Cook Inlet Academy’s Noah Leaf (left) races Soldotna’s Brenner Furlong in the boys 200-meter sprint April 22 at the Kenai Invitational at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy’s Noah Leaf (left) races Soldotna’s Brenner Furlong in the boys 200-meter sprint April 22 at the Kenai Invitational at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer set to host Region III track & field championships

Come one, come all to see some of the fastest in the state duke it out for Region III supremacy this weekend only.

The speeds are expected to be as advertised this Friday and Saturday at the Region III track &field championships held at Homer High School, when the best runners, jumpers and throwers will battle for a coveted spot at the season-ending state meet. There are actually two meets in Homer, one for Class 4A schools and one for Class 1-2-3A schools.

Each region champion from around the state automatically qualifies for state, and the next best 12 individuals and four relay teams will also go to state.

If last weekend’s Kenai Peninsula Borough meet is any indication, the Region III meet could produce some of the state favorites as well.

On the Class 4A side, the Soldotna Stars have proven to have one of the deepest teams in the region. SoHi swept the team titles at the Homer Invite, then the SoHi boys won the team title at the Colony Invite in early May, beating a deep Kodiak boys team by 1 1/2 points.

But SoHi head track coach Phil Leck is keeping quiet about the team’s chances of winning it all, pointing out the loaded teams that region opponents will be bringing, Leck said.

“We’re bringing quite a few kids, but it’d be a long shot for us to win,” Leck said. “Colony’s very deep on the girls side, Kenai’s not as deep, but they’re very talented.

“I think our boys can contend. I wouldn’t say we’re favorites, but it’s a four-team race on the boys side with Kodiak being the favorite.”

At the individual level, Kenai Central features one of the fastest in the state in senior Josh Jackman, who raced to an eye-popping victory of 10.94 seconds in the boys 100-meter sprint last weekend. The time puts Jackman in the conversation of breaking the old state record, a 10.90 held by Soldotna’s Joel Knight that has stood since 1995.

“It’s pretty fast,” said Kenai head track coach Chris Hanson. “He’s right there, he’s been running well the last two weeks, and he’s peaking … Josh has surpassed my expectations in the 100 and has done what we thought he’d do for the 200.”

The blazing time Jackman set in the 100 — which slashed an astounding quarter of a second off his previous best — was done by hand timers, meaning the original mark he was clocked at had to have .24 seconds added on to compensate for any human inaccuracies, but Hanson said he believes Jackman is within striking distance of the record.

“There’s a lot of fast times through history that have been hand-timed,” Hanson said. “He’s gonna run in a couple more track meets that are just as fast.”

Jackman also holds a region and state best in the 200-meter sprint with a time of 22.66 seconds, and has the second-longest long jump this year after reaching 22 feet, 4 inches, last weekend, which puts him 2 3/4 inches behind his old nemesis from Colony, senior Brandon Nicholson. Jackman is also the defending Region III boys champion in the 400 meters and the long jump.

Another Kenai speedster, sophomore Hayley Maw, owns the fifth-fastest Region III time in the 100 dash and the fourth-fastest girls 200, and is expected to join freshman Alyssa Bucho, junior Tekaiya Rich and senior Katie Kilfoyle in the girls 400-meter sprint relay and the 800-meter relay, both of which are currently fastest among Region III teams.

“I think they’re peaking at the right time,” Hanson said. “They’ll have competition, but we’re still playing with a few things.”

Senior Katie Kilfoyle enters the weekend as the top 300-meter girls hurdler with a time of 48.85 seconds, and is second-quickest in the 100-meter hurdles. Kilfoyle is a former region champion in the 300-meter event, claiming the top prize as a sophomore in 2015, and earlier in the season said she would like to go out a region and state champion her senior year. Hanson said Kilfoyle put in a great performance at last week’s borough meet, especially when taking into account the wet conditions.

“That weather was really challenging, so for her to hurdle in weather like that, she’s another one that is peaking at the right time,” he said.

Another senior looking to go out with Region III accolades is throwing ace Abby Beck, the defending Region III girls discus champion.

“I’ve watched Abby over the last four years, and Abby’s a gamer,” Hanson said. “She brings her best stuff for the big meets.”

Beck currently holds the farthest discus throw among region competitors this spring with a 123 foot, 9 inch, effort at the Kenai Invite in April. Beck also sits third among region throwers in the shot put, less than a foot behind the leader.

Hanson also warned competitors to keep an eye on sophomore hurdle ace Jarett Wilson, who has quietly put together an outstanding season in the boys 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles. Wilson currently sits second in both events, only behind SoHi’s Abraham Van Hout.

“Jarett has kind of been overshadowed by some seniors in the region this year, but he finishes second a lot and competes hard in the hurdles,” Hanson said. “There’s always a senior ahead of him, but it ain’t by much.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls off an upset.”

