Local track teams jump right into season

With over 40 teams and 1,000 high school athletes competing at the eighth annual Big “C” Relays at the Dome in Anchorage over the weekend, the entire nation was treated to one of the biggest track and field meets of the year with a live stream set up on milesplit.com.

The meet serves as the first official opportunity for statewide track teams to test themselves against opposing schools and see where they stand, and with the month of March disguising itself as the month of April with warmer than normal temperatures, athletes have been able to get outside earlier than ever.

Kenai coach Chris Hanson said the Kardinals have been outside practicing since the opening day of the season in mid-March.

“We’ve been out since day one, which was over spring break,” Hanson said. “It was kind of cold that week, but there was no snow.

“Since I’ve lived here, it’s been the nicest spring ever.”

The mild temperatures also spell faster times for Peninsula athletes this year. Kenai senior Allie Ostrander has already seen the benefits of outdoor training, as she set the sixth-fastest 3,200-meter indoor time Friday at the Big C Relays with a 9:59.33 performance. According to milesplit.com, it’s the sixth-fastest indoor time ever set by a high school girl.

Ostrander said the early emergence of dry pavement and track lanes has been a boon to not only her success but for every Peninsula athlete that most years would be forced to find an indoor workout plan while the Anchorage teams use the Dome for preseason training.

“It’s definitely helped, we’re not having to run around on icy roads,” Ostrander said.

Soldotna coach Phil Leck echoed Hanson’s remark, saying that every longtime coach at Soldotna has never seen a year that begins with an outdoor training session.

“Last year, we didn’t get outside until about two weeks in,” Leck said.

Among the Stars contingent that have seen the benefits of earlier-than-normal training is Soldotna senior Dani McCormick, who posted her career best in the girls 400-meter race at the Big C Relays on Friday, dipping under a minute with a time of 59.78 seconds, taking over three seconds off her previous best and breaking the SoHi school record in the process.

McCormick’s time on Friday was bested only by ACS junior Tanner Ealum’s jaw-dropping time of 55.87 seconds, which eclipsed the standing state record of 55.95, set in 2010 by Kenai’s Lierin Flanagan.

Leck added that the use of the new track and turf field that Soldotna installed last summer has certainly helped matters as well.

“I don’t know if it’s ever happened before, but we used it the first day,” he said.

According to Leck, the early spring weather has also attracted more participants, as the current roster is brimming with over 80 athletes. Last year, SoHi ended the year with about half of that number.

Leck credited part of the swelling to the influx of students from Skyview High School, which closed last year.

“It’s always nice to see the kids come out and have fun,” he said. “Hopefully they stick with it, and get something good going.”

With the track and field season officially in full swing,

KENAI KARDINALS

Hanson stepped up to the top coaching position this season after taking a backseat to the track scene for several years. The longtime Kenai resident was the throwing coach last year, and said he wishes to see the Kards grow on a personal level this season.

“It’s a little different, I guess, being early in season like this,” Hanson said. “It’ll be really nice locally to have two Olympic-grade tracks. I’m just looking forward to using them with this team.”

With a very strong core of returning distance runners, Hanson said he is looking forward to watching an incoming group of talented freshmen join the mix

“We’re really lucky to have the senior runners teaching them the ropes,” he said.

With a star runner in Ostrander and the Theisen brothers — Jordan and Jonah — leading the distance group that now also consists of freshmen Addison Gibson, Riana Boonstra and Ithaca Bergholtz, Hanson said he expects big results in the coming weeks.

Gibson, Boonstra, Bergholtz and Ostrander have already found success together, winning the girls 3,200-meter relay Friday in Anchorage with a time of 10:09.36.

Both Theisen’s were among the top distance runners in the state last year, ranking second and third in the boys 1,600 and 3,200-meter races. The only runner that proved to be faster all year was Kodiak senior phenom Levi Thomet. Jordan won the boys varsity 3,200 Friday at the Big C Relays with a time of 9:45.98.

Jordan Theisen ultimately outclassed Jonah in both distance races last season, delivering a 4:21.95 in the 1,600 at the Brian Young Invitational last May and a 9:37.52 in the 3,200 at the state meet a week earlier.

In other events, Kenai sophomore Josh Jackman enters 2015 as a sprinting and hurdling specialist, as well as an adept long jumper. Jackman claimed fifth in the boys long jump Friday with a leap of 19 feet, 4.5 inches, then took third in the highly-competitive boys 300-meter hurdles on Saturday.

Kenai senior Kiana Harding tied for eighth in the girls high jump Friday with a leap of 4-foot-8, putting her at the top of the Kardinals list of jumpers. Hanson said Harding is also expected to do the long jump.

