After being pegged as the favorites to win their third straight Region III/4A girls cross country crown, injuries have put the Soldotna girls in danger of missing out on that prize.
When the Region III meet is run Saturday at Palmer, the Stars will be able to count on their customary one-two punch. Senior Ari Goldstein returns to defend her title, while Katie Franzmann, who was second at regions last year, also returns.
However, two of Soldotna's next fastest runners are battling injuries, according to Soldotna coach Mark Devenney. Devenney still has Brittany Osland, Liana Purrugganan, Amanda Boll and Danielle Severson, but Boll also has an injury.
"They're disappointed because they've worked so hard to get here," Devenney said. "Life doesn't come with instructions and guarantees. We'll do the best we can. That's really what we do, anyhow."
If the injuries significantly slow Soldotna, Kenai Central will have a better shot at earning a top-three finish and locking up a state berth. The Kardinals also could be battling Palmer and Kodiak for a region title.
Lauren Baldwin did not run last week at boroughs due to injury, but Kenai coach Liz Burck said Kenai's top runner should run this week.
With support from Elena Bird, Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, Alee Rowley, Michelle Oberg, Jessica Summer and Anina Stauffacher, the Kardinals have a lot of potential at the meet.
Skyview, the final Class 4A entrant from the central Kenai Peninsula, is focusing on individual goals at the meet. Coach Kyle Gauthier wants every runner to set a personal record.
"I would be very happy with that," Gauthier said. "That, and no downpours."
On the boys side, Burck also thinks her team has the potential to go to state, but also said Colony, Palmer, Kodiak and Soldotna all have that same potential.
"There's probably going to be five teams competing for those three slots," Burck said. "On one Saturday we could beat some of them, on the next Saturday we could get beat. It's going to be mental."
Trevor Baldwin will be the top runner for Kenai. Defending region champ Peter Doner of Colony will provide a tough challenge in the individual race.
Burck then said Levi Sutton, Jed McGlasson, John McGlasson, Chris Amen, Kris Larson and Trent Semmens will all have to have good races in order for Kenai to advance to state.
Devenney said his boys would have to run great to make it to state, particularly because No. 2 runner Caleb Chase sprained his ankle in the borough meet.
Patrick Lybrand is the Stars' top runner, while Rob Navarro and Sean Towhy will have to keep the points low if Soldotna is to have a chance.
Nikiski will be the central peninsula's entrant in the Class 1-2-3A race.
On the boys side, coach Mario Bird's Bulldogs will run into talented teams Valdez, Grace Christian, Seward and Anchorage Christian Schools. Those four are so good it will probably be harder to make it to state as a Class 1-2-3A team in the region than a Class 4A team.
"3A boys is stacked," Bird said. "It's just a feeding frenzy."
Bird said his boys will focus on running their best times at the meet.
On the girls side, Bird said Laura Rooper and Whitney Hitchcock have been running in the top 10 in Region III/Class 1-2-3A and have a great shot at earning a state berth.
Bird said the Class 1-2-3A girls teams are not incredibly strong, but he said Nikiski has to worry about fielding a full team before worrying about qualifying one for state.
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