Region III track teams prepare for weekend battle

Houston High School will be the epicenter of the Region III track and field championships this weekend, and the battle is shaping up to be big.

The meet is traditionally split into two divisions, Class 3A and 4A, dividing the bigger schools from the smaller schools, and Kenai Peninsula teams are expected to challenge for the team titles in both.

In 2017, the Colony Knights swept the Class 4A team titles, while the Anchorage Christian boys and Homer girls laid claim to the 3A crowns.

The Mariners graduated a few stars, most notably hurdle champion Lauren Evarts and some key pieces to their relay teams, but still return a chunk of point scorers from last year’s winning squad.

The one thing that may keep Homer from another girls title is the loss of two current winners. Homer head coach Bob Ostrom said junior sprinter Kaylee Veldstra and freshman hurdler/jumper Anna Godfrey will both miss this weekend’s festivities to injury. Godfrey fell during the girls 110-meter hurdle event last weekend at the Kenai Peninsula Borough championships, while Veldstra is out for a sore foot. Veldstra is currently leading the fastest times list in the Class 3A region in the girls 100, while Godfrey tops the lists in both hurdling races.

However, Ostrom is keeping optimistic, since his girls squad finished highest among 3A schools at the Region III Preview meet at Houston two weeks ago.

“I think it’s possible,” Ostrom said. “We’re still trying to sort out a few things out, but it’s looking good.”

In the 4A team race, SoHi head coach Phil Leck said he likes his girls team’s chances, a year after the Stars took third as a team.

“If it all shakes out, they’ll have a chance to be region champs,” Leck said. “We’re going to have to perform well and have no mistakes and have clean races.

“The kids are ready, we’re hoping for good weather and ready to put down some good times.”

The Kenai girls took second in the team race last year on the shoulders of a deep sprint core, relay teams and two standout individuals in Katie Kilfoyle and Abby Beck. Kilfoyle swept the girls hurdle races while Beck won the shot put, but both graduated, leaving head coach Chris Hanson to look even more to his sprinters and relay squads for help.

“Judging from the region preview, it’s not outside the realm of possibility,” Hanson said. “We just don’t match up with SoHi’s depth very well.”

At that meet at Houston two weeks ago, the Kenai girls finished second with 85 team points to SoHi’s 144. The Kards got big points days from their sprinters, which placed three in the top seven in the 100 dash, and their relays, which won the 400 sprint relay and the 3,200 relay, in addition to a runner-up in the 800 relay. Kenai will need big days from junior Hayley Maw, senior Tekaiya Rich and sophomore Alyssa Bucho in order to challenge for the team title.

Kenai’s distance crew also pitched in at the preview meet with second- and third-place finishes from juniors Jaycie Calvert and Brooke Satathite in the girls 1,600. Both Kardinals runners are ranked in the top three of the event this year. Both also run on the Kenai girls 3,200-meter relay, which is currently the fastest in the state.

“It’s very possible for them (to win),” Hanson said about Calvert and Satathite. “We’ve got a couple workhorses, and those two are definitely ready for that title. They compete hard and we ask them to do it again an hour later. They’re tough, and they have good training under their belt.”

Also among the distance contenders is freshman ace Maison Dunham, who sits second in the region among 4A runners in the boys 3,200 and third fastest in the 1,600. Hanson said Dunham’s future is bright.

“I would never count that kid out,” Hanson said. “He’s good now, and he’s going to be really good. He’s one of the most confident kids on the team.”

Kenai also looks to sophomore Savannah Wilson in the girls hurdles, who is currently second-fastest in the region in the 100-meter race, and junior Jarett Wilson in the boys hurdles. Wilson is the defending state 300 hurdles champ and currently holds the second-fastest time in the region in the 110-meter event.

This year, however, Wilson has yet to find his form in the 300, as he hasn’t come within 2 1/2 seconds of his PR set last year.

“We call him one of the big game hunters,” Hanson said. “He’s just one of those kids that run at their best when it’s all on the line.”

Leading the SoHi boys charge is senior Brenner Furlong, the defending Region III 400 champ. Furlong is among the state’s fastest 400 runners, and currently leads the Region III Class 4A list of top times this spring with a 51.01 set May 5. Furlong said one of his 2018 goals is to break the SoHi school record of 50.62 seconds, but Leck said the senior star will need better weather conditions than what he’s been handed this year.

