Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion The Kenai Central boys soccer team celebrates its semifinal victory over Service, May 27 at the state soccer championships at Service High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion The Kenai Central boys soccer team celebrates its semifinal victory over Service, May 27 at the state soccer championships at Service High School.

Peninsula sports year in review: 2016 brought the action

The calendar year 2016 completed another successful chapter of sports on the Kenai Peninsula, with highs and lows and a few championship rings.

Before looking ahead to the new year, let us take one more look back at the highlights:

HOCKEY

Beginning in November of 2015, the high school hockey season saw a trio of squads — Soldotna, Kenai Central and Homer — put up fierce fights against their region competition from the Valley, but only one emerged with a victory. The Soldotna Stars, who finished beat the Colony Knights 6-2 in the regular season, but fell 3-0 in a rematch in the North Star Conference championship game. Stars goaltender Billy Yoder was named to the All-Conference first-team list.

The highlight of the tournament for SoHi, however, came a day earlier in the semis, when the Stars knocked off the top-seeded Palmer Moose 3-1 to clinch their spot at state. Soldotna finished the season with losses to Chugiak and West Valley at the Class 4A state tournament with a combined score of 16-3.

The Kenai Central hockey team finished sixth in the conference with a 1-9-0 mark against NSC competition, then lost 8-2 to Wasilla on the first day of the NSC tournament.

Homer finished fifth in the conference at 2-8-0, then lost to Soldotna on the first day of the NSC tournament.

On the junior hockey scene, the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League had a season they would like to forget. The Bears finished last in the league in 2016 with a 4-51-5 record, giving the Bears an NAHL-record 56 losses. The campaign included a team-record 30-game winless streak, and eventually led to the firing of head coach Geoff Beauparlant on Jan. 11. Beauparlant finished his coaching tenure with the team with a 49-99-11 overall record, including postseason games.

Beauparlant’s exit cleared the way for 36-year-old Minnesota native Jeff Worlton’s arrival. With Worlton in charge, the early portions of the 2016 season did see minor improvements, as the Bears won seven games before the holiday break.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

A meager snowfall for a third straight winter left ski enthusiasts doing another rendition of the “Snow Dance.” In the end, the region and state meets went off, albeit with a few hitches.

Peninsula ski teams met in Valdez in late February for the Region III meet, and the Kenai Central girls and Soldotna boys both came away with team championships.

The Kenai girls got the job done in emphatic fashion, as sophomore teammates Riana Boonstra and Addison Gibson finished 1-2 on the individual level, which combined two days of racing. Boonstra won the first day and Gibson the second, but Boonstra came out the winner between the two.

The SoHi boys won the team title with depth, as John-Mark Pothast, Levi Michael, Koby Vinson and Jeremy Kupferschmid all finished in the top-10 of the individual results.

A week later at the state meet at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, the Kenai girls and SoHi boys both raced to seventh-place finishes in the team standings. The SoHi girls placed 14th, while the Kenai boys were 10th.

In the individual Skimeister results, SoHi’s Pothast finished highest among peninsula boys with a 13th-place effort, while Karl Danielson was the highest Kenai boys placer in 29th. Boonstra led the way in the girls race in 16th. SoHi’s Hannah Pothast finished close behind in 17th.

SNOWMACHINING

Kasilof resident Dusty VanMeter took home a sixth-place finish in the annual Iron Dog snowmachine race in late February. The race takes riders over 2,000 miles from Big Lake to Nome, then changes course and finishes in Fairbanks. VanMeter was partnered with Chad Gueco of Wasilla for the event.

Soldotna rider Cory Davis failed to finish the race after scratching in Galena with mechanical issues.

Davis also capped another successful winter with a fourth-place finish at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado. Davis just missed the podium in the Snowmobile Freestyle event on January 29. Davis has a career total of three silvers and three bronzes in X Games competition.