The Kenai boys and girls swept both 1,600-meter sprint medleys Saturday in Anchorage. The girls were represented by Kyla Whannell, Harding, Gibson and Ostrander, while the boys squad featured a lineup of Tom Randall, Ian Ashley, Jackman and Jonah Theisen.

The success came a day after the Kenai girls team of Gibson, Bergholtz, Boonstra and Ostrander came together to win the 3,200-meter relay with a time of 10:09.36, and the Kenai boys squad of Keith Ivy, Travis Cooper,and the Theisen’s finished second in the 3,200-meter relay with a time of 8:22.0

Hanson also highlighted Tom Randall and Abby Beck as leading athletes to score points in the throwing events.

Hanson said he expects sophomore Katie Kilfoyle to be quick this year on the hurdles.

Hanson will be helped this year by assistant coaches, including distance coach Teri Ostrander, jumping coach Jesse Settlemyer and throwing coach John Marquez.

SOLDOTNA STARS

Coach Leck has also been handed the reigns of a high school track team for the first time, moving up from the Stars’ sprinting coach to the top level. Leck said he is enjoying coaching the Stars, which have seen their numbers swell this year.

“We definitely have some kids that are veterans, some that can score points, and some that are young kids that will develop,” Leck said. “It’s quite a wide spectrum.”

The Stars will get to debut their new track with a dual meet against the Homer Mariners on Thursday. SoHi will also host the borough track meet on May 15 and 16.

“It’s huge, it’s great,” Leck said. “We have the turf to warm up on, it’s a great top notch track.

“It’s a night and day difference to what we’ve dealt with in the past.”

With the season under way, not everyone has returned yet. The SoHi girls 3,200-meter relay squad — which came within fractions of a second of setting the state record at last year’s state meet — are all back as juniors and seniors. McCormick and Sadie Fox return for their senior campaign, while Olivia Hutchings and Daisy Nelson are back as juniors. Leck referred to Nelson as the “swiss army knife” athlete, bestowed upon her for her ability to compete in any event.

McCormick — who has already signed a letter of intent to run for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves next year — also won the girls 800 meters Friday with a PR time of 2:17.88, to go along with her sub-minute 400-meter race.

Hutchings, however, has been out with an injury, and did not run in Anchorage over the weekend. Leck said he believes she will be back for the end of the season.

“That’s one of their goals,” he said. “They’d like to get that record.”

In Friday’s 400-meter relay, the Soldotna girls team of Landess, Lindsey Wong, Natalie Johnson and Nelson took second behind the winning Dimond team in the 400-meter relay, finishing with a time of 52.42 seconds.

Hurdler and jumper Tim Duke returns for his senior year, and got a jump start at the Big C Relays by winning the boys long jump with a PR of 20 feet, 10.25 inches. Duke also took fifth in the boys high jump, and competed in the pentathlon event as well.

“He’s a very good athlete, and we’ll play our cards and see where we are,” Leck said.

On the girls side, Leck said he will be depending on Hallie Landess and Hayley Ramsell to score in sprinting and jumping events.

Another bright spot for the Stars is sophomore throwing ace Annie Quinn, who finished third in the girls shot put and ninth in the discus at the Big C Relays. Both of her throws are already ahead of her personal bests last year.

On the boys side, senior Adam O’Guinn and Dalton Best are the leading candidates to score points. Best took fourth in the shot put Friday with a PR and O’Guinn took sixth.

Aaron Swedberg, Daniel Shuler and Colton Yancey will star for SoHi in the distance events.

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

Nikiski coach Jake Doth returns for a second year at the helm of the Bulldogs.

Last year, senior Seth Carstens claimed the boys high jump championship at the Class 1-2-3A state meet, but with his loss to graduation, the Bulldogs will be looking elsewhere for points.

HOMER MARINERS

Friday at the Big C Relays, sophomore Lauren Evarts from Homer took seventh in the girls 100m hurdles with a time of 17.91 seconds, already only a few tenths off her PR.

Homer senior Crystal Crane tied for fifth in girls high jump with 4-foot-10.

Among last year’s state championship winning 1,600-meter girls relay squad of Ziza Shemet-Pitcher, Tayla Cabana, Crystal Crane and Aurora Waclawski, only Cabana graduated.

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

Seward sophomore Hunter Kratz took eighth Friday in the boys 3,200 meters with a time of 10:25.52.

In the throwing events, Seward senior Howie Hubbard took fifth in the boys shot put with a heave of 41 feet, 8.5 inches.

Sophomore Eli Davis also added an eighth-place result in the boys high jump.

COOK INLET ACADEMY

Friday at the Big C Relays, CIA sophomore Noah Leaf took seventh in the boys 110m hurdles with a time of 16.94 seconds, highlighting the day for the Eagles.

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