Region III track preview: Competition will be fierce

The fight for a state berth in the sport of track and field is an emotional one which can be seen in the gritty faces of student athletes that expend every ounce of energy in hopes of qualifying for one last shot at glory.

This weekend’s Region III meet at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai is bound to see more than one exhausted face with hopes of making the trip to Anchorage. The competition begins today with two separate classes of competition — the Class 1-2-3A meet and the 4A meet.

Preliminaries for field events start today at 10 a.m. The 3,200-meter boys and girls finals will start at 2 p.m., while all other running prelims begin at 3 p.m.

Finals for field events start at 10 a.m. Saturday, with running finals following at noon.

The winner of each event automatically qualifies for a spot at the state meet, and the next 12 best times are also thrown into the mix. It all adds up to recipe for intensity.

“I told the team earlier, everything up to this point is practice,” said Kenai coach Chris Hanson.

The fight for team supremacy this season has also been a challenge, as 4A squads Soldotna and Kenai have battled from meet to meet. The Kenai boys and girls both finished second in the team standings at the Pro Whit meet at the Dome in Anchorage on April 17 and 18. Both teams led the points after the first day, only to see the Dimond boys and South girls snatch victory away.

The Kards then swept the competition in dominating fashion at their home invite the following weekend, combining to win by an average margin of almost 60 points.

Then it was on to the Homer Invite, which the Kenai girls won with a score of 130 points to runner-up Soldotna’s 99. The Kenai boys finished second in the standings to Kodiak, but only by a 1-2 score of 138-122.

The Kenai girls once again won a team title at the Colony Invite on the second weekend of May, but by the narrow margin of five points to runner-up ACS. Kenai placed third in the boys standings.

Last weekend saw the SoHi girls finally conquer their local rivals with a 187-180 victory over Kenai at the Kenai Peninsula Borough championships, a victory that wasn’t decided until the final event of the day, the 1,600-meter relay. The SoHi girls team was originally disqualified over a dropped baton, but within 30 minutes had been added back into the mix to clinch the team standings win.

“I think the right decision was made, although I would’ve liked to see our relay team get reinstated as well,” said Kenai coach Chris Hanson, referring to the Kenai girls 800-meter relay that was disqualified earlier in the day.

Soldotna coach Phil Leck was happy to see the call reversed, but within 24 hours, his thoughts were elsewhere.

“When I got home Saturday night, I was happy for our girls to get first, but Sunday, it was about where I was going to enter kids in regions to get to state,” Leck said.

The Kenai boys cruised to the team title at boroughs, beating runner-up SoHi by a score of 201 to 138.

“I was actually surprised our boys won by that much, that they were that dominant,” Hanson said. “We have a strong boys and girls teams, but don’t have the depth of some other teams.”

Both teams are bringing loaded rosters to the meet with visions of winning team championships.

KENAI KARDINALS

It’s no secret where a big chunk of Kenai’s team points come from. The Kardinals distance running core of seniors Allie Ostrander and Jordan and Jonah Theisen have dominated the region this year in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.

Ostrander is primed for another run at the record books in the coming two weeks, as the senior has already eclipsed her standing state records of 4:49.47 in the 1,600 and 10:13.87 in the 3,200 this year.

“She just anchors this team, and gives us points everywhere,” Hanson said. “She’s been a leader on the team and other kids really work hard in her presence.”

On the boys side, both Theisen brothers hold top-five times in the region in the 800 meters and up, and the duo swept the three distance races at last week’s borough meet.

“The Theisens are workhorses,” Hanson said. “They’re a joy to work with and great kids to be around. They’re just selfless.”

In the jumping events, sophomore Josh Jackman is expected to make a points haul this weekend, days after sweeping the boys hurdle races and winning long jump at the borough meet. Jackman is currently ranked second in the region in both hurdle events, behind SoHi star Tim Duke.

“He’s just having a phenomenal year,” Hanson said.

Other athletes coming into the weekend with high expectations are senior Travis Cooper in the long and triple jumps, senior Kiana Harding in the girls long and high jumps and senior Kyla Whannell in the girls sprint races.

Hanson said he believes his Kenai girls squad can come away with a chance to win the Region III championship if things play out as he hopes, but the Kards will need to go through the defending state champion Colony Knights to do so.

“Everybody’s gotta run well and continue to run well, and we’ll need some folks to surprise us with PRs,” Hanson said.

SOLDOTNA STARS

Coach Leck said he sees the girls team race as a three-horse battle between Kenai, Colony and Soldotna.

“This is what it’s all about,” Leck said. “We’re running fast times right now.”

On the boys side, Leck said the Kodiak boys are looking like heavy favorites, as is per usual.

“Kodiak is absolutely loaded,” Leck said. “But Kenai is as good as they’ve ever been, too.”