MUSHING

The lone musher with a Kenai Peninsula connection in the famous Iditarod sled dog race was a big one. Dallas Seavey, whose family grew up mushing dogs in Sterling, won the Last Great Race for a third straight year and fourth overall in March. Seavey completed the nearly 1,000-mile race in 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, 16 seconds, arriving under the burled arches on Nome’s Main Street in the wee hours of March 15.

Seavey graduated from Skyview High School in 2005, where he was a star wrestler.

BASKETBALL

For the second straight year, the Class 1A boys state championship was claimed by a peninsula school. One year after the Seldovia boys won their inaugural state crown, the Ninilchik boys rose to the occasion and won their first in school history, adding to the eight other state titles won by the girls team in years past.

In their quest to win the title, the Wolverines had to go through a familiar foe in Nikolaevsk, who was playing in its first state final. Ninilchik was making its first state title game showing since 2002.

At the conclusion of the all-peninsula showdown, Ninilchik prevailed in a wild 41-37 overtime contest, thanks in part to 6-foot-8 big man Austin White, who was named state tournament MVP. White averaged 18 rebounds over the course of the tournament and finished with flair, scoring 25 points and bringing down 19 boards in the championship against Nikolaevsk, including all four points by the Wolverines in overtime in the spacious Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

White was joined on the all-tournament state team by Tyler Presley. Nikit Fefelov and Neil Gordeev made the list for Nikolaevsk.

The Nikolaevsk and Ninilchik girls also made the big dance, but neither made it to the title game. Nikolaevsk capped its fifth straight state appearance with a fourth-place result, while Ninilchik took home the consolation bracket title, winning three days in a row after an opening-day loss.

The biggest moment of the season for Ninilchik came two weeks earlier, however, when the Wolverine girls won their first Peninsula Conference championship in seven years with a 45-35 win over Nikolaevsk in the final. It was the 15th overall conference title for Ninilchik, and it was the pinnacle of the season for head coach Rod Van Saun, who had taken over a successful program from former coach Dan Leman in 2009. Van Saun announced his decision to step down from the head-coaching role this season.

Three weeks after the season concluded, Nikolaevsk senior Megan Hickman signed a letter of commitment to play college hoops at Division II University of Alaska Fairbanks in the fall. Hickman is the second Warriors girl to head off to collegiate ball, joining former teammate Nianiella Dorvall.

At the 3A level, the Homer girls finished just shy of a state championship, losing a 49-26 final to the Barrow Whalers.

The Mariners bowled through their season, racking up 21 wins and a 17-game win streak. Ultimately, the Homer girls enjoyed a highly successful 24-3 season (including postseason play), led by 3A Girls Player of the Year, senior Madison Akers. Second-year coach Chad Felice was named 3A Coach of the Year.

However, Homer fell short of expectations in the postseason, losing a tightly-contested championship game to Grace Christian at the Southcentral Conference tournament, 41-38. Two weeks later, the Mariners battled their way to the state title game, only to lose again.

At the 4A level, no Soldotna or Kenai teams made it to the state tournament for a second straight year. The Kenai boys avenged two regular-season losses to Soldotna with a 49-32 quarterfinal victory over the Stars in the NLC tournament. One day later, the Kards lost 57-50 in overtime to Wasilla, leaving them out of the running for a state spot. Soldotna ended up taking fourth-place honors with a 65-45 win over Kodiak.

The same story played out on the girls side, as SoHi beat Kenai 31-25 in the NLC tournament quarterfinals to gain a semifinal berth. Kenai won both regular season meetings against SoHi. The Stars eventually lost to Wasilla 61-30 in the region semifinals, while the Kardinals beat Kodiak 48-23 in the tournament fourth-place game.

TRACK AND FIELD

The Soldotna and Homer girls each picked up second-place finishes in the team standings in their respective region meets in mid-May.

