Practice for Kenai Central cross country coach Liz Burck started Thursday with varsity girls runner Michelle Edwards mock interviewing her about how it felt to coach Marion Jones and Venus and Serena Williams.
It continued with varsity runner Karli Knudsen lodging a complaint every time, of all things, Burck told the team to run. Varsity runners Katherine Amen and Mary Krusen also spiced up the occasion with hairdos that had little braids shooting haphazardly from all areas of their heads.
The workout ended with the varsity girls heading off to do a cool-down run while engaged in rah-rah chanting.
Burck drew about the only conclusion about her team that was possible after the hour of shenanigans: "They're strange," she said.
Come Saturday, when six of the peninsula's cross country running programs head to Palmer to run in the Region III Championships, being strange and a Kardinal girls varsity runner should be a good thing.
'We never go into regions thinking we're going to breeze through. It always seems like someone's tough.'
Mark Doner, Colony coach
Strange means not normal and in the past it has been normal for the Kards girls not to place first at regions. In fact, Burck dug up region records since 1972 and found the Kenai girls had never won a region title.
That could change this year thanks to a team that has talent in areas other than hairstyling. The Kardinals were the top Region III team at the Palmer Invitational this year, finishing two points ahead of powerhouse Colony. The Knights have taken the last eight Region III/Class 4A girls titles.
"We beat them (at Palmer) and we'd love to do it again," Burck said. "We know we don't have a chance to take state, so that's going to be our season right there.
"Our goal this season has been to beat Colony. If we could take it, it'd be too cool."
While the Kenai girls program has no history of Region III glory, Colony has confidence in its corner. During the Knights eight-year run, there have been serious challengers to their throne, but those challengers have always left the castle empty-handed.
"We never go into regions thinking we're going to breeze through," said Colony coach Mark Doner. "It always seems like someone's tough.
"Last year, Kenai beat us at Palmer, too, but we were able to beat them at regions."
Last year, Knights Nikki Campbell, Dominique Colberg and Diana Heimerl went 1-2-3 to lead Colony to the crown. Those three are back this year, but the Kardinals should counter them with Amen, Krusen and Lindsey Church.
Both Burck and Doner agreed the key will be the Nos. 4 and 5 runners for each team.
In the girls individual race, Skyview senior Erika Edwards is looking to keep Campbell from winning the region again. Edwards won the title as a sophomore before sitting out her junior year with a knee injury.
She has been the top Region III placer at all of the meets this year.
"I like the Palmer course the best," Edwards said after winning the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet Saturday. "I'm looking forward to regions."
Panthers coach Kent Peterson said the Skyview girls also have a good shot at finishing in the top three at regions, qualifying them for the state meet Sept. 30 on their home course at Tsalteshi Trails.
In the boys Class 4A race, Palmer and Soldotna should produce a team battle as intriguing as that of the Kenai and Colony girls.
The Stars started out this season white hot, blowing away the state at the Skyview Invitational. However, Soldotna battled injuries and finished second to Palmer at the Palmer Invitational.
Saturday, it looks like Soldotna will get Ben Histand back, but it also looks like Daniel Harro will not run due to injury.
"It would be nice to go into this meet without injuries," SoHi interim coach Dan Harbison said. "We'll take it as it comes.
"It will definitely make us put in our best performance if we are going to win."
In the Class 4A boys individual race, Kodiak's Curtis Mortenson, who finished second at regions last year to the graduated Eric Strabel, is the favorite after winning the Palmer Invitational.
Soldotna's Andy Liebner and Kyle McBride, among others, should give Mortenson a strong run for his money.
In the Class 1-2-3A portion of the Region III meet, peninsula teams Nikiski and Seward also will look for state berths. In order to get to state, a team must finish in the top three and an individual in the top 15.
Also Saturday, Ninilchik will look for state berths at the Region II/2A meet.
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