Soldotna senior Jordan Ruffner competes at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna senior Jordan Ruffner competes at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Boonstra seeks repeat as state champion

Kenai Central junior Jayna Boonstra will attempt to give her school a girls individual state running title for the sixth time in 10 years at the state cross-country meet Saturday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.

In 2012, Allie Ostrander became the first Kardinals girl to take a state title, then followed that up with more Division I hardware in 2013 and 2014.

In 2018, Jaycie Calvert won a girls title after Kenai moved to Division II, then Boonstra added another crown last season.

The event begins with the Division III boys race at 10 a.m. and the Division III girls race at 10:45 a.m.

Next comes the Division II boys at noon and the Division I boys at 12:45 p.m. The event concludes with the Division II girls at 1:30 p.m. and the Division I girls at 2:15 p.m.

Boonstra will have a fight on her hands if she wants to retain the title. At the Ted McKenney Invitational on Aug. 21, Boonstra was the second Division II runner to cross the line, finishing nine seconds behind freshman Kai Waythomas of Grace Christian.

At the George Plumley Invite at Palmer High School on Sept. 11, Boonstra was again the second Division II runner, this time 20 seconds behind Waythomas.

Lately, Boonstra has been on top of all Grace runners, beating Waythomas by 14 seconds and junior Megan Nelson, second at state last season, by 25 seconds at the Frank D. Invite in Seward on Sept. 17, then topping Nelson by a second and Waythomas by 18 seconds at the Region 3 meet in Kodiak on Saturday.

Todd Boonstra, Kenai’s coach and Jayna’s father, points out that the Kardinals have seen little of the competition from outside Southcentral, so other runners could be a threat.

“Going into state, we know the competition is going to run fast,” Boonstra said. “We’ll come ready go to and hopefully be ready for whatever is presented to us.”

Jayna Boonstra will be joined by a bunch of state qualifiers from the Kenai Peninsula.

The Kenai girls, Kenai boys, Soldotna girls, Homer girls and Homer boys all qualified as teams. In addition, Seward’s Hailey Ingalls qualified for the Divsion II race as an individual, and Nikolaevsk’s Justin Trail won the Region 2 meet to qualify for the Division III race.

The Soldotna girls will make a third-straight trip to state.

Seniors Jordan Strausbaugh and Jordan Ruffner led the Stars at regions by taking third and fourth, respectively. Kaidence Shaeffer, Kaytlin McAnelly, Avery Ciufo, Carson Dement and Megan Whittom also make the trip for Soldotna.

Soldotna coach Krista Arthur said it’d be great if the Jordans could crack the top 15 and get medals at state for the first time.

The big team goal is to defeat Kodiak.

Arthur said the Stars have battled back and forth with the Bears this season. The bond between the two programs was heightened by a conversation between Arthur and Kodiak coach Ashley Mortenson.

Mortenson told Arthur that Ted McKenney, the former SoHi coach who died at 64 in 2020 due to brain cancer, had encouraged Mortenson to build the girls program.

Kodiak’s boys program has dominated the region for years, but the girls program qualified for state in 2019 for the first time since 2011.

“She was close with Ted,” Arthur said of McKenney. “They’ve had a battle with us. They beat us at regions, now the girls want to get them back at state.”

In addition to Boonstra, Leah Fallon, Summer Foster, Gabriella Tews, Mya Taylor, Emilee Wilson and Emily Moss will run for Kenai.

Running for the boys will be Gregory Fallon, Jack Laker, Joe Hamilton, Tyler Hippchen, Armands Veksejs, Nathan Haakenson and George Wright.

The Kardinals girls are going to state for the seventh straight year, while the boys are making a third straight appearance.

Grace Christian is the favorite for the team titles, but Boonstra said he would like to get as many runners in the top 10 as possible. The coach said Fallon, Laker, Hamilton and Hippchen are possibilities for the boys, while Boonstra, Fallon, Wilson and Foster could do it for the girls.

Homer has grown into one of the most consistent cross-country programs in the state. This year, the girls appear at state for the ninth straight time, while the boys make an eighth appearance in nine years.

“Especially in school this week, the kids are having a great time with it,” Homer coach Bob Ostrom said. “They get their lockers decorated, and we’re planning some stuff for the bus trip this week.”

Ostrom said the Grizzlies boys are most likely out of reach for the team title, but he would like to see his girls push Grace a bit. At the Region III meet, the Grizzlies girls won Division II with 39 points, while the Mariners had 54.

“We’re always looking to move up,” Ostrom said. “We had them worried in the first half of the race. Our girls ran pretty well the first half of the race.”

Even if the future is not now for Homer, the future is most certainly bright.

The girls will run junior Eryn Field, sophomore Frida Renner, sophomore Elena Badajos, sophomore Adelyn McCorison, freshman Bea McDonough, freshman McKenna Black and junior Leah Dunn.

The boys will run junior Seamus McDonough, junior Damon Weisser, freshman Jody Goodrich, junior Lance Seneff, senior Adams Veldstra, sophomore Brock Barth and senior Aiden Brost.

“Both our boys and our girls are excited about the long-term outlook over the next few years,” Ostrom said.

Ostrom said his boys struggled a bit in the extremely windy conditions at regions at Kodiak. McDonough is a tall, slender runner who had his worst time of the year.

“We flew back on the same plane with other teams, and all of the tall kids were saying they had a really bad day,” Ostrom said. “He’ll take that and move up this week. Every time he’s had a setback, he’s come back even more motivated.”

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