The Soldotna girls squad was led by senior Daisy Nelson, who won three sprint races at the Class 4A Region III meet; the 100, 200 and 400-meter events, and anchored the winning SoHi girls 1,600-meter relay.

A week later at state, Nelson claimed her first individual state gold with a win in the 400, besting the state’s best with a time of 59.11 seconds. Nelson later joined the SoHi girls in the 1,600-meter relay again, winning another state event with teammates Brittany Taylor, Olivia Hutchings and Lindsey Wong.

Kenai junior Josh Jackman defended his state title in the boys long jump, winning with a leap of 22 feet, 2 3-4 inches, his personal best.

At the Class 1-2-3A level, the Homer relay teams proved to nearly unstoppable. The Homer girls won three of the four relay events and finished second in the other (the 1,600-meter relay), and sophomore Sarah Wolf was part of three of them.

The Homer boys added to the haul with a relay win of their own in the 800-meter relay.

Other state champions included Nikiski senior Luke Johnson in the boys shot put (his second of his prep career), Cook Inlet Academy junior Noah Leaf in the boys 110-meter hurdles, and Seward junior Hunter Kratz in the boys 800 meters.

SOCCER

The Kenai boys broke through in a big way at the state soccer tournament with a semifinal win that put them into the state final against South. It was the first ever state finals appearance for any peninsula soccer team, boys or girls.

Behind head coach Joel Reemtsma, the occasion capped a 12-2-1 season for the Kardinals, who ultimately lost to South Anchorage 3-1 in the championship game.

Kenai started its historic run with a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Colony, then sweated out a semifinal win over Service, a scoreless contest that was decided in penalty kicks. Max Dye, Damien Redder, Ean Atchley and junior goalkeeper Tristan Landry each scored in the PK session, and Landry made the necessary saves against the Cougars to win the game.

A week earlier, the Kardinal boys won their second region crown in team history with a tense 3-1 victory over the Colony in the final.

Two other peninsula teams qualified to state, but both suffered two-and-out tournaments. The Kenai girls lost to Service and Juneau, while the Soldotna boys lost to West Anchorage and Juneau.

The SoHi boys enjoyed a 12-4 season, then earned their way to state with a 5-2 win over Kodiak in the Northern Lights Conference third-place game.

The 11-2-2 Kenai girls made it to state with a 3-0 semifinal win over Colony in the NLC tournament, but lost the region championship in penalty kicks to Wasilla, 5-4.

After rolling to an 11-3-1 season, the Soldotna girls missed the state dance for the first time in seven years after losing the NLC tournament third-place game to Colony, 2-1.

The Homer girls finished 10-5 overall, the Homer boys went 7-7, and the Nikiski girls went 5-9 over the course of the year, but all three squads missed the chance to go to state with opening day losses at the NLC tournament.

The Nikiski boys missed the region tournament altogether with a 1-6-1 record.

SOFTBALL

Soldotna and Homer finished as co-champions of the Northern Lights Conference with identical 5-1 league records, but Homer received the tiebreaker on head-to-head record to gain the better seed at state. SoHi finished 8-9 overall behind head coach Kelli Knoebel, who guided the Stars to the state tournament for the first time in her four years with the program. Homer went 10-10 overall, including the postseason. Kenai Central missed the state tournament after finishing with two wins.

Once at state, SoHi and Homer both lost their first games, setting up a loser-goes-home matchup between the two of them. SoHi prevailed over Homer 9-7 to stay alive in the tournament consolation bracket. The Stars eventually lost to North Pole 15-3 to finish fourth, their best result at state since 2011.

BASEBALL

The boys of summer came to play this year. The Post 20 Twins capped a successful 32-win season of Legion AA ball with a state championship in late July. It was the fourth state crown in Twins program history, adding to the ones won in 1991, 1995 and 2012.

To get it done, Post 20 had to battle. The Twins held off a determined Post 28 Service team to win 8-7 as darkness began to fall at Mulcahy field in Anchorage. The winning run came in the bottom of the eighth on a groundout by Justice Miller. The runner that scored it was Calvin Hills, a relief pitcher who had just given up four runs in the top of the inning.

