Ostrander looks to cap prep cross-country with a state title

Ostrander looks to cap prep cross-country with a state title

Five kilometers is all that separates Allie Ostrander from the end of a brilliant prep cross-country running career.

Since 2011, the Kenai Central senior has put together a four-year stretch that may stand as one of the greatest spans of an Alaskan high school cross-country runner for years to come.

The era of dominance will culminate Saturday at 12:45 p.m. at the Bartlett High School running trails for the 2014 cross-country running state championship meet. That’s when the Class 4A girls field takes off.

The Class 1-2-3A girls get going at noon, the Class 1-2-3A boys start at 1:30 p.m., and the Class 4A boys race at 2:15 p.m.

Although one runner — Kristi Waythomas (then Klinnert) from Kodiak — continues to stand alone as the only Alaskan to have won the state cross-country title all four years of her prep career, Ostrander has Waythomas beat by breaking nearly every course record that she and other greats have established.

“I’m not putting any more emphasis on it, I mean, there’s always that because it’s state,” said Kenai coach (and Allie’s mother) Teri Ostrander. “All the younger kids know this is their last opportunity to run with these runners, and it’s a big deal for the team.”

“I think she’ll be able to soak it all in, and enjoy it. It’s the end of an era.”

Earlier this year, on the final weekend of August, Ostrander blitzed a 28-year-old course record that Klinnert held at the Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park in Kodiak. Klinnert’s long-standing record was 18 minutes, 48 seconds, and Ostrander topped it with a 17:34.

A week later, Ostrander posted the fastest time by a high school girl in the nation at the Palmer Invitational with a 16:40.

If not for a mid-race collapse at state while leading her freshman year, Ostrander would have had the chance to sweep all four years at the state meet, just like Waythomas.

But Teri Ostrander said the mood has been set at lighthearted, giving Allie and the rest of the team room to run free and easy.

“We have just a super fun group,” Ostrander said. “The biggest thing I have learned is you just have to savor these moments.”

The following is a closer look at the statebound teams:

KENAI KARDINALS

After qualifying both varsity teams to the state meet for the first time in years, the Kenai Kards are looking for high finishes.

Last year, the Kenai boys finished fourth in the team standings, led by the senior brother duo of Jordan and Jonah Theisen in third and fourth place, respectively.

Over the last four years, the Theisens have taken the reins as leaders of the Kenai running team, along with Ostrander, and stand on the precipice of closing out outstanding cross-country high school careers.

“Jordan and Jonah have been a huge impact since their freshman year,” Ostrander said.

This year looks to be a repeat, as the Theisens have dominated the majority of local Kenai Peninsula Borough races, and have racked up top-five finishes in statewide events. Jonah has gotten the better of his brother in most of the races, beating him at last week’s Region III meet by 44 seconds to place second.

The only obstacle keeping either of them from winning a state title outright has been Kodiak phenom Levi Thomet, who has been a thorn in the side of most of the state’s top boys runners.

Thomet ran a blistering 15:10.8 at Bartlett last year, and comes into this year’s meet looking even stronger after breaking Kodiak’s Bear Valley Golf Course record by 36 seconds with a time of 16:03.

If the Kenai boys are looking for an upset, the runners deeper in the pack will need big days, runners such as seniors Travis Cooper and Ian Ashley, freshman Karl Danielson, junior James Butler and sophomore Tristan Landry. Cooper placed eighth at last week’s Region III meet.

“I think a top six in state is within their reach,” Ostrander said. “That means everybody has to race to their potential. The way our team stacks up with such a big gap in the middle between the top and bottom runners, it’s gonna be harder to do.”

The Kenai girls squad finished sixth in the team standings the last time they competed in 2011. This year, the team will be led by Ostrander, but will be supported by an emerging class of talented freshman.

Riana Boonstra, Ithaca Ann Bergholtz, Addison Gibson and Kasey Paxton comprise the freshman class on the varsity team, and along with senior Alex Bergholtz and sophomores Mackenzie Lindeman and Katie Cooper should provide a massive boost in the team standings.

Boonstra finished sixth at last week’s Region III meet and the younger Bergholtz was ninth. Teri Ostrander said she believes her girls team is capable of a top-five finish.

Ostrander also said the weekly mileage that the top runners on the team are getting in practice has been brought down to 20 to 25 miles, down from a peak of about 50 miles a week earlier in the season, and added that the workouts have been downgraded to about 75 minutes of practice, also down from the typical range of two hours or more.

“We’ve continued to train how we were training the week of regions,” she said. “You want to taper a bit, but we’re training for a 5K race, it’s not high mileage.”

Ostrander said the entire girls varsity team making the cut was special not only because it had been three years since the last time it happened, but also because Allie will be able to share the moment with a full team out on the trails, something she has had to do alone the past two seasons.

“I think that for her, when you go alone, you warm up alone, you figure out race strategy alone, it’s been a very solitary experience,” Ostrander said about her daughter. “The social event … for her, that’s huge.”

SOLDOTNA STARS

The Soldotna girls squad enters the state meet as one of the favorites, after tying with Colony as region champs last week, and losing on the tiebreaker, and finishing second in the team battle last year to West Anchorage.

SoHi coach Ted McKenney said there are three teams that look like the favorites to claim the team championship; West, Colony and Soldotna.

