They're ready to get serious.
With the Nikiski Class Races and the Bartlett Relays in the books, the Kenai Peninsula's high school cross country running teams now look to next week's Skyview Invitational, the first big test of the season.
"That's our first real big meet. We're looking forward to that one," said Homer coach Daryl Farrens. "We started with some low-key, fun kind of meets, but Bartlett is the last one. (The Skyview Invitational) is when we start getting serious."
Of course, there are many runners who have been serious all summer, faithfully logging their training miles as they work toward reaching their goals this season. The Soldotna girls would like to repeat their Kenai Peninsula Borough and Region III team titles, as well as improve on their third-place finish at the state meet, which will take place at Palmer this year on Sept. 27.
"They're really hungry," Soldotna coach Mark Devenney said of his girls team. "We had the best season in the history of Soldotna cross country last year, and the girls still think they have some unfinished business. They trained together all summer."
"Our girls team has been to state the last two years," Farrens said. "That's probably something they're shooting to repeat, although the Region III girls teams are getting more competitive every year. It's getting tougher to do that, but they realize the price it takes to get there, and they're willing to give it their best shot."
The Kenai Central boys captured the borough title a season ago, then qualified for the state meet with their third-place finish behind Kodiak and Palmer at the Region III meet. Three runners have moved on from last year's team, and coach Liz Burck is hoping the new faces will keep the Kardinals in the hunt for another state berth in a region that gets more competitive every year.
"It's real hard to tell how it'll work out in the end," Burck said.
"I think the guys side is pretty competitive," Devenney said. "Colony is a pretty good team, Kodiak is pretty good, and I think Kenai will be pretty good. The rest of us are all about the same."
While the peninsula's Class 4A schools have had their share of success at the region and state level over the past few years, the peninsula's smaller schools have been anything but slackers.
The Cook Inlet Academy boys took four of the top 10 spots to win the Region II meet while the Ninilchik girls placed second to earn a trip to state.
The CIA boys were third at the 1-2-3A state meet behind Valdez and Seward.
"We were fortunate," said CIA coach Ted McKenney. "We took third at state last year, and I get all my guys back.
"Seward and Valdez took first and second, and they also bring back four of their top five, so it won't be easy to move up but we'll try."
The Seward girls also finished third at state.
"I'd love it if my boys and girls went to state this year, but they have a long way to go," said Ninilchik coach Penny Vadla. "If they want it, they'll have a chance at it."
The following is a team-by-team look at the peninsula's cross country teams:
COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES
The CIA boys, led by defending Region II champion Brian Beeson, a junior, will look to make another run at a state title.
Also returning for the Eagles is Greg Brown, Thomas Minelga, Andy Hall and Trapper Alsworth.
"It's a little early to tell, but we're looking forward to a good year," said coach Ted McKenney.
McKenney said some freshmen and sophomore runners will round out the team, and added that the girls team is building.
Kenai's Trevor Baldwin approaches the finish line during last season's Region III Cross Country Championships at Skyview High School. Baldwin is a key returning runner for the Kardinals.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Skyview Invitational will be the team's first meet.
Coach Daryl Farrens said he has a big group of freshmen this year to complement his more experienced upperclassmen.
Leading the boys team is senior Monte Garroutte, who already has wins in the Mariner 3-Miler, the Nikiski Class Races and a Kodiak tri-meet under his belt this season.
Mike Farrens, a junior, has improved from a JV runner last season to this year's No. 2 runner, and coach Farrens said he sees promise in freshmen Garrett Hoanin and Colin McArthur. Junior Travis Hines and sophomore Morgan Jones return from last year's varsity squad.
Senior Aleta Phelps leads the girls team and also has wins in the Mariner 3-Miler, Nikiski Class Races and Kodiak tri-meet to her credit.
Also returning are juniors Melanie Mach and Samantha Halpin, and sophomores Megan Mahan and Hannah Harrison.
Farrens said freshman Erica Klaar and juniors Kristin Vantrease and Monica Peters also have been running well.
"We've still got some folks out fishing. I'm hoping they will make a contribution when they finally get in," Farrens said.
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The Kenai boys return four of their their top seven runners who clinched a borough title and a trip to state last season.
Leading the way is senior Mick Boyle, the runner-up at the borough meet and a sixth-place finisher in Region III competition. Junior Trevor Baldwin, third at boroughs last season and a top-10 finisher in the region meet, also returns as does junior Chris Amen and senior Brian Stocks.