Other Region III contenders from Kenai Central include junior Ithaca Bergholtz and sophomore Brooke Satathite in the girls distance races, junior Addison Gibson in the girls 400 and longer relays, junior John Grossl in the boys discus, and senior Julianne Wilson, who enters the weekend as the top girls long jumper with a leap of 16 feet, 7 inches, over a foot longer than the next closest region competitor. Hanson said Wilson may have a tough road ahead of her after sustaining a foot injury.

Soldotna could get big points days from senior Annie Quinn, junior Emily Pieh and freshman Ituau Tuisaula in the girls throwing events. Quinn and Tuisaula are ranked first and second in the shot put among region throwers, and Pieh is ranked second in the discus, only behind Beck from Kenai. Head coach Leck credited the coaching of Galen Brantley Jr., who spends most of the offseason keeping SoHi’s throwers in shape.

“I think those three should have a good weekend,” Leck said. “Annie’s a senior, so we’re hoping she can peak at the right time.”

Leck said SoHi senior Abraham Van Hout is a prime candidate to sweep the boys hurdle races, as he enters the weekend with the top times in both events. His 15.88-second time in the 110-meter hurdles from the Kenai Invite in April still stands as the second-fastest in the state this year.

“I think it’s going to be him and (Jarett Wilson) from Kenai right there neck-and-neck like they have been all year,” Leck said. “He’s definitely capable of it, he’s had a big year.”

Van Hout is also a key member on the SoHi boys 400- and 800-meter relays, which enter the weekend as favorites to win as both squads are currently fastest in the region. Van Hout will be joined by juniors Koby Vinson, Logan Schrader and Brenner Furlong.

Furlong is also expected to be a contender in the boys individual 400, as he holds the top Region III time of 51.55 seconds.

Leck also pointed out Soldotna junior Wendell Tuisaula, who owns the second-longest boys discus throw this year and farthest among Region III competitors, and sophomore Aliann Schmidt in the girls high jump.

As the host of the Region III meet, the Homer Mariners are eyeing glory for themselves on the Class 1-2-3A side, and stand a chance at nabbing a few championship medals.

The Homer boys 3,200-meter relay currently owns the fastest region time this year at 8:35.09, and are only .05 seconds behind the Chugiak boys for fastest in the state. Bill Rich, Luciano Fasulo and Jared Brant are ranked seventh, eighth and ninth on the overall list of 800-meter times in the region, and will be joined by Jacob Davis in hopes of winning this weekend.

One of Homer’s biggest stars is senior hurdler Lauren Evarts, who looks to defend her Region III title in the girls 100-meter hurdles. Evarts currently holds the top Region III time this year at 16.74 seconds, and is considered a state contender as well.

The boys middle and long distance events could also see region crowns going to Seward senior Hunter Kratz, who holds the fastest 800-meter time of the year at 1:57.0, which he set at the Kodiak Invitational on May 13. Last year at the region meet, Kratz pulled off a clean sweep of the boys 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races.

Seward junior Ruby Lindquist has dominated the girls middle distance events in the region, with top times in the girls 800 and 1,600 meters. Lindquist is second-fastest in the state in the girls 800 at 2:24.03, less than a second behind the top runner, and has run a 5:21.15 in the 1,600, which is just better than Grace Gannon of Grace Christian.

After breaking the Nikiski 400-meter relay broke school record, the Bulldogs quartet of juniors Isaac Averill and Jack Sullenger and seniors Matthew Minium and Patrick Perry are threatening to break through with a Region III title. Averill already owns the second-fastest individual 100 time this season at 11.14 seconds, only behind Jackman of Kenai, and the team as a whole is ranked second in the region with a time of 45.52 seconds, just several tenths off of Soldotna’s season-high mark. The Bulldogs set that mark at the Homer Invite in late April.

Also threatening to win a region title for Nikiski is junior Ian Johnson, the defending region champion in the boys discus. Johnson enters the weekend ranked third in the discus with a top throw of 139 feet, 8 inches, from the Colony Invite, which is just over 5 feet from the top throw.

The Cook Inlet Academy Eagles will be traveling to SuValley High School near Talkeetna for the Region II championship meet on Friday and Saturday.

Leading the charge for CIA is senior Noah Leaf, one of the state’s elite hurdlers. Leaf currently heads the Region II list of 110-meter and 300-meter hurdlers with times of 15.97 and 41.66 seconds, respectively. Among statewide competitors, Leaf is ranked fourth in the 110-meter hurdles and second overall in the 300-meter race.

Kenai Central’s John Grossl winds up for a discus toss April 22 at the Kenai Invitational at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s John Grossl winds up for a discus toss April 22 at the Kenai Invitational at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

A group of boys race by a dazzling view of Kachemak Bay, April 29 at the Homer Invite at Homer High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

A group of boys race by a dazzling view of Kachemak Bay, April 29 at the Homer Invite at Homer High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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