If things go as planned, Leck predicted a sizable chunk of points coming from junior Daisy Nelson in the 200 and 400-meter sprints and the 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays. Nelson is currently ranked second in the region in the girls 200 meters, behind only ACS superstar Tanner Ealum, and fourth in the 400. Nelson also sports the third-fastest time in the region this year in the 100-meter dash, but Leck said she will skipping the 100 in favor of the second-ranked 1,600-meter relay team.

“It can be kind of tough to decide what to do at state,” Leck said, stating that an athlete can only run in four events in one meet.

Teammate Dani McCormick will be running the 400- and 800-meter events, as well as the 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays, the latter one which is ranked fastest in the state. Leck said McCormick will be teamed with Nelson, Sadie Fox and Olivia Hutchings for the first time this year, the same quartet that nearly took down the 11-year-old state record at last year’s state meet.

On the boys side, Leck said senior Tim Duke will be ready for action after a leg injury at the Colony Invite two weeks ago set him back. Duke currently holds the state’s top time in the boys 300-meter hurdles at 39.77 seconds, which is 1.40 seconds ahead of the second-fastest time posted this year.

“He’s gonna run,” Leck said. “If you’re going to go to state, you’ve gotta run this weekend.”

Duke will be competing in both hurdle races, the long jump and the boys 1,600-meter relay.

Also competing for a state spot is sophomore Annie Quinn, who posted the second-best girls discus throw in the state last week at the borough meet at 113 feet, 5 inches, and Dalton Best, who swept both throwing events on the boys side at the borough meet.

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

If the borough meet holds any promise, Nikiski senior Luke Johnson is a near lock to grab a state spot in either of the throwing events. Johnson finished second in both the shot put and discus throws, and his tosses of 44 feet, 2 1-2 inches, in the shot and 130 feet, 7 inches, in the discus are ranked fourth and third, respectively, in the region.

“He’s always a force to be reckoned with,” said Nikiski coach Jake Doth. “He’s going to fare well, he’s no stranger to that.”

Doth said he is looking forward to what should be a barnburner in the shot put between Johnson and Seward senior Howie Hubbard. Both throwers are ranked in the top-four in the region, with Hubbard taking the top spot. Doth added that Tim Johnson, Luke’s father and a former thrower himself, has been a huge asset to the throwing team this year.

“(Luke) and Howie have been going head to head for a while, so that’ll be fun,” Doth said.

Doth said that he’s also excited to see what a few of his jumpers are going to do this weekend, namely Nikiski junior Arianne Parrish, who is ranked sixth in the region in the long jump (15 feet, 2 3-4 inches) and ninth in the triple jump (30 feet, 4 inches).

The Bulldogs also feature a strong contingent of sprinters. The Nikiski boys claimed second place in the 400-meter sprint relay at the borough meet, a team consisting of Matthew Minium, Kazuya Okamoto, Aaron McCollum and Patrick Perry. Minium also finished eighth individually in the boys 100-meter dash and Perry took eighth in the 200.

The results helped the Nikiski boys finish fourth in the team standings with 53 points scored.

Doth also mentioned that the Bulldogs track team has doubled in size this year, going from 16 athletes in 2014 to 28 this season.

“Win lose or draw, we have a great team,” Doth said. “I have the best group of kids you could ask for.”

HOMER MARINERS

Among the top-ranked tracksters that the Homer contingent is bringing is sophomore Lauren Evarts, who is ranked second in the region in the girls 100-meter hurdles, although her season-best of 17.45 seconds is still a whopping 1.57 seconds behind the state-leading time of Colony junior Chase Stephens. Evarts won the 300 hurdles in last week’s borough meet and enters as a heavy favorite to continue on to the state meet with a solid outing this weekend.

The Homer girls 800-meter relay squad is ranked third in the region, less than three seconds behind the region-leading Soldotna girls. Consisting of junior Angie Cardoza, junior Aurora Waclawski, senior Crystal Crane and junior Ziza Shemet-Pitcher, the quartet captured the win last week at the borough meet.

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

For such a small school, one of the state’s best throwers has made his mark on 2015.

Seward senior Howie Hubbard currently holds the state’s top shot put mark with a heave of 48 feet, 7 inches, set two weeks ago at the Colony Invite.

Seward will also be looking for points from the boys 3,200-meter relay, which is ranked third in the region with a time of 8:36.69.

COOK INLET ACADEMY

The Eagles harbor one of the region’s elite jumpers in senior Madison Orth, who is coming off the win in the girls 100-meter hurdles by over a half-second. Orth gathered up 20 of CIA’s 45 total team points between the boys and girls competitions last weekend.

Orth is currently ranked second in the region in the long jump with a leap of 16 feet, 1 inch, set at the Kenai Invite in April, and is ranked eighth in the state.

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