The epicenter of Alaska’s prep sports scene will be moving to Palmer High School this weekend as the state track and field championships convene at Machetanz Field.
Often held at either Dimond’s Alumni Field in Anchorage or Lathrop’s field in Fairbanks, the season-ending meet shifts to Palmer this year to pit the fastest and strongest athletes in Alaska against each other. Palmer High is also playing host to the Southcentral Conference baseball tournament, so the action will be coming in from all sides.
“Palmer’s gonna be great,” said Seward head coach Andrew Scrivo. “It’ll allow the throwers to be closer to the goings-on, which always bugs me when we’re pushed off, but it’ll be nice.”
The weekend officially gets going today at 9 a.m. with field event finals, and continuing with the 3,200-meter endurance races at 11 a.m. Saturday, all other running finals will be run beginning at 10:30 a.m., while the conclusion of the field events will begin at 9 a.m.
The best peninsula athletes should easily make their presence known this weekend.
Kenai Central senior Josh Jackman has shown to be one of the fastest boys in the state this year, holding the current state bests in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, but at state, it is all on the line with pressure. Jackman set an outstanding — albeit, hand-held — time of 10.94 seconds in the boys 100 at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet two weeks ago, then cooled off to win the Region III title in the 100 meters last week at 11.40 seconds.
Jackman enters the state meet undefeated in the 200 meters this year, another event in which he holds the fastest time this year with a quarter-second advantage at 22.66 seconds.
Nikiski junior Isaac Averill also should be a contender at the Class 1-2-3A level, where he holds the fastest time among all racers. Averill enters as the Region III/3A champion in the 100 sprint, and holds a personal best of 11.14 seconds.
Averill’s speed will be put to use for the boys 400-meter sprint relay, which he will contest with teammate Matthew Minium, Jack Sullenger and Patrick Perry. The foursome teamed up to win the Region III/3A title in the event last week.
Back at the 4A level, the Soldotna boys are expected to be a strong contender to win a state crown in the 1,600-meter relay, as Koby Vinson, Logan Schrader, Abe Van Hout and Brenner Furlong put their mettle to the test against the state’s best. The event is always a crowd favorite, and as the traditional final event of the day on Saturday, it tests the weary legs of even the best.
The Stars currently lead the entire state with a fast time of 3:34.37 set at the Region III/4A meet last week, and SoHi head coach Phil Leck said the team is primed for a state trophy.
“It should be exciting, it should be five teams vying for it,” Leck said. “I expect our guys to be right in the middle of it, and I expect them to run faster than last weekend.”
Van Hout is primed for a big weekend individually as he goes for glory in the boys hurdle races. The SoHi senior set a then-fastest state time of 15.88 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles at the Kenai Invite in April, which now stands second-best to Eagle River’s Mason Wadsworth. Leck said Wadsworth’s time of 15.61 is within reach, but Van Hout is going to need a big day Saturday.
“Technically wise, (Van Hout) will be there in the 110, but that Eagle River kid has more foot speed than him,” Leck said. “He’s gonna have to run his personal best.”
Furlong is also coming into the weekend with a solid shot at claiming an individual state title in the boys 400. Furlong’s season best of 51.55 seconds ranks second only to RJ Henry of Lathrop, who owns a 50.93-second time. Leck said Furlong’s strength combined with his grit could make the difference.
“I don’t know how fast he can go, but I don’t know anyone in the state that’s tougher,” Leck said.
Another SoHi athlete to keep an eye on is junior Wendell Tuisaula, who holds the second-farthest throw in the boys shot put and the third-farthest in the discus. The only thrower ahead of Tuisaula — who swept the Region III titles last week — in the discus is West Valley senior Jake Foshee at 164 feet, 5 inches. Tuisuala is second at 147 feet, 10 inches, but Leck said Tuisaula is more consistent than his rival from Fairbanks.
“I think he’ll throw 150-something,” Leck said. “He doesn’t have an outlier out there.”