“We’re just waiting for some weather,” Leck said. “A few days back, the weather looked better, but it’s hard to run fast times in the 400 when you don’t have good weather. He has a chance to run his season best, but it’ll all depend on a few factors with weather being a big one.”

The Stars are also looking to get big point hauls from senior Wendell Tuisaula and sophomore Galen Brantley III in the throws, particularly the shot put. The SoHi duo rank first and second this season in the region in the shot, and Leck said it should be a dogfight for the region title.

“The shot’s right there for one of them to grab,” Leck said. “Galen got (Wendell) last week (at the borough meet), and they throw together in practice every day.”

Another potential region winner lies in SoHi senior Logan Schrader, who currently leads the region in the boys triple jump by over a foot. Schrader hasn’t eclipsed the 40-foot mark since setting his PR of 41 feet, 11 inches April 13, but Leck said he feels confident that the senior can rebound.

On the girls side, the Stars have seen some big goals achieved this year. Notable among them are the throwing duo of Ituau Tuisaula and Emily Pieh. Tuisaula, a sophomore, leads Region III throwers in the shot put and is undefeated this year, while Pieh leads the discus pool. Leck said a few other names will be crucial to SoHi’s team chances, including senior Savannah McDonald, sophomore Bailey Leach and freshman Autumn Fisher.

Tuisaula’s story is full of big moments, none bigger than her return to competition April 20 at a mini quad meet at Soldotna. Tuisaula had missed almost a full year of sports due to two major knee surgeries, but finally got on track with a run of victories in the shot put.

“She is excited to be doing something again,” Leck said. “She was pretty down after missing two of her favorite sports, and that’s hard on her.”

Leck said Tuisaula was also buoyed by the accomplishment of breaking the SoHi sophomore girls school record that was previously held by 2008 graduate Paige Blackburn, a successful collegiate thrower that has competed at two consecutive Olympic trials.

“That’s something that gave her another boost of confidence,” Leck said. “She could now say that I beat someone that is an Olympic trialist.”

Leck also said Pieh is a very strong contender to take the region discus title. Pieh won last week’s borough discus crown with a new PR of 121 feet, 9 inches.

SoHi also features a pair of hurdling stars in junior Sophie Thomas and sophomore Holleigh Jaime. Last week at boroughs, Thomas won all four events she raced; the 800- and 1,600-meter relays and both hurdle races.

“Sophie has a chance to win the 100 hurdles, she’s just got to perform,” Leck said.

Impressively, SoHi owns three of the top four girls times this year in the 100 hurdles, with Thomas holding down the top spot and Jaime and fellow sophomore Kylie Ness taking spots three and four.

SoHi junior Brittany Taylor also figures to contend in the girls 400, as well as the 200, where she took first and third, respectively, in the preview meet. Taylor currently holds the fastest time among region 4A runners this year in the girls 400.

On the 3A side of things, Nikiski may be short on quantity, but the Bulldogs are fat on quality.

Nikiski senior Jack Sullenger will be one to watch this weekend as he attempts to further his current state-best in the long jump, which stands at 21 feet, 6.5 inches.

“He popped a really big jump earlier in the season, and showed he’s got the potential,” said Nikiski head coach Jake Doth. “It’s hard to long jump when it’s windy and sideways rain, but that was a huge PR for him. I think things started to click and we started looking at video and dissecting his jump.”

Doth said Sullenger has made massive strides each year of high school, and only last year cracked the 20-foot mark at state. Sullenger won the long jump last week at the borough championships with a dominating performance, beating his closest rival by more than 2 feet, and also took podium finishes in the 100 and 200 sprints. This weekend, Doth said Sullenger will contest the long jump, 400 and two sprint relays.

“I think Jack has a 22-foot jump in him,” Doth said. “I really do.”

Sullenger also has the top 400-meter sprint relay time among 3A region teams with Justin Harris, Jace Kornstad and Aaron McCollum. The quartet emerged victorious last week at the borough meet, beating 4A rival Soldotna for the win.

Doth said he got rid of Nikiski’s 1,600-meter relay in order to stack the other relays.

“Without those versatile athletes in our school, we wouldn’t be competitive as we are,” he said.