Prior to the four-run rally by Service in the top of the eighth, the Twins had staked out leads of 5-0 after four innings and 7-3 after seven, and had help on the mound. Post 20 started its ace Joey Becher, who scattered seven hits and allowed two runs in seven innings of work. Becher highlighted the season with a no-hitter, his third of the year, adding to two others he tossed for the Soldotna Stars high school team.

With the trophy in hand, the Twins represented Alaska at the Northwest Regional tournament in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they suffered a pair of losses.

With Becher leading the way on the mound, catcher Kenny Griffin leading the way from behind the plate, and Southcentral Conference Coach of the Year Robb Quelland leading the way from the dugout, the Soldotna High baseball team enjoyed a 9-1 conference season. In the Southcentral Conference tournament, SoHi lost to Wasilla 5-0 in the championship game, but kept their ticket to state with a 17-2 win over Kenai in the second-place game. The Stars stumbled with a two-and-out performance at state.

The Kenai baseball team finished with a 4-6 conference record, putting the Kards in a three-way tie in the standings. Homer, also at 4-6, was the winner of that tiebreaker to claim the No. 2 seed.

On the other side of town, the Peninsula Oilers saw a successful season of play in the Alaska Baseball League. Playing on their home field at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, the Oilers went 24-20 to grab the second seed in the ABL postseason. The Oilers beat the Anchorage Glacier Pilots 8-5 in a one-game semifinal playoff series, but ended the season with a two-game sweep to the mighty Mat-Su Miners in the Top of the World Series.

MOTORSPORTS

The 3/8-mile dirt track known as Twin City Raceway in Kenai brought the thunder this summer with a variety of races and events.

The Late Model division featured the most thrilling championship battle, which came down the final race of the season on Labor Day weekend. Al Ulman ended up taking home the championship trophy by a single point over Soldotna racer Shawn Hutchings after the two drivers tangled with each other in the season finale. A crash involving both drivers allowed Ulman to make up a three-point deficit to Hutchings entering the final weekend of racing.

In the rejuvenated Sprint Car class, Randy Barnes finished the season on top by 26 points over Dean Scroggins.

In the A-Stock division, Scroggins won the season title by 43 points over Sean Endsley. In the B-Stock class, Chuck Winters ended up hoisting the championship trophy by 55 points over Mike Eyre.

Bryan Barber captured the Legends season championship by 28 points over Ty Torkelson.

GOLFING

A low-snow winter melted into an early spring. So early, in fact, records were set. Both Birch Ridge and Kenai golf courses set records for earliest opening dates in mid-April.

Mid-July featured the 20th annual All Alaskan Pro Skins game at Birch Ridge, and with 13 teams and 12 professionals battling for the prize, the competition was fierce. In the Pro Am division, Aaron Dexheimer and Brandon Kaiser tied for first, each tallying scores of 1-over 71 to split the $800 prize. In the Pro Am teams race, pro Bill Engberg joined with amateurs Jake Eubank, Darell Jelsma and Max Dye to win the $500 prize.

In the nine-hole skins game, Dexheimer and Trevis Kordus teamed up to claim the $2,000 purse in a playoff, with a winning putt on the 11th hole.

At the two-day Birch Ridge Jr Masters a week later, local duffers won four of seven events. In the girls 14 to 18 age group, Kenai’s Katelin Richards beat Soldotna’s Danica Schmidt, while Anika Richards of Kenai won the girls 11 to 13 age group by default as the only entrant. Sterling’s Shane Sundberg won the 10 to 12 boys age group, and Richie Lundahl III won the boys 9 and under.

