Kenai Peninsula cross-country programs Soldotna, Kenai Central, Homer and Seward all have decorated pasts, and each of those programs has a chance to add more glory Saturday at the state cross-country meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.
After the Division III races, which do not have any peninsula runners, the Division II girls race is at noon, the Division I girls race is at 12:45 p.m., the Division II boys race is at 1:30 p.m. and the Division I boys race is at 2:15 p.m.
In the Division II girls race, Kenai Central senior Jayna Boonstra has a chance to put the finishing touches on one of the best small-schools running careers in Alaska history.
On its website, the Alaska School Activities Association uses a point system to rank cross-country performers. Boonstra, with wins in 2020 and 2021 and a fourth-place finish in 2019, already sits eighth on the list with 37 points. If she places first through third, she will sit alone in fourth place at the end of the day.
If Boonstra is able to win, she will join Seward’s Emily Ransom (titles in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993), Glennallen’s Briahna Gerlach (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016) and Kenny Lake’s Kailey Wilson (2008, 2009, 2010) as the only runners with three or more small-schools titles.
Boonstra has already joined Allie Ostrander (Class 4A titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014) and Jaycie Calvert (Division II title in 2018) as state champs from Kenai.
Boonstra’s only victory this season was at the Homer Invitational on Sept. 2. She said Saturday after finishing second in the Region 3/Division II race that she has been dealing with sickness and is focused on being rested for state.
Seward junior Hailey Ingalls defeated Boonstra at both the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet and the region meet. If Ingalls is able to win Saturday, she will join a long line of Seward girls champs including Ransom, Whitney Anderson (2003), Rubye Foldager (2004, 2006) and Denali Foldager (2005).
Those two will have plenty of challengers for the title, including Sitka sophomore Clare Mullin, who won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the Division II state track meet as a freshman.
The girls team race also will give the Homer and Seward squads chances to add to their legacies.
The Seward girls have small-schools titles in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2007, while the Homer girls have titles in 1988, 1989, 1990, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
At the region meet, Homer edged Seward for the team title by three points.
Homer head coach Bob Ostrom said his Mariners and the Seahawks could be involved in a close battle for the state title.
“The girls are region champs and that’s really cool,” Ostrom said. “They’re really racing well together and working good as a team. Nobody is out front winning races, but they’re finishing close to each other.
“Most of the year, we’ve had the least amount of spread betweeen first and fifth place.”
Ostrom added that Sitka also could be a threat to claim the girls state crown.
In the Division II boys race, Homer senior Seamus McDonough has a chance to be the first Mariners boy to take a state title since ASAA started keeping records of the meet in 1973. Autumn Daigle, in 2017 and 2019, is the only Homer runner to win state in that time.
McDonough has been battling with Grace senior David Sliwinski, the defending Division II champion, all season, with Sliwinski topping McDonough by a second at regions.
“I think it comes down to, with each of those two, what kind of day they are having,” Ostrom said. “They were so close at regions. We’re trying different strategies to see what works with David and Seamus, but it’s probably going to be who’s having a better day that day.”
Ostrom has no complaints about the work McDonough has done to get to this point. He said McDonough would come home from ski workouts and run on the treadmill last winter.
Then he put in a heavy racing schedule during the track season when he went out for the sport for the first time.
“He’s got a winning attitude,” Ostrom said. “He knows you don’t always win, and that it’s hard to win, but that makes him more determined to keep working harder. He knows he’ll get there eventually.”
Ostrom said Grace Christian is the heavy favorite to win the boys team title, but the coach would love it if Homer could defeat Sitka and take second place.
In the Division I girls race, Soldotna freshmen Sophia Jedlicki and Tania Boonstra will look to be in the mix for top finishes.
Jedlicki is fresh off a dominant win in the Region 3/Division I race Saturday.
Chugiak’s Campbell Peterson is the favorite in the girls race. Peterson has not lost a race this season.
A big-schools state title by a peninsula runner is rare. Other than Ostrander, Ari Goldstein (2003, 2004), Andy Liebner (2000) and Kyle McBride (2001) are the only other runners to have done it since ASAA started keeping records in 1973.
“She’s very low key about it,” Soldotna head coach Krista Arthur said of Jedlicki. “She’s really just going out and running. She’s going to have a strategy to not lead the race, and go out and stay with Campbell.”
Arthur said Boonstra also has her eye on a top-15 finish, which means a medal. Sophomore Annie Burns is up there, as well.
The only peninsua runner in the Division I race will be sophomore Jacob Strausbaugh.
Arthur said she has a young group of runners. Only two have seen the course at Bartlett.
“I’m super excited about the team,” Arthur said. “They’re young. I want them to go to the state meet and run, do the best that they can, and take notes. We’ve got a huge future ahead of us.”