Freshmen Jed McGlasson will try to fill the shoes of older brother John, and junior Jon Sanchez will make the varsity lineup after running JV last season.
Coach Liz Burck also is looking for contributions from freshman Tim Amen and Brazilian exchange student Andre Correa.
On the girls side, Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, a junior, was the only runner to represent the Kenai girls at state last season and returns for another campaign.
Also returning from last year's squad is juniors Elena Bird, Larissa Cochran and Karlyn Remsen, and sophomore Alee Rowley. New to the squad will be freshmen Lauren Baldwin, Michelle Oberg, Danielle Nath and Elissa White.
"They have been working hard at practice, and they felt pretty good about how they did at the Nikiski Class Races last weekend," Burck said.
Coach Beth Ladd characterized her first season with the Bulldogs as a building year.
"It's a really small team so far, but the ones I do have are excellent kids," Ladd said. "They're all heart.
"I couldn't ask for anything more."
Ben Quesnel has provided senior leadership for the Bulldogs, and Paul Morin, Ben Kellie and Mike Wicker have been running well for the boys team.
On the girls side, Ladd pointed to Laura Rooper, Angie Doty and Sharon Miller as ones to watch.
Ladd, who grew up in Homer and competed for the Mariners, said she's looking forward to seeing just how far her runners will go.
"I think these kids are going to find they can do more than they thought they could," Ladd said. "... There's a lot of talent waiting to be tapped.
"As it is, the kids are thanking me for running them hard at practice."
Coach Penny Vadla said she has a nice, well-rounded team to start the season, though she's hoping to pick up a few more runners as the fishing season winds down and school starts up.
Senior Katie Moerlein returns to the squad as does her sister Kendra, a sophomore. Also returning is sophomore Angela Singh while senior Amanda Matson and freshmen Krista Leman and Madison Moe are new to the squad.
On the boys side, Vincent Kruzick, a senior, returns to the squad along with fellow seniors Jason Schollenberg and John Paul Russo. Sophomore Tony Nakjua returns while Conner Cooper is new to the team.
The Wolverines will participate in the 6.1-mile River-to-River Run at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in Ninilchik this weekend in preparation for the Skyview Invitational. Vadla said her squad is excited to get their new uniforms, and overall, she's been pleased with how well they've been running.
Vadla said she's been varying practices, mixing in sprint work and the occasional bike ride to keep things lively.
"I know my seniors definitely would like to make a visit to sate," Vadla said. "I see a lot of team support, with my frontrunners working with my backrunners. There's a lot of support for each other, and not so much, 'Me, me, me.'"
The Seahawks are looking to repeat last season's stellar performances.
The Seward boys were third at the borough meet and followed that with a second-place finish at the Region III-3A championship. The Seahawks ran to a second-place finish at the state 1-2-3A meet.
The Seward girls were fourth in the borough but went on to third-place finishes at the Region III-3A and state 1-2-3A competitions.
Skyview coach Kyle Gauthier said her Panthers are off to a slow start as athletes are scrambling to get their 10 team practices in to be eligible for competition.
Leading the girls team is junior Marci Mohler. Mohler was fourth at the state championships a season ago, and Gauthier said she has very good potential this season.
Eli Hutchison, a sophomore, will run for the boys team this year.
"He has a really strong work ethic and natural ability. It's really exciting having him out," Gauthier said.
Gauthier said she was excited about the incoming crop of freshmen, calling them "program builders."
"They're champing at the bit," coach Mark Devenney said of his squad.
The Soldotna girls took the region title last season and finished third at the state meet.
Senior Jessica Weimer was third at the state meet, junior Ari Goldstein notched a 10th-place finish and junior Katie Franzmann was 12th.
"They should be among the best in the state," Devenney said.
Devenney said junior Katie Pankoski has stepped up as the team's No. 4 runner while the 5, 6 and 7 spots could be filled by several runners, including junior Rachel McCarten, senior Sierra Williams and newcomer sophomore Brittany Osland. Senior Brandi Denna also has been running well.
"It will just be week to week as to who's running best," Devenney said.
Senior Ryan Walton has been the Soldotna boys top runner and qualified for the state meet last season. Other varsity runners include sophomore Caleb Chase, senior Matt Haberman and freshman Robert Navarro. Alex Hundertmark, a senior, also should run with the team's top seven.
Devenney said that in all, 28 runners came out for the team, a good number for a school Soldotna's size.
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