At the Kenai Golf Course, the arrival of September brought the sixth annual Kenai Peninsula Open on Labor Day weekend, which James Contreras won. It led up to the annual Kenai Cup, formerly named the Atigun Cup. Ultimately, the victory went to Chris Morin in the Gross division and Rene Alvarez in the Net division. Jesse Wade won the first annual Kenai Peninsula Senior Open as the net champion and Keith Stuart won as the gross champion. Tom Reese was the top scorer in the 50 to 64 age group.

RUNNING

The most successful runner ever to emerge from the Kenai Peninsula added a big bullet item to her impressive resume this summer.

19-year-old Allie Ostrander finished eighth in the women’s 5,000-meter final July 10 at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic qualifying trials in Eugene, Oregon. Three days earlier, the diminutive Ostrander finished a strong fourth in a 5,000-meter heat, placing her into the final.

The Boise State sophomore and 2015 Kenai Central graduate was the only collegiate racer in the field of 16 runners, all professional athletes competing for three spots to the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Olympic qualifying races ultimately proved to be her final ones of the year, as she did not race once during the collegiate cross-country season, opting to redshirt her sophomore season in Boise due to lingering effects of a tibial stress fracture that she suffered earlier in the year. Ostrander stepped off the track Mar. 11 at indoor nationals with the injury, and one week later, discovered the stress fracture.

The summer of 2016 on the peninsula treated local runners with beautiful weather, and long-held traditions flourished. The Run for the River 10-miler in early June saw a big number enter the record books when Seward native Matt Adams blazed a course record 52 minutes, 40 seconds. Over the course of five races in the popular Salmon Run Series, Taylor Ostrander won the women’s race four times in four tries on the Tsalteshi Trails. Minnesota native Angie Voight won another Run for Women 10K in mid-August, while current Kenai Central cross-country runner Jaycie Calvert took the 5K race.

In the typical end-of-summer tradition, the Kenai River Marathon put a perfect end to the running season, an event that attracted 248 runners. John Hellen of Anchorage won the men’s marathon in 3 hours, 8 minutes, 4 seconds, while Homer’s Michelle Mitchell won the women’s marathon in 3:23:12. A pair of Soldotna runners claimed victory in the half-marathon, as Derek Gibson won the men’s race and Susan Craig took the women’s race.

FOOTBALL

The fall of 2016 proved to be another chapter of, “Will the Soldotna Stars be beaten?”, and for the fourth year in a row, they were not. SoHi capped a 10-0 season with a fifth straight medium-schools state championship in October, beating the Palmer Moose on their home field with a dominating 49-13 victory. It also boosted SoHi’s state-record win streak to 49 in a row.

The season for SoHi may have been the most impressive of any in recent years. The year included wins over the two large-schools state contenders, West and East Anchorage. SoHi defeated West 49-30 in the Stars’ season opener, then prevailed over East 22-21 in a thrilling finish, taking the lead with 48 seconds left on a bold two-point pass play.

The most anxious game for SoHi came in the state semifinals, when the Stars sweated out a 25-21 victory over North Pole, rallying from a 15-0 deficit in the waning minutes of the first half to claim the win and gain their spot in the season finale against Palmer.

After the postseason, SoHi picked up two more awards when junior fullback Brenner Furlong received the NLC Offensive Player of the Year, then was honored as the Gatorade Player of the Year for Alaska in football. Furlong racked up 1,439 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, as well as 37 tackles as a linebacker, en route to becoming the fourth SoHi football player to be awarded the honor. Taking home the NLC Defensive Player of the Year award was SoHi junior linebacker Wendell Tuisaula.

The Kenai football team finished third in the Northern Lights Conference with a 3-5 campaign. All three wins came consecutively midway through the year, including a 30-6 triumph over first-year head coach Davis Lowery’s former squad, Kodiak, in the first annual Salmon Bowl. The year ended for the Kards with a 54-27 loss to Soldotna in the longtime rivalry between the two schools. Kenai players that were named to the NLC first-team offense included junior receiver and kicker Zack Tuttle, senior tackle Jon Delgado and return specialist Chase Gillies.

