The relentless push of the Swan Lake Fire has reshuffled the football schedule and put other high school sports events scrambling to reschedule or cancel events due to travel restrictions and unhealthy air quality.
The Kenai Central football team was forced to cancel its Saturday home game with Lathrop due to the unpredictable nature of the wildfire’s impact on Sterling Highway closures, leaving the Kardinals idle for a second straight week. With no choice for rescheduling because of the lack of upcoming off weeks, that means Kenai will contest no more than six varsity games this regular season.
Meanwhile, the Soldotna football team, which was scheduled to host South Anchorage for its home opener Friday night, will fly up to Anchorage for a 4:30 p.m. Saturday clash on South Anchorage’s field.
The Nikiski and Homer football teams scrambled to put on a Friday night game at Nikiski after their respective Week 3 opponents decided to opt out for travel concerns. Nikiski was scheduled to host Valdez, while Homer was supposed to play at Monroe Catholic, but both Monroe and Valdez changed course and will face each other this weekend. Friday’s contest at Nikiski will be a nonconference game, while their Week 7 meeting will count toward the Peninsula Conference standings.
In volleyball, Seward postponed both weekend games at Kenai and Homer due to travel difficulties through the Cooper Landing area, while the Soldotna Stars are still on to host Kodiak Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
In coed soccer, the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles had one game canceled and is holding out hope for another. CIA head coach Kenny Leaf said Delta is still expected to arrive for a 5 p.m. Friday game, but Saturday’s match with Holy Rosary is canceled.
In cross-country running, Seward is planning to compete at the Bartlett Preview meet in Anchorage unless that meet is canceled due to potential unhealthy air quality. On the peninsula, Homer, Kenai, Nikiski, Soldotna and Nikolaevsk are planning to compete Saturday on the Homer Spit, although the fate of that meet will be decided noon Friday, depending on air conditions. Also in running events, Saturday’s Mariner Triathlon is postponed to Sept. 14.
While the football schedule has been chaotic for central peninsula teams, Seward has been able to avoid postponements due to its location. The Seahawks traveled to Valdez last week and then hit the road Thursday to play Redington in The Dome in Anchorage, where Seward lost 50-14. Thursday’s loss dropped the Seahawks to 0-3 overall this year.
The following is closer look at Week 3 in prep football:
Homer (0-1) at Nikiski (0-1), 7 p.m. Friday
Instead of Valdez, the Bulldogs will be facing a conference opponent this week in Homer. Because the Mariners and Bulldogs will face each other again Sept. 28, Friday’s game will not count toward Peninsula Conference seedings.
That sets up a unique opportunity for both teams to gain better insight to the others’ play calling and schemes in advance of the Week 7 meeting, something that Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson pointed out as a positive.
“This’ll definitely help out with planning for Week 7,” he said. “But I also guarantee that they’ll have some wrinkles we don’t see. They transform greatly through the season to when we get to the second game.”
Coming off a 30-12 loss to Redington in Week 1, the team’s first loss to the Huskies, Nelson said the Bulldogs have struggled to improve with the fire situation forcing sports team practices indoors. Nelson said the team got three days outside last week and just one this week
“It’s hard, because it doesn’t feel like football practice,” he said. “The kids are upset the schedule’s been altered, and we’re really glad the (Week 3) schedule worked out, but it’s been a rough week or so. But you do what you can.”
Homer lost 28-14 to Kenai in Week 1, but head coach Justin Zank said after that game that playing a Division II opponent helped get the Mariners program up to speed.
Soldotna (1-0) at South (2-0), 4:30 p.m. Saturday
After a week off due to the wildfire situation, the Stars will face a week of heavy travel, starting Saturday morning with a flight to Anchorage to play the team that’s ranked second in the weekly Division I coaches poll.
After playing South, the Stars will get back on the plane Sunday night for a trip down to San Diego, California, where they will spend five days preparing for Christian High School.
SoHi head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said the amount of fundraising the Stars did this summer helped the team save up for the unexpected Anchorage trip, which the team was tentatively planning to use last week to get to Fairbanks for the team’s Week 2 clash with West Valley.
“It worked out OK for us,” Brantley Jr. said.
The last time SoHi met South was the 2015 season opener, when the Stars held off the Wolverines 21-17 at home to break the Alaska state record win streak of 30 games.
Now, with a little less on the line, Brantley Jr. said the team is prepared to face the Division I powerhouse again.
“I think this game needed to happen,” he said. “It’s two of the top teams in the state at any level that are going to be on the field. We’re excited they figured out a way to make it happen, and as much as we’d like it to be a home game, we already lost a game, so the kids are motivated and ready to go.”
Brantley Jr. also thanked Soldotna city manager Laura Queen for allowing the team to utilize the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for indoor workouts when the school district restricted outdoor activity. Brantley Jr. said he hopes that will have the Stars better prepared for a high-stakes game Saturday.
“It’s one of them weird things,” Brantley Jr. said about the scheduling reshuffling. “Our administration is doing everything they can to keep the kids safe, checking air quality and I even downloaded the app on my phone.
“We’re just being as flexible as we possibly can, and when it comes to the safety of our players, it’s a nonnegotiable.”