Area cross country teams will seek to extend their seasons by qualifying for state when the Region III cross country championships come to Tsalteshi Trails on Saturday.
Area coaches favored the Wasilla girls to win the Class 4A title, and the Wasilla or Kodiak boys to take the other side of Class 4A. In Class 3A, coaches expect a sweep by Grace Christian.
That still leaves an opening for peninsula squads at the meet, which starts with open races at 9:45 a.m. and continues with varsity races starting at 11:15 a.m.
In Class 3A, the top three teams and top 15 individuals qualify for state. In Class 4A, the top four teams and top 15 individuals will run at the Bartlett High School Running Trails next Saturday.
Kenai Central, which is hosting the meet, has a chance to send both its girls and boys teams to Bartlett, according to Kards coach D'Anna Gibson. Gibson said the best shot comes from her girls.
"Barring any injury or illness, we shouldn't have too much trouble," Gibson said.
The Kards are led by Bailey Beeson, who also is a contender for the individual title. Hope Steffensen has stepped up for Kenai this year, and Taylor Ostrander completes a solid top three. Michelle Klaben, Freya Chay, Rylee Devito, Chelsea Springer and Noelle Schmitter-Schrier give the Kards the depth needed to fill out the final two slots.
For the Kenai boys, state is more dicey. Kodiak and Wasilla will take the top two, but Kenai, Palmer, Colony and Skyview will fight for the last two state slots.
Gibson said Travis Semmens and Fox Michaud will lead the effort to qualify, and also have a good shot at qualifying as individuals. The team is filled out by Evan Atchley, Andrew Mole, James Watkins, Alex Springer and Nate Mole.
The Soldotna girls have solid runners in the top three, but injury has made qualifying for the Stars more difficult.
Bree Mucha is a threat to take the individual title, and Melanie Smith and Maranda Merkes both could crack the top 15. Beyond that, the Stars are hurt by the injury of Rachel Wyatt.
"We lost one of our runners, and we're feeling that," Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. "We're trying to put something together."
The coach said Kaitlin Christensen, Kristin Hynne and Kara Kauffman will have to step up to salt away the state berth.
Harbison said his boys team will be hard-pressed to make state. Dillon Jensen and Colten Schneider have a chance to qualify as individuals.
At Skyview, a fast-improving boys team has its sights set on state. Gibson said the Panthers have gained on her team as the year has progressed.
"The kids are getting good," Skyview coach Ted McKenney said. "They've been working hard. We've narrowed that gap."
McKenney said his boys team does not have a standout runner, but all the runners do well in the pack. The team is made up of Bud Sparks, Daniel Rozak, Micah Hilbish, Sam Janorschke, Brayden Holt, Leif Danielson and Garren Lucas.
The coach said a berth for his girls team is not possible due to the quality in the rest of the region. He did say Hannah Hutchison has a chance to make her second straight trip to state as an individual.
In the Class 1-2-3A race, the Seward girls and boys have excellent chances to make state. The Seward boys won the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet last weekend, with Brett Chase winning, Miles Knotek taking second and Austin Gillespie taking third. Andrew Buchanan (seventh) and Matthew Moore (ninth) also made the top 10.
The Seahawks girls finished second to Kenai at the race, and were led by Kristina Atherton in ninth, Mackenzie Barnwell in 10th and Laura Dyer in 11th.
The Nikiski boys had enough runners to qualify as a team at boroughs, but the Bulldogs face stiff competition in seeking a state berth.
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