On the small-schools level, Nikiski saw a five-year string of state title game appearances snapped with a semifinal loss to Eielson. The Ravens became a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side, beating Nikiski 58-14 in the regular season, then again 70-18 in the postseason. Nikiski finished 4-5 overall in 2016, including postseason games.

Seward, on the other hand, finished 5-3 in the regular season to win the Peninsula Conference, toppling Nikiski 22-8 in the final week to clinch their first outright conference crown. However, the season quickly ended for the Seahawks in the postseason with a 44-6 semifinal loss to Houston.

The Homer Mariners struggled through a disappointing 2-6 campaign, one that was saddled with the loss of star quarterback Teddy Croft, who suffered a broken leg in the fourth week of the season against Juneau.

CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING

The accolades poured in for several peninsula cross-country teams at the state meet in early October. The Homer girls won their third consecutive Class 1-2-3A state championship, while the Mariner boys earned their first ever in team history, completing an impressive sweep for the maritime town.

At the Class 4A level, the Kenai girls faltered in defending their state crown from 2015, but still finished second with 72 points, beaten only by the low score of 48 posted by the West Valley girls.

With head coach Bill Steyer watching the seeds of his coaching efforts coming to fruition, the Homer girls completed their three-peat with an amazing display of power. The Mariners finished with three runners in the top-10 and had all seven varsity racers in the top 18. Four-year runner Megan Pitzman finished second in the race to lead Homer, while freshman Autumn Daigle finished sixth and senior Lauren Evarts was 10th.

On the boys side, Homer placed four runners in the top-12 to win their inaugural title and beat runner-up Sitka, the defending champions. Jacob Davis was the fastest Homer boy in sixth place, followed by Luciano Fasulo in eighth, Jordan Beachy in 11th and Jared Brant in 12th.

In the 4A girls race, an astonishing display of youth kept the Kenai girls from repeating as state champs. The top three finishers were all freshmen, and two of them raced under the West Valley colors.

Kenai sophomore Jaycie Calvert finished fourth to lead the Kardinals, and was joined in the top-15 by teammates Riana Boonstra in sixth and Brooke Satathite in 14th. Satathite made a giant leap in the finishing order from a year prior, when she placed 53rd.

In the 4A boys race, Soldotna’s Josh Shuler was the top local finisher in 34th and Kenai’s Braden Olsen was 45th.

The 1-2-3A boys individual race was headlined by Seward senior Hunter Kratz, who went out with a runner-up finish.

VOLLEYBALL

With Soldotna and Kenai missing the 4A state tournament, it was up to Nikiski to lead the peninsula on the state volleyball scene. In the end, the Bulldogs nearly claimed the big prize, earning their way into the state championship match with convincing wins over Monroe, Barrow and Mt. Edgecumbe.

However, Mt. Edgecumbe, state champs in three of the previous five years, returned with a vengeance to defeat Nikiski 3-0 in the championship match, then won it with an 30-22 “if-necessary” victory over the Bulldogs.

With fifth-year head coach Stacey Segura backing the team, Nikiski was making its first state final appearance since 2000, when the Bulldogs last won it all. Nikiski punched their ticket to state by winning the Southcentral Conference title, beating Grace Christian 3 sets to 2, with a tense final set score of 16-14. A day earlier, Nikiski rallied back from near-elimination against Seward to clinch their state spot with another 3-2 win in the region semis. The region crown was Nikiski’s first in 11 years.

Players named to All-Conference first team included senior middle hitter Ayla Pitt, junior outside Melanie Sexton and sophomore libero Kelsey Clark.

The story of the 2016 Soldotna volleyball team included winning Nikiski’s Shayna Pritchard Memorial tournament in late August with a win over Kenai. SoHi finished second in the conference with a 6-4 record.

