Add the prep cross-country season to the many thing that were indelibly marked by the chaotic, extended wildfire season in Southcentral Alaska.
The Soldotna girls and boys swept the Kenai Peninsula Borough cross-country meet Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails, but Stars head coach Ted McKenney wasn’t rejoicing afterward.
“It’s OK,” he said.
A strong promoter of running on the peninsula, McKenney was bummed that many teams were not able to put their strongest foot forward due to missing two major meets and multiple outdoor practices early in the season while wildfires raged on the peninsula.
“It’s been painful,” said McKenney, who coaches at the biggest school in the borough. “You have to figure out who’s in your top five, and then make sure everybody is healthy.
“It’s to our advantage because we have the numbers. We can fill in without losing as much.”
Individual wins went to Kenai Central junior Maison Dunham and Homer senior Autumn Daigle.
Daigle overcame two common adversaries to notch her first borough title — Kenai Central runners and new shoes.
When Daigle was a freshman, the borough title went Kenai’s Riana Boonstra. As a sophomore, Kenai’s Addison Gibson won. Finally, Jaycie Calvert took the prize when Daigle was a junior.
Making matters worse last year was the fact that Daigle wore new shoes that tore up her feet.
“I actually had new shoes on again today, but I wore socks this time,” Daigle said. “That’s why my toes aren’t bleeding.”
Daigle won at 19 minutes, 28 seconds, while Kenai freshman Jayna Boonstra was second at 20:15 and Soldotna sophomore Jordan Strausbaugh nabbed third at 20:46.
Though the margin of victory was big, it was not easy.
“It was actually kind of hard,” Daigle said. “I think I have a mental block for this course, but it still worked out.
“Every time I saw an uphill, I’d sprint up it just to get going. I’m not sure that was a good idea.”
Especially because Homer missed hill workouts early in the year due to wildfire smoke.
“We did them inside on stairs, but that’s not the same,” she said.
Boonstra surprised herself with her runner-up finish. She said she was able to pull away from Strausbaugh in the last mile, which is good, because Boonstra doesn’t like sprint finishes.
“I was hoping to maybe get third, so I’m pretty excited,” Boonstra said, who competed in just her second varsity race this season. “I didn’t know what to expect, because it was my first year running.”
Also scoring for the borough-champion Stars were Erika Arthur in fifth, Cameron Blackwell in 10th, Ryann Cannava in 12th and Isabella Dammeyer in 13th.
Homer also received top-10 finishes from Brooke Miller in sixth and Eryn Field in seventh, while Kenai had Logan Satathite in fourth and Leah Fallon in eighth.
Seward was able to put together a varsity team and had freshman Lena Jagielski take ninth.
Dunham won the borough title for the third straight season, setting up the possibility of a career sweep next season. He finished at 16:37, while Soldotna’s Bradley Walters was second at 17:20 and Kenai’s Joe Hamilton was third at 17:28.
After running his best time ever at Tsalteshi, and tying the best 5K mark of his career, Dunham said he was happy considering the circumstances.
“This is my third race and it’s already boroughs,” he said. “It’s kind of annoying.”
Dunham fell behind in the first kilometer, but that was because Hamilton and Walters took the race out fast.
“I was just trying to keep up with Joe,” Walters said. “He beat me last week at Palmer, so maybe we went out too fast, but it turned out fine.”
Dunham quickly bolted to a large lead after the first kilometer, while Walters fell into a pack with Hamilton and Homer’s Eyoab Knapp. Walters was able to emerge as the clear leader of that pack by the fourth kilometer.
Travel and practice restrictions were in place boroughwide, but Dunham and Walters wondered how the shortened season will affect them at regions and state, where the competition didn’t miss early season meets.
“Coming back into the season after missing races isn’t easy,” Walters said. “The smoke has made it a really hard season.”
