If the Kenai Central girls cross-country team is going to reclaim the Class 4A state title, they are going to have to rely on familiar faces.
If the Homer girls and boys are going to retain their Class 1-2-3A state crowns, the Mariners will have to rely on some new faces.
Two years ago, with three sophomores and two freshmen for scoring runners and fresh off losing three-time state champ Allie Ostrander to graduation, the Kardinals stormed to the first state title in school history.
Last season, the Kards mounted a solid defense of their state title, winning a second straight Region III championship and finishing second to West Valley at state after placing four of five runners in the top 25.
Then Monday, Kenai showed it’s not done chasing titles yet. Those same five girls that won the state title for the Kards were all within 1 minutes, 33 seconds, of each other at the Nikiski Class Races.
And posting the top time of the day, after taking 35th at state last season, was senior Addison Gibson.
“They’re taking advantage of every opportunity,” Kenai coach Maria Calvert said of her team. “Addie dug in, and when the opportunity presented itself, she did really well.
“That’s what you want from leaders and seniors.”
Even with the strong start, Calvert knows just holding onto the region title will be tough, with SoHi coach Ted McKenney attending the Colony Invitational last weekend and touting the strength of Palmer girls. And that’s not even mentioning the challenge West Valley and the big Anchorage schools will present at state.
The Homer girls and boys also will have a number of hungry pursuers, but unlike the Kards, the Mariners will have to rely on fresh faces to fend off those challenges.
The change starts at the top, where Bill Steyer has moved on after seven years. But new coach Annie Ridgely is prepared for the new job.
Ridgely coached track and cross-country at the middle school levels, and worked extensively with Steyer there. Ridgely also watched Steyer intently this past track season when she learned he would be leaving.
Not only that, but Steyer coached Ridgely in her running, and Steyer spent time counseling Ridgely about taking over the Homer programs.
Ridgely also said having quality assistants like Pedro Ochoa and Robert Ostrum will allow for a team approach to filling in for Steyer.
“I feel like there’s big shoes to fill, but he played an integral part in me realizing that I bring my own shoes to the table,” Ridgely said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to walk into a state championship team.”
The girls actually have three straight state titles, but lost four graduates integral to that success. The boys are more intact, having lost just one graduate.
Ridgely said her concern is not all the pursuers to the crown.
“I’m just focused on my team,” she said. “I have really high expectations, and every time I set the bar high, they exceed it.”
The first big meet of the season will be the Tsalteshi Invitational, held Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails. The girls open race is at noon, the boys open race is at 1:30 p.m., the girls varsity race is at 1:30 p.m. and the boys varsity race is at 2:15 p.m.
The following is a closer look at the Kenai Peninsula’s cross-country teams:
Ridgely has about 25 runners out in her first year as coach.
She said her girls squad has a lot of young talent. That talent can now learn from the three returners from the state championship team — senior Alex Moseley, junior Katie Davis and sophomore Autumn Daigle.
Moseley has been in the top 15 in all of her Region III and state races throughout her career. Davis should be returning from a stress fracture in a few weeks, while Daigle finished third at the Region III meet and sixth at state as a freshman.
Some of the new talent is junior Sienna Carey and freshmen Shine Carey and Brooke Miller.
“I’m really excited about having some new freshmen girls still get to run with some of what’s remaining from a really strong team,” Ridgely said. “They can pull them along and show them what it means to be a championship runner.”
For the boys, seniors Jacob Davis, Denver Waclawski and Jordan Beachy, and juniors Bill Rich, Luciano Fasulo and Denver Waclawski all return.
Davis was sixth at state, Fasulo was eighth, Beachy was 11th, Rich was 26th and Waclawski was 34th.
Sophomore Mose Hayes and freshmen Clayton Beachy and Eyoab Knapp add more power to the team, though Knapp may be transferring out of state to focus on basketball.
“We’re feeling really good,” Ridgely said. “They’re real powerful runners and Bill had them right up there at the top. We’re keeping them fast and strong.”
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
Calvert, now in her third year at the helm, has 34 runners out for the team this season.
Her top five runners all have solid resumes.
Senior Riana Boonstra has one Region III championship to her credit and three top 10 finishes in the state. Junior Jaycie Calvert has finished in the top five in each of her Region III and state appearances.
Senior Ithaca Bergholtz has finished in the top 10 in each of her Region III meets, and also has a top 10 in state. Junior Brooke Satathite finished fifth at regions and 14th at state after missing the top 20 in both meets as a freshman, while Gibson had a sixth place finish at regions and a 11th place finish at state as a sophomore.
Calvert said junior Sarah Drury will hold down the sixth position, while junior Maria Salzetti, senior Lauren Hall and senior captain Dareena Doyle will battle for the seventh spot.
