Region runners will battle the elements at Tsalteshi Trails

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central's Jaycie Calvert (480) leads Seward's Ruby Lindquist, Homer's Megan PItzman, Homer's Audrey Rosencrans, Kenai Central's Riana Boonstra and Homer's Autumn Daigle at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet earlier this month at Seward High School.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central's Jaycie Calvert (480) leads Seward's Ruby Lindquist, Homer's Megan PItzman, Homer's Audrey Rosencrans, Kenai Central's Riana Boonstra and Homer's Autumn Daigle at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet earlier this month at Seward High School.

There is rain in the forecast for Saturday, and the Kenai Central girls cross-country team is loving it.

“The Kenai girls like to run in the rain,” Kardinals coach Maria Calvert said. “We’ll be ready for whatever conditions are out there.

“Everybody will be running in the same thing.”

The Region III meet comes to Tsalteshi Trails on Saturday, with girls JV at 10:30 a.m., boys JV at 11:15 a.m., Class 1-2-3A girls at noon, Class 4A girls at 12:30 p.m., Class 1-2-3A boys at 1 p.m. and Class 4A boys at 1:30 p.m.

The Kenai girls won Class 4A regions last year in misty conditions before going on to take the Class 4A state title a week later on an absolutely muddy track.

No matter what the weather is Saturday, runners can expect plenty of big puddles and slick, hard-packed mud on the hilly five-kilometer course due to a steady week of rain.

The Kardinals won regions last year by putting four runners in the top six, and each of those four runners return this season.

The group is led by junior Riana Boonstra, who last year gave Kenai Central a fifth straight individual region crown.

The other three are sophomore Jaycie Calvert and juniors Ithaca Bergholtz and Addison Gibson, although sophomore Brooke Satathite has made the Kards even stronger by moving up to be the No. 3 runner. Senior Julie Wilson is No. 6.

“I would like to think the top five will run their best races of the season thus far at regions,” Calvert said. “If we do that, I’d like to think we’ll be in the running with Palmer and Colony.”

The Kenai girls need to finish in the top three to get a state berth.

Soldotna coach Ted McKenney said that the Stars girls will have a tough time making it to state as a team, but he added senior Molly Erickson and junior Kellie Arthur are capable of placing in the top 15 and earning a state berth.

“It can be slippery and hard,” McKenney said of a wet Tsalteshi. “The spongy ground takes it out of your legs and makes you a weaker runner.

“It boils down to who can stand the pain.”

In the Class 4A boys event, the Kodiak boys search for a 15th straight region title. Senior Keith Osowski also could give the Bears a ninth straight individual title.

McKenney said Kodiak is a good bet to snap up one of the state berths. He said Palmer, Wasilla, Colony and Soldotna will battle for the other two.

Junior Josh Shuler has led the Stars, and junior Koby Vinson is closing on Shuler. Senior Addison Downing has stepped up recently, while junior John-Mark Pothast also has been solid.

McKenney said the fifth finisher will be key, coming from a group of freshmen Lance Chilton and Bradley Walters, and junior Bechler Metcalf.

Calvert said juniors Karl Danielson and Braden Olson are both in the running to earn a state berth. She added senior captains Cy Dull and Jaycob Goff will also be running as hard as possible with the hope of extending their running careers one more week.

In the Class 1-2-3A races, the team and individual titles stand a shot at being repeats.

Homer swept the Class 1-2-3A team titles last season, with the girls winning for a second straight year.

Two years is a long time for the formidable program at Grace Christian to go without a region title, and Mariners coach Bill Steyer is aware the Grizzlies are hungry.

“I think it is going to be super close,” Steyer said. “It will come down to the team that has the best performance on that day, and each individual runner on each team having an optimal performance.”

Homer is led by Megan Pitzman, a senior who won regions as a freshman and sophomore. Other seniors running are Audrey Rosencrans, Lauren Evarts and Haley Knott.

Junior Alex Moseley and sophomore Katie Davis also have the potential to be the difference, as does freshman Autumn Daigle.

Daigle has been coming on strong and Steyer said she even has the potential to win the individual race.

The defending champ is Seward junior Ruby Lindquist, who beat all of Grace’s best runners Saturday at the Su Valley Invitational and beat all of Homer’s best Sept. 13 at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet.

On the boys side, Steyer has been tracking Grace and said that program can never be counted out, but the coach also is thrilled with the progression of his group.

The top four — senior Jared Brant, juniors Jacob Davis and Jordan Beachy, and sophomore Luciano Fasulo — have taken turns beating each other all season and each has now run under 17 minutes.

Junior Charlie Menke isn’t that far behind, while sophomore Bill Rich and junior Denver Waclawski round out varsity.

But all of those runners will have to turn in quite the race to take the title from Seward senior Hunter Kratz, who posted a five-kilometer time of 16:01 on Saturday at Su Valley.

“I think Hunter Kratz is the guy to beat,” Steyer said.

With the top four teams at the Class 1-2-3A level set to qualify for state, the Seahawks also stand an excellent chance of making state as a team.

Aaron McCollum, Gavin Wallis, Joseph Yorkowski and Bryan McCollum will run for Nikiski in the 1-2-3A boys varsity race.

Nikiski coach Anna Widman said she wants the four to get their best times of the season and put themselves in a competitive spot during the race.

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