But the lows included the loss of senior outside hitter Judah Aley, who saw her season ended with a knee injury at the West Spiketacular tournament in late September. Aley was a top hitter and server for the Stars, and provided valuable leadership on the court.

With Aley out for the season, SoHi head coach Sheila Kupferschmid turned to freshman Ituau Tuisaula to provide the outside power, and it resulted in Tuisaula eventually being named to the All-Conference first team, along with senior Drewe Zeek.

Kenai Central’s season saw big improvements in a 4-6 campaign that placed the Kards fifth in the final NLC standings at the end of the year. That included winning the season series against their familiar foe, Soldotna. The Stars and the Kards split their regular-season series, then Kenai got the better of SoHi at the NLC tournament, winning the fifth and final set 17-15.

Abby Beck was named co-MVP of the NLC tournament, while coach Tracie Beck was named co-Coach of the Year.

SWIMMING

The Soldotna girls contingent powered their way to a second straight Region III championship, beating runner-up Colony by a slim margin of four points. SoHi got victories from the 200-yard medley relay team, Sydney Juliussen in the 50 freestyle and Portia Padilla in the 100 backstroke.

The SoHi boys also fared well at season’s end, finishing second at the Region III meet to powerhouse Kodiak, getting wins from senior Cody Watkins in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly and Jacob Creglow in the 100 breaststroke.

The state meet in early November was held in Juneau High School’s pool, and the SoHi boys took home a fourth-place team finish. Watkins and fellow senior Jacob Hall posted the highest finishes with a pair of second-places in the boys 50 free and 500 free, respectively. Watkins just missed a school record in the sprint race, while Hall erased the old Stars record in the 500 marathon. The SoHi boy medley relay also tallied a second-place finish.

In the girls state meet, Juliussen finished fifth in the 100 freestyle and Kenai senior Mikaela Pitsch capped a successful prep career in diving with a fifth-place finish in the diving event. Homer senior Lauren Kuhns also capped her prep career with a third-place result in the girls 500 freestyle.

WRESTLING

In 2015, the Homer wrestling team emerged as one of the leading contenders with the program’s first region and state titles in 29 years.

In 2016, the Mariners stamped their name as a powerhouse organization. Although Homer came up just shy of winning another state crown — which went to Bethel — the team finished with five state champions and 12 overall state placers, both marks that either tied or broke Homer wrestling records. State championships were won by Luciano Fasulo at 126 pounds, Jared Brant at 138, Timmy Woo at 160 and Tristen Cook at 170. In the girls tournament, Cook’s sister, McKenzie, won a state title at 145 pounds.

Fasulo also finished with an undefeated season record of 45-0.

Backed by coaches Chris Perk and Bubba Wells, the Mariners dominated the Kachemak Conference tournament, picking up 14 region titles — nine boys and five girls championships— en route to winning the team race with over twice as many points as the second-place team.

The Nikiski wrestling team got one region title — junior Tyler Litke at 220 pounds — but did not win a state title. Litke came the closest, battling his way to the 220-pound state final but coming up short to take second place.

The Bulldogs finished third in the team standings at the Kachemak Conference tournament, then settled for 17th at the state tournament.

At the 4A level, the Kenai and Soldotna teams failed to win any region or state titles, but both came close. At the Northern Lights Conference tournament, hosted on Kenai’s own floor, the Kardinals did not send a single athlete to the finals, while SoHi went 0 for 4 in the finals.