“We have a really great core of girls that are working hard,” Calvert said. “They’re supportive of each other and the whole team and that goes a long way.”
The boys will be led by senior Karl Danielson, who qualified for state last season but could not attend due to a prior commitment. Senior Gideon Collver also returns to the varsity.
“We just have a lot of new faces,” Calvert said. “We have a lot of new, first-time runners.
“There are so many of them competing for spots on varsity, I can truthfully say who we are at the beginning of the season will not be who we are at the end.”
Anna Widman has nine runners out for the team.
On the boys side, seniors Gavin Wallis, Aaron McCollum and Henry Heft are all back for their fourth seasons.
“Gavin and Aaron are aiming to get below 20-minute times this season and are working very hard in practice to make that happen,” Widman wrote in an email. “Their runs are getting longer and they are doing more intervals and hill reps than in previous years.”
Widman adds that juniors Joseph Yorkowski and Bryan McCollum are setting the bar high and giving the seniors heavy competition.
On the girls side, freshmen Shaylyn Stroman and Emily Hufford join Alysa Smith and Liz Oliva. Widman said all of the girls runners have a lot of enthusiasm and spirit which will allow them to progress as the season goes on.
Coach Steve Klaich has seven runners out for the squad in his ninth season, including five runners that qualified for the Class 1-2-3A state meet.
The returning state qualifiers are junior Michael Trail and sophomores Zachary Trail, Elizabeth Fefelov, Justina Fefelov and Isabelle Hickman.
Klaich said Cordova will now be a part of Region II this season, meaning the road to state will be much tougher.
PORT GRAHAM KILLER WHALES
Port Graham started as a club program in 2015 before becoming a program recognized by the Alaska School Activities Association last season.
Colby and Devin Way coach the program, with Colby focusing on high school and Devin focusing on middle school. In 2013, Colby revived the cross-country program in Point Lay, which is west of Utqiagvik.
“The overall goal for the Port Graham XC team is to always get better as a runner, but more importantly as a person,” Colby wrote in an email. “We encourage students to push themselves and find a positive, healthy outlet.”
Port Graham has two high school runners and four middle school runners out for the team. High school runners Suzanne LaBelle and Malachi Joseph are both returners from last season.
In his 26th season, the program of Dan Marshall continues to be very popular, with 37 runners out for the team.
“He just wants to maintain the integrity of the program,” assistant coach Theresa Bickling said of Marshall. “He wants the kids to have fun and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
The method also brings the Seahawks annual success, with the girls and boys teams both being regulars at the state meet.
The girls team will be led by senior Ruby Lindquist, who won the Region III/1-2-3A meet as a sophomore and has been in the top 10 in every region and state meet of her career.
“She’s looking great,” Bickling said. “She went to a running camp this year and did a really great job maintaining her mileage.
“I think she’ll have a great senior year.”
Senior Emma Moore, junior Sadie Lindquist and freshman Hanna Cooney also will serve as the foundation of the team.
The top three returners on the boys side are seniors Zen Petrosius and Brendan McMurry, and junior Steven Osborn.
“We do have a group of freshmen boys that are upcoming and have a lot of promise,” Bickling said. “We have a lot of runners this year and that makes it fun. It contributes to positive team dynamics.”
SoHi coach Ted McKenney has been coaching cross-country on the peninsula for over 30 years, and now is in his fourth year leading the Stars. SoHi has 40 runners out for the team.
McKenney’s time at Soldotna has been marked by injury misfortune, and this year has proven to be no exception. Senior Josh Shuler, who qualified for state last season, broke his leg in June and has just recently been cleared to run again, putting him at a big disadvantage in the short Alaska cross-country season. Junior Jeremy Kupferschmid has been lost for the season with a foot injury.
But McKenney said the Stars boys may be good enough to overcome those injuries.
“Our boys are pretty good,” McKenney said. “Without three of the top five, we still finished third at Colony.”
Senior Koby Vinson qualified for state last season and will be eligible to run for the first time this season at Saturday’s Tsalteshi Invitational.
McKenney also said sophomores Lance Chilton and Bradley Walters put in work this summer and are really stepping up. Senior John-Mark Pothast adds another experienced runner to the squad.
The girls will be led by senior Kellie Arthur. McKenney was encouraged by her sixth place finish in the junior-senior race at the Nikiski Class Races.
“She stepped up and pushed the pace,” McKenney said. “It was a bold step because she can be a pretty timid runner.
“Palmer and Kenai are both stacked, so she’s going to have to keep the hammer down.”
McKenney said the girls team is young and has promise. In the freshmen-sophomore race at Nikiski, Cameron Blackwell was fourth and Erika Arthur was fifth as the Stars put four in the top 10 to take the team championship.