The state’s top runners will gather at Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School Saturday for the State Cross Country Championships.
The Kenai Peninsula will be represented by several individual runners in the Class 4A competition while in the 1-2-3A competition, teams from Cook Inlet Academy and Seward qualified for the event.
The boys will take to the trails first this year, with the 1-2-3A race slated to start at noon, with the 4A boys to toe the line at 12:45 p.m. The 1-2-3A girls will start at 1:30 p.m. and the 4A girls will finish up the competition with a 2:15 p.m. start.
“For us, it’s a challenge to get there,” said Cook Inlet coach Ted McKenney. “For them to get that far is quite an accomplishment. They work hard, as hard as anybody. They do the best they can. I’m proud of them.”
The Cook Inlet girls qualified for the meet as the Region II champion, unseating Susitna Valley for the first time in 13 years. Holly Kopp led the Eagles with her second-place finish while Brooke Forsi, Sara Wood and Chelsea Hardcastle also finished in the top 10.
The Cook Inlet boys qualified as a team by virtue of their second-place finish at the Region II meet. Lars Arneson, John Forsi, Scott Litchfield and Chuck Kopp all finished in the top 10 for the Eagles.
The Seward boys and girls teams both qualified for the state meet by finishing third in the 1-2-3A race at the Region III meet. The Seward girls have been led by Denali Foldager, the borough and region meet champion, and Rubye Foldager, last year’s 1-2-3A girls state champion.
Pacing the Seward boys has been David Apperson and Travis Price.
McKenney said he expects quite a battle at the front of the pack in the girls 1-2-3A race. McKenney noted that Kopp has beaten many of the favorites at one point or another this season, but said she’d have to put a perfect race together to be at the front Sunday.
“Our best runners are freshmen. That’ll be a whole new world for them to know how fast that is,” McKenney said.
McKenney said it would be tough on his small team with just five girls and six boys running, but expected the race to be a great experience.
Also looking to have a great experience at the meet will be Nikiski’s Laura Rooper, who earned a spot in the field by finishing in the top 15 at the Region III meet.
The Kenai Peninsula’s 4A schools were shut out of a team berth this year.
“We knew it was going to be close in the region race. It was Colony’s day. They just ran a better race,” said Soldotna coach Dan Harbison.
The Soldotna boys finished fourth as a team at the Region III meet, with the top three teams getting a ticket to state.
However, Patrick Lybrand qualified and will have the opportunity to finish his high school career at the state championships.
“We’re hoping for a good run this weekend,” Harbison said. “He has a few others from the region that will be going out with him that he’s been pacing all season, so it will be good to have them right with us.”
Levi Sutton of Kenai also qualified for the race.
“Levi had an up and down season, he’s been sick and been injured,” said Kenai coach Paul Gutzler. “This is his longest stretch of being injury- and illness-free. He could come out and have a great race.”
Kenai’s Alee Rowley will represent the Kardinals in the girls 4A race.
“She’s had a great career and a real positive week of practice,” Gutzler said of Rowley, the runner-up at the Region III meet.
Ariel Barker and Michaela Hutchison will be running for Skyview at the meet while Tia Halpin and Katie Arsenault qualified for Homer.
“They were pretty nervous before the region meet, hoping they would make it, and pretty relieved afterward,” said Skyview coach Kent Peterson of his runners.
Peterson said his runners would just be looking to benefit from the experience of another big race.
“They just want to keep running better times and get some experience for next year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pull together a whole girls team for next year,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the trails to be used for the race are in pretty good shape after a few dry days gave them some time to dry out and firm up. Peterson said that Bill Holt of the Tsalteshi Trail Association has been putting in time getting the 5-kilometer course gussied up.
“They’re in a ton better shape than they were for boroughs,” Peterson said.
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