Leck said the SoHi boys team could finish the weekend with up to 50 points, if things go well.
On the girls side, the Stars have a fearsome threesome of senior Annie Quinn, junior Emily Pieh and freshman Ituau Tuisuala. Quinn is ranked fifth in both the girls shot put and discus, while Tuisaula is eighth in the shot put and Pieh is fourth in the discus.
Seward senior Hunter Kratz also enters the weekend with an excellent chance to pile up a few state titles. Kratz could win the boys 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races at the 1-2-3A level after an impressive performance at the Region III meet.
“I think he’s very capable of being a four-win athlete,” said Scrivo. “The 3,200 is on a different day, so he could very well come out of there with four golds.”
Kratz set the fastest 1,600 in the state last week with a 4:19.02, riding the right elbow of Anchorage Christian’s Blake Bennett for three laps before making his move to the lead with 300 meters to go to claim the victory, but Galena junior Jacob Moos is second at 4:20.68, so Kratz will have to post one more great run to take a state title in the 1,600.
“I thought the 4:23 he ran in Kodiak was going to be the peak, but then he ran that 4:19 in Homer,” Scrivo said. “You can’t say you’re shocked, but that was great.”
Scrivo will be bringing 21 athletes to state from a Seward team of about 30, and while the numbers are impressive, it’s the individual accolades that shine brightest. Kratz will also join Beau Freiberg, Zen Petrosius and Nik Pahno in the boys 1,600-meter relay, which won the Region III/3A championship last weekend in a wild race. All four runners posted personal bests en route to the victory, which came as the skies opened up and rain rolled down on Pahno’s baton handoff to Kratz, who passed Homer’s Luciano Fasulo on the final leg to win by .28 seconds.
“It was an amazing race,” Scrivo said. “I pulled my boys aside the night before, I told them, nobody goes into it with fresh legs … these guys chew up chain and spit out nails, and that’s why they’re on the (1,600-meter) relay.”
On the girls side, Seward’s own middle distance threat remains junior Ruby Lindquist, who made off with a clean sweep of the girls 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races last week at the Region III meet. Like Kratz, Lindquist stuck close to the shoulder of Grace Christian’s Grace Gannon in the girls 1,600 before making her move on the last lap to pick up the win in 5:14.62, second behind the leading state time of 5:08.10 of Glennallen senior Briahna Gerlach.
Scrivo said Lindquist is probably most capable of winning the girls 800, in which she leads the state with a 2:22.98, but said Lindquist possesses a natural belief in herself that she can beat anyone.
“Briana Gerlach is a machine from Glennallen, but Ruby’s got to believe in herself and take command of the race,” he said. “When you’re running against someone like Gerlach, it’s easy to believe you’re second-best.”
Scrivo also said sophomore Coral Petrosius has a solid chance to place high in both the girls discus and high jump at the 1-2-3A level, while senior Eli Davis is looking to medal in the boys throwing events.
The Homer Mariners are looking at strength in the relays as their best bet to score points. Homer won five of eight relay races last weekend at the Region III/3A meet, sweeping the girls relays and winning the boys 3,200-meter relay. The Homer girls 1,600-meter relay is currently ranked the highest this year with a time of 4:21.42, which is highest among 1-2-3A competitive schools. The team consists of Megan Pitzman, Cheyenne Gillette, Lauren Evarts and Autumn Daigle.
Evarts is looking for individual glory in the girls hurdle races. Evarts won the girls state title in the 300-meter hurdles last year with a fast time of 46.67 seconds, and came within a few tenths of a second of her PR last weekend at the region meet en route to the victory, putting her second-fastest in the state and fastest among 1-2-3A schools.
In the girls throwing events, Kenai Central senior Abby Beck is among the contenders to win a 4A championship in the discus, where she ranks second to Dimond senior Alissa Pili. Beck stands almost 10 feet behind Pili, so a personal best will likely be required to take the state crown.