Also scoring for the borough champion Stars were Lance Chilton in eighth, Anchor Musgrave in 10th, Maleda Denbrock in 13th and Quinn Cox in 15th.
The runner-up Seahawks put three in the top 10 with Max Pfeiffenberger in fourth, Trey Ingalls in seventh and Bjorn Nilsson in ninth.
Knapp ended up fifth to pace Homer, while Nikolaevsk sophomore Justin Trail was sixth, a notable development because there will be a separate Class 1-2A state race this season.
The Nikiski boys, led by Bryan McCollum in 25th, were able to put together a team, while Port Graham had Malachi Joseph take 31st and Eli Moonin take 32nd.
Kenai Peninsula Borough meet
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 44; 2. Seward, 52; 3. Kenai Central, 59; 4. Homer, 60; 5. Nikiski, 134.
Individual 5-kilometer results
1. Maison Dunham, Ken, 16:37; 2. Bradley Walters, Sol, 17:20; 3. Joe Hamilton, Ken, 17:28; 4. Max Pfeiffenberger, Sew, 17:31; 5. Eyoab Knapp, Hom, 17:54; 6. Justin Trail, Nikolaevsk, 17:56; 7. Trey Ingalls, Sew, 17:59; 8. Lance Chilton, Sol, 17:59; 9. Bjorn Nilsson, Sew, 18:05; 10. Anchor Musgrave, Sol, 18:07; 11. Clayton Beachy, Hom, 18:22; 12. Ky Calvert, Ken, 18:28; 13. Maleda Denbrock, Sol, 18:33; 14. Devin Wise, Hom, 18:40; 15. Quinn Cox, Sol, 18:43; 16. Seamus McDonough, Hom, 18:43; 17. Levi Deboard, Sew, 18:53; 18. Lance Seneff, Hom, 18:56; 19. Samuel Koster, Sew, 19:02; 20. Luke Cross, Ken, 19:12; 21. Austin Cline, Hom, 19:23; 22. Damon Weisser, Hom, 19:24; 23. Jack Harris, Sol, 19:40; 24. Tytus Gilbert, Sol, 19:56; 25. Bryan McCollum, Nik, 20:15.
26. Tyler Hippchen, Ken, 20:16; 27. Braydon Whiteside, Nik, 20:41; 28. Joseph Yourkoski, Nik, 21:02; 29. Yorik Bastuck, Nik, 21:10; 30. Rory Gilmartin, Nik, 23:43; 31. Malachi Joseph, Port Graham, 23:56; 32. Eli Moonin, Port Graham, 24:31; 33. Boden Quiner, Nik, 24:40.
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 43; 2. Homer, 46; 3. Kenai Central, 49; 4. Seward, 83.
Individual 5-kilometer results
1. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 19:28; 2. Jayna Boonstra, Ken, 20:15; 3. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 20:46; 4. Logan Satathite, Ken, 20:57; 5. Erika Arthur, Sol, 21:01; 6. Brooke Miller, Hom, 21:31; 7. Eryn Field, Hom, 21:34; 8. Leah Fallon, Ken, 21:39; 9. Lena Jagielski, Sew, 21:55; 10. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 22:09; 11. Mikaela Hall, Ken, 22:16; 12. Ryann Cannava, Sol, 22:17; 13. Isabella Dammeyer, Sol, 22:46; 14. Kaidence Schaeffer, Sol, 22:53; 15. Kara Super, Hom, 22:55; 16. Aly Guernsey, Sew, 23:14; 17. Maddox Berg, Hom, 23:19; 18. Lucy Hankins, Sew, 23:27; 19. Hana Cooney, Sew, 23:30; 20. Katie Delker, Sol, 23:49; 21. Maranatha Brueckner, Sew, 24:25; 22. Mariah McGuire, Hom, 24:33; 23. Leah Dunn, Hom, 25:11; 24. Gabriella Tews, Ken, 25:49; 25. Caitlin Crabb, Ken, 26:16.