Kenai Peninsula cross-country teams turned in an impressive performance at the Region III meet last season, claiming two individual champions, two team champions and sending seven teams on to the state meet.
Even with the loss of some impressive athletes off of those teams, area teams could be set for an equal, or more bountiful, haul Saturday at the Region III meet at Colony High School.
At the Class 4A level, Soldotna and Kenai Central appear poised for more region success.
Soldotna coach Ted McKenney said both his girls and boys teams have a good shot at finishing in the top three and earning a state berth.
The SoHi girls will be led by senior Olivia Hutchings. Hutchings finished second at the region meet last season, but McKenney said health issues have slowed her progress this season.
Due to those health issues, McKenney said he won’t send Hutchings out with a plan to win the race. He said he just wants her to have a solid finish that helps the team get to state.
“We need her to finish,” McKenney said. “If you take out a runner finishing fourth or fifth, and replace her with a runner finishing 40th or 50th, that’s when bad things start to happen.”
McKenney expects solid finishes from senior Daisy Nelson, sophomore Kellie Arthur and junior Molly Erickson. Then he said it will be up to senior Emily Werner or senior Hannah Pothast to provide the crucial fifth score.
McKenney said the Colony girls are the favorite for the team title, while Kenai and SoHi have the inside track at the other state slots.
The SoHi boys will look for their first state berth since 2008.
“I think it looks pretty good,” McKenney said. “I haven’t been able to get all of our guys to compete on the same day, but if our guys bring it they have a chance to finish at least third.”
Kodiak’s Keith Osowski stamped himself as the runner to beat while finishing fifth at the Tsalteshi Invitational, but McKenney said senior Aaron Swedberg has been coming on strong, running a personal record of 16 minutes, 18 seconds, for five kilometers last Saturday in Homer.
Sophomore Josh Shuler, senior Levi Michael and freshman David Michael should give SoHi solid finishes. McKenney said it is up to sophomores Koby Vinson and John-Mark Pothast and freshman Jeremy Kupferschmid to fill in the fifth score.
The Kenai girls are looking for another trip to state and a fifth-straight individual championship.
Allie Ostrander won the last four for the Kards, and Kenai coach Maria Calvert said sophomore Riana Boonstra has put herself in position to possibly keep the streak going.
Boonstra battled a hamstring injury in the middle of the season, but has won her last two races.
“Riana’s come back and she’s healthy, strong and looking great,” Calvert said.
Freshman Jaycie Calvert was right on Boonstra’s heels early in the season, but hasn’t raced since Sept. 11 due to a hip issue.
“We’ll have to see how she does,” coach Calvert said. “I know she wants to run hard for her team.”
Sophomores Ithaca Bergholtz and Addison Gibson should produce two more top finishes. That leaves the crucial fifth score to sophomores Leah Johnson and Kasey Paxton, and freshman Brooke Satathite.
“Colony’s a very deep team, but we’ll have to see,” coach Calvert said. “If we’re all running healthy, we’re going to do well. I can’t count us out.”
The Kenai boys will be hard-pressed to return to state after losing their top three runners from last year. But Calvert said sophomore Karl Danielson has a great shot to make the top 15 and earn a state berth.
Junior Roy Taylor and sophomore Braden Olsen also have a shot, according to Calvert, if they have the races of their lives.
Senior James Butler, junior Tristan Landry, sophomore Matthew Torkelson and freshman Alden Bookey also will toe the line for Kenai.
“We’re looking to compete, PR and hopefully place higher than in past meets,” Calvert said.
At the Class 3A level, the possibility is there for the Peninsula to sweep the top individual and team awards despite the presence of the perennial powers Grace Christian and Anchorage Christian Schools.
The Homer girls swept the girls team and individual championship one year ago.
Junior Megan Pitzman has a chance to take her third-straight region title, although Homer coach Bill Steyer expects a major push from Elizabeth Balsan of ACS. Ruby Lindquist of Seward also will be a factor.
“I think she’s in good form,” Steyer said of Pitzman. “She’s a really talented runner and she’s a competitive person. I think she’ll have a good race.”
Pitzman will be backed up by sophomore Alex Moseley, junior Audrey Rosencrans, senior Aurora Waclawski, senior Ziza Shemet Pitcher, junior Lauren Evarts and junior Haley Knott.
“I think if the girls execute a proper race like they have been, if nobody falls or gets sick or has unexpected issues, then they should be really strong,” Steyer said. “They should take it.”
Steyer also thinks his boys could win, but expects a strong challenge from Grace. He also sees Seward as a dark horse to defend the Seahawks’ region title.
“Even though we’ve beaten Grace twice, I think we’re pretty evenly matched,” Steyer said.
While giving the nod for the individual title to junior Hunter Kratz of Seward, Steyer has high hopes for his team of sophomore Jordan Beachy, junior Jared Brant, sophomore Charlie Menke, freshman Luciano Fasulo, sophomore Jacob Davis, freshman Dexter Lowe and sophomore Denver Waclawski.
Seward assistant Theresa Bickling also thinks Kratz is the runner to beat in the boys race.
“He combines everything,” she said. “He has great form, a lot of talent, and he’s a diligent, dedicated kid.
“He put in a lot of time this summer to prepare. I can’t wait to watch him race. It should be awesome.”
Kratz is backed by an experienced team of seniors Paxson Berry, Thomas Zweifel, Seth Brewi, Jonathan Kingsland and Alex Estes, and sophomore Case Estes.
Bickling said having so many seniors is an advantage.
“They are driven and they’ve been working to get to this place for four years,” she said.
Like Steyer, Bickling said Ruby Lindquist should be a factor in the girls race.
Also toeing the line are freshman Sadie Lindquist, sophomores Ashley Guernsey and EmmaLee Moore, junior Cassidy DeLand and senior Iris Anderson.
“I think they’d be happy to get to state,” Bickling said. “That would be a treat.”
Voznesenka also will attend the Region III meet for the first time. Coach Rachel Allmendinger said none of her runners are ready for the varsity race yet, but she is looking forward to next year.
Nikiski also will toe the line in the small-schools race at Colony.
At the Region II meet at Susitna Valley, Nikolaevsk coach Steve Klaich said Greg Trail, Jonah Fefelov and Megan Hickman have a great opportunity to advance to state. He added Michael Trail and Chelsea Johnson are on the bubble.