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Jeff's call: Notes on state track

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2010

n Lierin Flanagan's state record-setting time of 55.95 seconds in the 400 meters last Saturday moved her up to the 52nd-best time in the nation heading into this weekend, according to athletic.net. With that time, Flanagan would have placed fifth in the 400 relay in the girls Class 1-2-3A meet.

In Alaska, Flanagan has been limited by a short track season and cold weather, but has been able to keep lowering her times. A quick look comparing Alaska state records to athletic.net's season bests shows just how much cold weather and short season affect Alaska athletes. Jordan Clarke's shot put record and Doug Herron's 800 record would currently lead athletic.net. Clarke's discus record would be eighth. None of the other records would be in the top 10.

It should be interesting to see how much Flanagan can improve when she gets into the Division I track program at Montana State University.

* Skyview's Ivy O'Guinn deserves credit for almost pulling off an extremely tough triple. O'Guinn won the 3,200 on the meet's first day and the 1,600 on the meet's second day, but then came up short when she finished second in the 800.

Of course, she lost the 800 to Wasilla's Morgan Dampier, who set a new state record of 2:13.95. No shame in that.

Like many distance stalwarts before her, O'Guinn fell victim to going up against a fresh speedster in the 800. Dampier had dropped out of the 400 earlier in the day in order to shoot for the record in the 800, which the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reports she has had posted on her wall since the seventh grade.

So the task for O'Guinn was this: Outrun the best runners in the state over three miles, then try and beat a fresh sprinter (Dampier was sixth in the 100) over the last 800 meters.

The triple has been accomplished by runners like Juneau's Leah Francis in 2008, Soldotna's Ari Goldstein in 2004 and West's Kris Smith in 2002. Runners like Kikkan Randall, the current Olympic cross-country skier from East, have failed to win all three at one state meet. The last to do it on the boys side is Dimond's Laird Prosser in 1995, meaning athletes like Trevor Dunbar of Kodiak and Eric Strabel of Colony were never able to turn the triple.

* Kenai Central sophomore Bailey Beeson would have won the 400 in four of the last 10 years with her time of 58.46. As a sophomore, does Beeson's time give her a chance to one day take Flanagan's record? Yes, but remember what made Flanagan so unique was her ability to keep improving her times. Previous record holder Andrea Crook of Bartlett set the previous record of 57.14 in 2006, then went 57.67 in 2007 and 57.92 in 2008.

* Dimond's Keiahnna Engel ended up with the state record in the 100 hurdles after both Engel and Juneau's Emily Sharp broke the record in the prelims. The new record is 14.90 seconds. The old record belonged to Soldotna's Janna Schaafsma, who ran 15.03 in 2001.

Soldotna still owns the second-most state records, with four. Bartlett tops the list with seven state records. The other two peninsula record holders are Flanagan in the 400 and the 1,600-relay team of the Kenai girls.

* It's safe to say it will be some time before the state sees a 1,600-relay race like the Class 4A girls race this year. The talent of Flanagan and Beeson has been previously established, and on most years that would be more than enough to assure a state title.

Not this season. Dimond, which took the girls team title under the leadership of Kenai Central graduate Kathleen Navarre, had three of the top seven finishers in the open 400. The other member of the team? You've already been introduced to her in this notes section -- new 100 hurdles record holder Keiahnna Engel.

So it was no surprise Kenai trailed after the first two legs of Leah Sandahl and Shaynee DeVito. Beeson began to reel in the Lynx, then Flanagan closed with a wickedly low split that one coach had at 54.9 seconds.

The result? Dimond ran 4:02.47 to crush Kenai's state record from a year ago by 2 seconds. But Kenai retained its record by going 4:01.72. That's an average of 60.43 seconds per runner. A time of 60.43 would have placed a runner seventh in the open 400 this year at state.

* As impressive as Flanagan's speed is, she's got nothing on Soldotna's Mariah Ulen, who finished second in the high jump and seventh in the 300 hurdles. According to Alaska Raceway Park in Palmer, Ulen reported to the drag strip the day after the track meet and drove her Junior Dragster to a win over her rival from last year, Sean Kordewick of Anchorage.

Prior to the 2010 North American Hockey League Entry Draft, the Kenai River Brown Bears tendered nine players. Six hail from Alaska. Here's a look at each of those players:

* Shane Topf -- A Chugiak High School product, Topf, a forward, has played for the Alaska Jr. Avalanche. He earned a spot on the all-tournament team at state in 2009 and was an honorable mention for the 2010 all-state team.

* Trent Wohlers -- A Wasilla High School product, Wohlers is listed as a forward/defenseman. He also played for the Alaska Jr. Avalanche. Wohlers was named to the first team all-state in 2010.

* Bobby Murphy -- Hailing from Anchorage, Murphy, a forward, went Outside this past season to play for the Southern Calf. Titans, a Midget 18AAA team. He had 22 points in 38 games played with the Titans.

* Tyler Isaacs -- Isaacs, of Palmer, played with the Pikes Peak Miners, a Colorado-based U-18 North American Prospects Hockey League team. In 10 games, he had six points. Isaacs is a forward.

* Matt Thompson -- A West Anchorage product, Thompson played 26 games this last year with the Carleton Place Canadians in the Central Junior Hockey League. Thompson, a forward, was named to the 2007 all-tournament team at state.

* Tommy Gerken -- An East Anchorage product, Gerken was named to the second team all-state this year. The blue liner has also skated with the Alaska North Stars.

Although each tender is the property of the Brown Bears, each still has to earn a spot on the team during the main camp, which will be held July 22 to 25 in Minnesota. In addition to signing the nine tenders, Kenai River drafted 11 players. All 20 are protected by the Brown Bears, but not every one will be skating in Soldotna next season.

"We drafted some that are completely gung-ho and others that we hope might play for us, and even others still that are highly talented and need to earn a spot on the team," Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said in an interview Thursday. "You try to get some pieces that you hope will work."

David's been hard at work since the end of the season. He has a goal to make the 2010-11 Brown Bears, who have finished last in their division since the franchise's inception in 2007, as competitive as possible.

"We want to make this team as difficult to make as possible," he said. "We want to win. We want more kids to go to college. We want more people from the community in the stands. We're trying to change the culture of our team."

Changes of that magnitude don't happen by wishing. It takes work. And David has been backing up his words. I've been in fairly regular contact with David since the season ended, and besides a two-week trip home to California, David's been busy getting graduating players to the college level and focusing on the upcoming season.

Even during his vacation, he took time for interviews about his former players that have signed with colleges. It's that kind of dedication that's needed to grow a new program like the Brown Bears.

Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak work in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at sports@peninsulaclarion.com.



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