The only hint of track on Seward's cross country course is that the 5-kilometer run starts at the football field at the high school, which is surrounded by the track.
Thus, when the Region III cross country meet comes to Seward Saturday, the emphasis will be on cross country.
"Right now, it's been pelting rain in Seward," said Seahawks head coach Dan Marshall. "It could be a true cross country running experience (Saturday).
"A lot of guys have really worked hard to turn cross country into a track-like experience by analyzing things like times, distances and foot placements. But it could be kind of rough Saturday, and that's what cross country is all about."
The region meet will consist of four races that will decide which runners and teams get to compete in the state meet at Palmer High School on Sept. 29.
The girls Class 1-2-3A girls race will be at 1:30 p.m. while the boys Class 1-2-3A race will follow at 2:15 p.m. The Class 4A girls take to the trail at 3 p.m., while the Class 4A boys follow at 3:45 p.m.
In the Class 4A boys race, two-time defending state champion Soldotna will be looking to get its region title back from Palmer.
The Stars won regions two years ago, but then lost regions to Palmer last year before coming back the following week to top the Moose at state.
SoHi coach Mark Devenney said Kodiak and Palmer are the main threats the Stars will face at regions. Soldotna has not lost to either of those teams all season.
"The next two weeks are what they've been running for since the middle of October last year," Devenney said. "The seniors want to be remembered as something special.
"If they can pull it off the next two weeks, they probably will be."
Soldotna senior Kyle McBride goes into the race having not lost to another Region III runner all season. Right on his heels are expected to be fellow seniors Ben Histand, Brent Knight and Bill Keller.
The Kenai Central boys broke through to finish second at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet Saturday, and coach Liz Burck has not ruled out a top-three finish at regions that would quality her team for state.
"As long as they all have good races, they'll feel good about what they've accomplished this season," Burck said. "I know it's a long shot, but we're not going into state thinking, 'We don't even have a chance, so let's not work hard.'"
Kenai will be led by sophomore Mick Boyle and freshman Trevor Baldwin, and if the Kards don't make it as a team, the two could finish in the top 15 and make it to state as individuals.
Homer assistant Tari Hoeft said the Mariners also are looking at qualifying some individuals for state. She said the goal is to get Monte Garroutte, Andrew Peters and Travis Kauffman into the top 15.
Meanwhile, Skyview coach Kent Peterson said he has a young team, led by freshman James Hilbish, that is looking to gain valuable experience at the meet.
In the girls 4A race, Kenai Central is favored to repeat as champions, although Burck is taking nothing for granted.
"Soldotna has come on really strong this season," Burck said. "They have three really strong runners. The others are further back, but they're improving all the time, too.
"We've talked about that this week."
Soldotna's top three runners are freshman Ari Goldstein, sophomore Jessica Weimer and junior Rachel Goldstein. Kenai's top runner is Katherine Amen, and then the Kardinals have a pack of depth and experience to carry them the rest of the way.
Colony's Dominique Colberg has not been defeated by a Region III runner this year, but there are a number of runners that could challenge her.
In addition to runners from Soldotna and Kenai, the challengers include Skyview freshman Marci Mohler, who won the borough meet last week.
"She's hoping to keep Dominique in sight and use her as a rabbit to chase a really fast time," Skyview coach Kent Peterson said of Mohler. "If she's staying with Dominique, she'll be getting great experience."
Peterson said the Skyview girls will try to have enough runners to field a team, but he said the team has been hit hard by injuries and it will be tough.
As for Homer, Hoeft said she would like to see Melanie Mach, Aleta Phelps and Syverine Abrahamson qualify for state as individuals.
In the Class 1-2-3A races, peninsula schools Nikiski and Seward both have a good shot of sending a fair number of athletes to state.
The Bulldogs had two runners qualify for state last year, but first-year Nikiski coach has his athletes eyeing a pair of team berths this year.
"We're pretty excited," Gillaspie said. "We've keyed ourselves in to run three hard meets this year. This would be the third. The first two were Skyview and Palmer. Hopefully, the fourth one will be state."
At the Palmer and Skyview invitationals, the Nikiski boys were the second Class 1-2-3A team in the state. The first team was Region III foe Anchorage Christian Schools.
Gillaspie said Ryan Wicker, John Rooper and Anthony Sykes will be Nikiski's first three runners, but the important finishes could come from Nos. 4, 5 and 6 runners like Joey Wicker, Anthony Lorenzo and Chris McCaughey.
At the Palmer Invitational, the Nikiski girls finished behind Region III rivals Grace Christian and Seward, but just finished ahead of region entries ACS and Houston.
Gillaspie said if the group of Anjani Salonen, Katie Floyd, Zara Lounsbury, Emilee Gillaspie and Jessica Ralston steps up, they could give the Bulldogs two team entries at state.
As for Seward, Marshall likes the state chances of his girls team. The coach said he hasn't turned his girls loose all season, and he'd like to use this meet to see if people like Sarah Hermann and Kelly Houghton can help the Seahawks close on Grace, the top team in the state.
"Our goal isn't to beat them this race, but we'd like to knock on their back door," Marshall said.
The Seward boys will face a tougher road to state, with four of the best Class 1-2-3A teams coming from Region III.
Marshall said his team is a solid fifth in the region right now. In order to qualify, the Seahawks need No. 1 runner Seth Price to have a great race, and they also need Nos. 4 and 5 runners like Trent Foldager to move up in the pack.
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