The faces have changed a little bit on the Kenai Peninsula Borough cross-country scene, but the results haven’t.
For the second straight year, Kenai Central took the girls and boys individual titles, plus the girls team title, at the borough meet, while Soldotna won the boys title.
Last year in Homer, the Mariners’ Autumn Daigle placed second to the graduated Addison Gibson in the borough race. This year at Nikiski, it was Kenai senior Jaycie Calvert relegating Daigle, now a junior, to second place. Kardinals sophomore Maison Dunham overcame a slow start to his season to defend his borough crown.
Daigle is the defending Division II state champion, and with Kenai’s move to Division II this season, Saturday’s race was a showdown between top contenders. Calvert broke away from the field and never looked back, running five kilometers in 20:15 while Daigle finished at 21:11. Soldotna freshman Jordan Strausbaugh was third at 21:39.
“Jaycie is insane this year,” said Daigle of Calvert, who was third at boroughs last year. “It’s her senior year. I don’t know if I can beat her.”
Both Jaycie and her mother and Kenai’s cross-country coach, Maria Calvert, were quick to caution reading too much into the victory.
“Autumn is really tough competition,” Jaycie said. “It’s always great to have tough competition.”
Daigle is a set-netter so she misses the first three or four weeks of the season. The Nikiski Class Races traditionally kick off the season, so this was the first time Daigle had run the extremely hilly course commonly called the toughest the racers will face all season.
“I usually like hills but we haven’t been doing a lot of hill workouts so this killed me. It was super pretty though,” Daigle said.
The Kenai girls scored 27 points to cruise to a third straight borough title, with Soldotna second at 42 and Homer third at 62. The Kenai girls have yet to lose a race to Division II competition this season.
Again, the Calverts cautioned that Region 3 at the Division II level is stacked with elite programs in Homer, Seward, Anchorage Christian Schools and Grace Christian. With regions and state the next two weeks, Kenai’s work is just beginning.
“We know the region is super, super tough, so we’ve really been working hard and focusing on the rest of our season.” Jaycie said.
Daigle said the Mariners, who have won three of the last four Division II state crowns, have not been able to put together their strongest team yet. Maria Calvert said it reminded her of 2015, when Kenai couldn’t get a full team together, but finally did and won regions and the Division I state title.
Also scoring for the Kardinals on Saturday were senior Brooke Satathite in fourth, freshman Logan Satathite in fifth, freshman Summer Foster in seventh and senior Maria Salzetti in 10th. The Kenai girls have three seniors and four freshmen on varsity.
“We’ve got a great group coming up and we’ve really bonded,” Jaycie said. “We always push each other at practice.”
Dunham ran 17:23 to beat the 17:35 of fellow sophomore Mekbeb Denbrock of Soldotna. Denbrock took the race out strong and had a nice gap on the field by the one-kilometer mark. Dunham said a pack of about six runners had tracked Denbrock down by the two-kilometer mark. From there, Dunham and Denbrock broke away from the pack.
“He’s pretty fast,” Denbrock said. “I had to run my hardest to stay with him, and I think he had to run as fast as he could to stay with me. We did a good job of pacing each other.”
With 500 meters left, Dunham bolted on a hill and Denbrock could not keep up. Homer’s Luciana Fasulo was third at 17:48.
“I’m usually not that good at hills,” Dunham said. “I just wanted to get in the top three. I felt really good today.”
Dunham said he got off to a slow start this season because he did not train as much in the summer, but he is rounding into form.
“We have a good coach and we usually PR toward the end of the season,” Dunham said. “Our workouts are set up for that.”
The Soldotna boys scored 41 points to top the 44 of Homer, 55 of Kenai and 73 of Seward. Soldotna coach Ted McKenney said his boys were back to full strength for the first time all season.
“We practice every single day and my team practices super hard,” Denbrock said.
The borough race has departed from Saturday and/or five kilometers in recent years, but McKenney said he likes it back on the Saturday before regions at five kilometers. He said it’s great to gauge where his team is at.
“We’ve got boys girls and boys competing for varsity spots so it’s fun,” said McKenney, who brought 57 runners to boroughs.
Also scoring for the Stars were Lance Chilton in seventh, Bradley Walters in ninth, Anchor Musgrave in 11th and Nathanael Johnson in 12th.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Cross-Country Meet
Saturday at Nikiski
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 41; 2. Homer, 44; 3. Kenai, 55; 4. Seward, 73.
Individual five-kilometer results
1. Maison Dunham, Ken, 17:23; 2. Mekbeb Denbrock, Sol, 17:35; 3. Luciano Fasulo, Hom, 17:48; 4. Eyoab Knapp, Hom, 17:51; 5. Max Pfeiffenberger, Sew, 17:56; 6. Bill Rich, Hom, 18:10; 7. Lance Chilton, Sol, 18:20; 8. Joe Hamilton, Ken, 18:23; 9. Bradley Walters, Sol, 18:37; 10. Tucker Mueller, Ken, 18:55; 11. Anchor Musgrave, Sol, 19:05; 12. Nathanael Johnson, Sol, 19:07; 13. Corbin Mattingly, Hom, 19:15; 14. Levi Deboard, Sew, 19:16; 15. Samuel Koster, Sew, 19:17; 16. Evan Stockton, Ken, 19:18; 17. Bjorn Nilson, Sew, 19:19; 18. Clayton Beachy, Hom, 19:20; 19. Jack Harris, Sol, 19:21; 20. Luke Cross, Ken, 19:22; 21. Samuel Roberts, Ken, 19:49; 22. Trey Ingalls, Sew, 20:00; 23. Chance Reynolds, Sol, 20:05; 24. Austin Cline, Hom, 20:11; 25. David Weisser, Hom, 20:23.
26. Wyatt White, Ken, 20:32; 27. Brendan McMurray, Sew, 20:36; 28. Bryan McCollum, Nik, 21:24; 29. Joseph Yourkoski, Nik, 22:04.
Team scores: 1. Kenai, 27; 2. Soldotna, 42; 3. Homer, 62.
1. Jaycie Calvert, Ken, 20:15; 2. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 21:11; 3. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 21:39; 4. Brooke Satathite, Ken, 21:46; 5. Logan Satathite, Ken, 21:58; 6. Tanis Lorring, Sol, 22:18; 7. Summer Foster, Ken, 22:25; 8. Erika Arthur, Sol, 23:03; 9. Katia Holmes, Hom, 23:11; 10. Maria Salzetti, Ken, 23:17; 11. Leah Fallon, Ken, 23:24; 12. Ellie Burns, Sol, 23:31; 13. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 23:33; 14. Jordan
Ruffner, Sol, 23:34; 15. Katie Stockton, Ken, 23:43; 16. Brooke Miller, Hom, 23:54; 17. Kaylin Anderson, Hom, 24:09; 18. Sienna Carey, Hom, 24:32; 19. Kara Super, Hom, 25:06; 20. Ryann Cannava, Sol, 25:39; 21. Mariah McGuire, Hom, 25:50.