At the 4A state meet, Kenai had the only peninsula finalist with 152-pound senior Keyshawn McEnerny getting the opportunity. McEnerny lost the title with a close 8-7 decision.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. (center with dark jacket) celebrates with his players after winning a school-record fifth straight state football championship, Oct. 15 at Palmer High School. The Stars defeated the Palmer Moose 49-13.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. (center with dark jacket) celebrates with his players after winning a school-record fifth straight state football championship, Oct. 15 at Palmer High School. The Stars defeated the Palmer Moose 49-13.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna's Jace Urban points skyward as he scores on North Pole in Saturday's medium-schools semifinal game at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna’s Jace Urban points skyward as he scores on North Pole in Saturday’s medium-schools semifinal game at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion The Ninilchik boys celebrate winning the Class 1A state tournament championship, March 19 over Nikolaevsk. The title was the first for the Ninilchik boys in school history.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion The Ninilchik boys celebrate winning the Class 1A state tournament championship, March 19 over Nikolaevsk. The title was the first for the Ninilchik boys in school history.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Post 20 Twins pitcher Joey Becher delivers a pitch to a South batter, July 2 at the Kenai Little League fields.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Post 20 Twins pitcher Joey Becher delivers a pitch to a South batter, July 2 at the Kenai Little League fields.

Photo by Katie Pietzold Soldotna runner Allie Ostrander (second from right) jockeys for position in a pack of racers July 10 in the women's 5,000-meter Olympic qualifying trials final in Eugene, Oregon. Ostrander finished eighth with a time of 15 minutes, 24.74 seconds, ending her bid to make the Rio Olympics.

Photo by Katie Pietzold Soldotna runner Allie Ostrander (second from right) jockeys for position in a pack of racers July 10 in the women’s 5,000-meter Olympic qualifying trials final in Eugene, Oregon. Ostrander finished eighth with a time of 15 minutes, 24.74 seconds, ending her bid to make the Rio Olympics.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski middle Ayla Pitt reaches for a ball against Mt. Edgecumbe's Daisy Hunt, Nov. 12 in the Class 3A state volleyball championship at the Alaska Airlines Arena in Anchorage.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski middle Ayla Pitt reaches for a ball against Mt. Edgecumbe’s Daisy Hunt, Nov. 12 in the Class 3A state volleyball championship at the Alaska Airlines Arena in Anchorage.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion A Twin City Raceway safety worker rushes to the aid of Legends driver Ty Torkelson, who went for a wild ride, July 23 at the track. Torkelson got out of his car and walked away.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion A Twin City Raceway safety worker rushes to the aid of Legends driver Ty Torkelson, who went for a wild ride, July 23 at the track. Torkelson got out of his car and walked away.

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Kards win Silver Bracket at Dimond-Service volleyball

Kenai Central won the Silver Bracket on Saturday at the Dimond-Service Volleyball… Continue reading

Soldotna's Hunter Richardson and Homer's Nestor Kalugin tangle at 189A at the Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. Richardson won the match 11-1 on the way to first place, while Kalugin was third. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai’s Gaethle wins Spruill award

Kenai Central junior Andrew Gaethle won the Luke Spruill Outstanding Wrestler award,… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Caden Triggs (far left) celebrates his first-period goal with Tyler Pfister and Brendan Hill on Friday, Oct. 21, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Bears split Friday, Saturday games with Steel

For the second time all season, the Kenai River Brown Bears scored… Continue reading

Brown Bears forward Cole Dubicki and Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel forward Ethan Benz tangle for the puck Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears drop home opener to Steel

The Kenai River Brown Bears lost their home opener 6-2 to the… Continue reading

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Seward volleyball comes back to top Nikiski

The host Seward volleyball team pulled off a big comeback for a… Continue reading

A moose darts into the forest on Beaver Loop Road in Kenai, Alaska, during the Kenai River Marathon on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Refuge Notebook: Mating systems of moose and caribou

Driving home the other day, my friend and I came across a… Continue reading

Kenai Lake sparkles under the sun on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Out of the Office: To everything, there is a season

We don’t really have “seasons” where I’m from. It stays an amicable… Continue reading

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Costume Caper 5K draws 44 in Nikiski

The Nikiski Community Recreation Center held a 5K Costume Caper on Saturday,… Continue reading

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Brown Bears look to home cooking to spark season

The Kenai River Brown Bears will turn to home ice advantage to… Continue reading

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