peninsula resident, Spalding will compete in four events -- the high jump, triple jump and discus on Friday and the shot put on Saturday. Born in Vanloese, Denmark, Bak will compete in three -- Friday's high and triple and Saturday's long jump.
Spalding, 18, is set to add to what has become an impressive list of accomplishments over four years at Kenai Central.
Bak, 17, who helped the volleyball team to a 16-2 record and also played on the girls basketball squad, is set to go down in lore after one year at Skyview. She will return to Denmark in August after 10 months abroad.
"She is kind of like a celebrity walking the halls, having the success with volleyball and track," Skyview coach Rob Sparks said.
Spalding, who also plays basketball, joined the track and field squad as a freshman when former Kenai Central boys basketball coach Jim Beeson suggested he take up another sport during the offseason.
Since then, he has reached state four consecutive times.
Spalding placed 10th in both the triple and high in 2008. He took third in the triple, fourth in the discus and sixth in the high in 2009. And he broke through in 2010, qualifying in four events and winning the high and triple while placing fourth in the discus and long.
Perhaps most impressive to Kenai Central coach Tim Sandahl is Spalding's maturation over the past four years.
"He was more interested in riding snowmachines and doing things like that. As a freshman he was a little awkward, still had good hops, but was just kind of a typical freshman who had stars in his eyes," Sandahl said by phone Thursday from Fairbanks. "(He's gone) from one who is hard to coach as a freshman, maybe even a little bit of a head case, to somebody who is the coach, can coach younger kids and help other kids. When anybody reaches that point (in high school), you have kind of reached the pinnacle."
Bak, meanwhile, began competing in the sport at the age of 10 because, "I needed something to do."
She received instruction from nationally certified coaches in Denmark and arrived at Skyview as a polished athlete, Sparks said.
The results prove it.
Bak enters state with the best mark in the high jump at 5 feet, 4 inches. She is second-best in the triple (35--2) and eighth-best in the long (15--6).
"It's kind of an interesting thing because you don't know them from previous years," Sparks said of coaching foreign-exchange students. "You could tell she was well-coached. It's not like we had to go in and teach her a bunch of new things."
Spalding plans to continue track and field at either the University of Montana or the University of Alaska Anchorage.
First he has some unfinished business.
Spalding enters the weekend with the state's best scores in the high (6--6), the triple (144--4) and the discus (153--7).
In the shot put, his best toss puts him fourth in the state entering the meet.
"Confidence is really high in the high jump and triple jump. I would be a little bit shocked if he didn't win both of those," Sandahl said. "The discus, having to keep it inbounds is an issue. If he can keep it inbounds and go off like he did in practice yesterday, he will have a lot of success."
Bak, who for the past three weeks has battled a sore left ankle, hopes to win the high at 5--4 and jump more than 35 feet in the triple and more than 16 in the long.
Sparks said they are focused on winning the high, and the rest will fall into place.
Regardless of the results, Bak said she won't forget her time on the Peninsula.
"All the sports, all the friends I've met," she said. "That's what I will remember."
Expectations are undeniably high for Spalding, who holds the school record in the triple and high. The conditions figure to be ideal for jumping because the meet is outdoors and the forecast for temperatures is in the upper 60s.
Spalding prefers to jump outside because he is allowed to wear special shoes, giving him better traction on his launching foot.
"My ultimate goal is to jump 6--8 in the high jump," Spalding said. "That would be the ultimate, ultimate goal, but we'll see how it goes."
Central Kenai Peninsula state track and field qualifiers
Kenai Central -- Bailey Beeson, 400, 800, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Shaynee DeVito, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Leah Sandhal, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 1,600 relay; Carolyn Kiefer, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Freya Chay, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Olivia Pfeifer, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Noelle Schmitter-Schrier, 3,200 relay; Adam Agosti, 400; Joe Sandahl, 110 hurdles; Tyler Spalding, high jump, triple jump, shot put, discus.
Soldotna -- Jelly Nolden, 100, 200, 800 relay; Bree Mucha, 400, 800 relay; Mariah Ulen, 100 hurdles, high jump, triple jump; Megan Gordon, 800 relay; Alicia Hamilton, 800 relay: Jessie Duke, shot put, discus; Hannah Cristiano, discus; MacKenzie Senn, 800 relay; Mary Valenzuela, 800 relay; Colton Schneider, 200, 400, high jump, long jump; Jay Ulen, high jump.
Skyview -- Thit Bak, high jump, triple jump, long jump; Marlee Cunningham, long jump, triple jump; Marissa Mahan, shot put; Megan Parham, discus; Jasen Suonvieri, 100, 400 relay, 800 relay, 1,600 relay; Albert White, 100, 400 relay, 800 relay, 1,600 relay; Micah Hilbish, 1,600, 3,200 relay; Brayden Holt, 3,200, 3,200 relay; Brandon Rice, 400 relay, 800 relay; Richard Reynolds, 400 relay, 800 relay, 1,600 relay; Daniel Rozak, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Kyle Shedd, 800 relay; Cody Werthmuller, 3,200 relay; Bud Sparks, 300 hurdles, 400 relay; 800 relay; Alex Rodriguez, shot put; Jeremiah Hilbish, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Cody Williams, 1,600 relay; Cody Stephenson, 400 relay;
Homer -- Cassidy Soistman, triple jump; Mitch Wyatt, 300 hurdles, discus.
Nikiski -- Haley Conti, 400 relay; Kerry Ross, 400 relay; Sienna Wallis, 400 relay; Ruscia-Lea Colton, 400 relay; Sayyid Parrish, 200, 1,600 relay; Jordan Taylor, 1,600 relay; Seth Carstens, 1,600 relay, high jump; Trevor Ray, 1,600 relay; Lincoln Johnson, discus; Cole Covey, 1,600 relay; Patrick Sterling, 1,600 relay.
Seward -- Tessa Adelmann, shot put, discus; Austin Gillespie, 400, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Brett Chase, 800, 800 relay, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Miles Knotek, 1,600, 3,200, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Matthew Moore, 1,600, high jump, 3,200 relay; Andrew Buchanan, 300 hurdles, 800 relay, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay; Aaron Sorenson, 300 hurdles, 400 relay, 800 relay; Dezi Smith, 400 relay, 800 relay; Jayna O'Leary, 400 relay, 800 relay; Tannen Berry, 400 relay; Beau Crosby, 400 relay, 800 relay, discus; Ryan O'Leary, 400 relay, 1,600 relay; Jacob Marshall, 1,600 relay, 3,200 relay.
Cook Inlet -- Meghan Powers, long jump; Cara Davidson, discus; Zach Taplin, shot put, discus.
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