Bulldogs senior Ian Johnson also enters the weekend looking for the top prize in the boys throwing events. Doth said Johnson is looking for the Nikiski school record of 157 feet, 4 inches in the discus, held by Ken Baker from 1999. Doth said Johnson appeared to throw a 150-footer in practice, giving him confidence ahead of the region meet.

Johnson’s sophomore sister Kaitlyn is also a contender, currently ranked second among region 3A throwers in the girls discus. The only 3A thrower that’s bettered Johnson’s best mark of 110 feet, 8 inches, is Homer junior Anna Brock, whose top heave is less than 2 feet farther.

“We’re hoping that her and Anna can go toe to toe,” Doth said. “Kaitlyn’s been staying late at practice every day, she’s staying an hour and a half every day working on it. She’s a Johnson, that’s their work ethic.”

Doth said the Bulldogs also have three makeshift 300 hurdlers in Johnson, Kelsey Clark and Bethany Carstens, all of which have shown grit and determination this spring in picking up the hurdling events.

Among the girls jumping contenders are freshman Bailey Epperheimer and sophomore Destiny Martin. Both girls are ranked top 10 in the region in the high and long jumps, and Doth said both are on the verge of having big days, which could potentially net a region crown.

While Nikiski may be short of a region team title due to depth, the Homer girls are eyeing the crown. Ostrom said he had to scratch the 400 sprint relay and possibly the 3,200-meter relay in order to stack his girls 1,600-meter relay, which is a favorite to win this weekend.

“Everybody wants to be on that relay this year,” Ostrom said. “It’s the last event, so they can just go hard.”

The 1,600 relay will likely feature Marina Carroll, Kate Baring, Brooke Miller and Autumn Daigle, a quartet that currently holds the fastest time in the region among 3A schools. Ostrom said Baring and Daigle both also are prepared to run the distance races.

In the throwing events, Homer junior Anna Brock is among the favorites to win both the shot and discus. Brock currently holds the top throw in the discus among 3A throwers and the second-longest in the shot put.

“She’s at the top of her game right now,” Ostrom said. “Last week every throw she had was better than her previous. She’s just finally working through the skills and getting refined.”

Homer could also get event wins from sophomore Marina Carroll in the girls 400 and jumping events and freshman sensation Laura Inama in the 200 and long jump. Carroll currently holds the best 3A girls high jump and triple jump marks, while Inama is currently the fastest in the 200 this year.

On the boys side, the Mariners could wrap up victory from senior Joel Carroll in the high jump. Carroll’s leap of 6 feet at the Homer Invite on April 21 left him tied for the top spot in the region, and first among 3A jumpers. Ostrom said Carroll could crack 6 feet, 2 inches, this weekend.

“He just works so hard at it, and is a great example for the other kids,” he said.

The Homer boys also are strong in the 800 meters, led by junior Luciano Fasulo, whose top time in 2018 of 2:03.02 currently has him second on the 3A region list, just fractions of a second behind ACS senior Blake Bennett. Fasulo will be joined by junior Bill Rich, and senior Denver Waclawski and Jacob Davis in the 3,200 relay.

“That’s a rock solid group of boys there,” Ostrom said.

Junior Hunter Patton also figures to contend in the boys 110-meter hurdles, an event he currently sits first among 3A hurdlers in.

Ostrom also tabbed senior Teddy Croft as a contender in the boys 200 and 400 dashes, as well as the discus. Croft currently has the third-best 200 time among 3A runners this year, and his discus throwing is improving, Ostrom said.

“The first time he threw it, it spiraled like a football,” Ostrom said with a laugh, referring to Croft’s quarterback habits. “I told him you can’t throw it like the football.”

Seward may be short on depth to contend for a team title, but the Seahawks don’t lack star power. Senior Ruby Lindquist has shown great speed in the middle distance races this year, with multiple victories in the girls 800, 1,600 and 3,200 runs. Lindquist currently holds the fastest times in the region in the 800 and 1,600, while sitting second among 3A runners in the 3,200.

Seward also figures to get a strong performance out of junior Coral Petrosius, who ranks fourth among 3A competitors in the girls high jump with a mark of 4 feet, 8 inches.

Seward’s strongest boys contingent is the 1,600 relay, a quartet of Beau Freiberg, Neil Lindquist, Chris Kingsland and Zen Petrosius that currently holds the second-fastest time in the region among 3A schools.

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