“It just depends on how it pans out,” McKenney said. “We’ll see who places well, and where the other teams fit in between our racers.”

If the Stars can pull it off, it would be the first time ever that a SoHi girls team won the state championship, and the first SoHi team to win since the Soldotna boys won three in a row from 1999 to 2001.

“They have the heart, they have the vision, there’s five good girls here,” McKenney said.

Leading the charge is junior Olivia Hutchings, who is coming off a runner-up finish at last week’s Region III meet.

With Ostrander expected to leave the 4A girls field in her dust, it leaves Hutchings with a prime opportunity to take runner-up honors. Last year, Hutchings was fourth.

“Olivia definitely has a great chance for second,” McKenney said. “Allie’s in a different class altogether, but Olivia meets every challenge that comes her way.”

Seniors Dani McCormick and Sadie Fox have backed Hutchings up well in 2014, as the pair finished fifth and 15th, respectively, last week. Both runners have the chance to close out successful high school careers with a flourish.

“Sadie’s just a hard worker, and Dani has good leadership,” McKenney said.

Junior Daisy Nelson placed 10th last week, bridging the gap between the two seniors. Sophomore Molly Erickson, junior Emily Werner and freshman Kellie Arthur are also making the trip on the state team.

The Soldotna boys missed the cut to state as a team, but junior Aaron Swedberg proved fast enough to do it on his own, finishing seventh last week to become the lone member. Any individuals that place in the top 15 not already on a statebound team qualify.

Coach McKenney said he told his boys squad last week to stick around the 13th- to 16th-place spots during the race, then try to move up as the race draws closer to the end. McKenney said Swedberg did just that and more.

“For Aaron to run seventh in regions is outstanding,” McKenney said. “There’s so much competition in Kodiak, so that’s getting into elite company.

“The pressure is off of him, there’s no team to protect, it’s just go out and do it again.”

HOMER MARINERS

Both teams made the cut to the Class 1-2-3A state meet for the third year in a row, and there may be even greater things in store once they get there.

The Homer girls squad has a golden opportunity to break a six-year stranglehold by Grace Christian on the team title. Homer finished second to Grace at last year’s state meet, but the Mariners claimed last week’s 3A team title over Grace with a winning low score of 35 points, 15 better than Grace.

The Homer girls have not won a cross-country team championship since 1990, the last of a three-year streak the Mariners put together. To put it in even greater perspective, the oldest members of this year’s team were a solid seven years from being born.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about our girls,” said Homer coach Bill Steyer. “There’s a good chance of winning state, we just have to execute a good race and not have any issues. If that’s the case, we hope to fulfill our mission.”

Sophomore Megan Pitzman leads the charge of the Mariners, coming off a nine-second Region III victory over her runner-up teammate, junior Molly Mitchell.

Freshman Alex Mosley was seventh in 21:24, junior Aurora Waclawski was 12th, and junior Ziza Shemet-Pitcher was 13th. Sophomores Lauren Evarts and Haley Knott add supporting depth on the state team.

The only obstacle standing in the way of a individual winner for Homer is ace runner Briahna Gerlach, a sophomore from Glennallen. Gerlach won last week’s Region II championship with a time of 18:24.8. At the Palmer Invite in early September, Gerlach ran an 18:17, third-fastest of the year, behind only Ostrander and Hutchings.

“I don’t think (Megan is) at the level of Briana,” Steyer said. “She’s pretty impressive, I think she’s the second best in the state, but Megan’s not quite there yet.”

The Homer boys qualified to state on the back of a third-place region result.

Sophomore Jared Brant finished fifth in 18:21, Jordan Beachy was eighth in 18:36, Jacob Davis was 15th, and senior Brandon Beachy was 20th.

“We’re targeting some other teams,” Steyer said. “I think winning state is a stretch, but they have a shot at second. They would have to have really good races across the board.”

Steyer said he sees Seward and Grace being the two teams battling it out for the top spot, but an upset runner could appear and make Homer a contender.

Nikolaevsk juniors Greg Trail and Jonah Fefelov also qualified for state with results of second and fifth, respectively, at the Region II meet in Talkeetna.

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

Seward’s strong history in the sport of running is continuing to pay off, as the Seward boys enter as the Region III champs, having knocked off Grace Christian with 38 points in Kodiak last weekend, better than the 62 points for Grace.

The Seahawks are gunning for a 13th team title in the school’s history, and the first since the Seward girls won in 2007.

The Seward boys last won a team title a decade ago, when Matt Adams led the team with an individual victory in 2004. Since then, Miles Knotek has been the only victor on the boys side with an individual win in 2011.

Sophomore Hunter Kratz finished second last week with a time of 17:57, while senior teammate Michael Marshall was third in 18:11. Seth Brewi, Thomas Zweifel, Paxson Berry, Brandon Moore and Dylan Gillespie will join them as varsity runners.

On the girls side, freshman Ruby Lindquist took third in 20:55 to lead Seward to a runner-up result in the team standings behind Homer. Brook Wedin was fifth and senior Alice Pfeiffenberger placed ninth to add valuable points.

Freshmen Ashley Guernsey and EmmaLee Moore, senior Josephine Braun and junior Iris Anderson make up the remainder of the team.

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