There’s easy cross-country spectating and hard cross-country spectating.
Easy is figuring out the winner in the individual race. Hard, assuming it is relatively close, is divining the winner in the team race.
Peninsula cross-country fans are in for mostly hard viewing Saturday at the state cross-country meet at Bartlett Running Trails in Anchorage.
The Division II boys race is at noon, the Division I boys are at 12:45 p.m., the Division II girls are at 1:30 p.m and the Division I girls cap the day at 2:15 p.m.
While peninsula runners are among the favorites in only one of the individual races, peninsula teams have a shot in three of the four team races.
At Division I girls, Kenai Central will look to take a second title in three years by dethroning a formidable West Valley squad. At Division II, Homer can win a fourth straight girls title and second straight boys title.
The Wolfpack and Kardinals raced twice this year. West Valley won the Bartlett State Preview in late August by a 126-35 count, with the Wolfpack putting six runners in the top 15.
The next week at the Palmer Invitational, West Valley won 65-43, with six in the top 15 again.
Kenai has a veteran group of runners that has delivered three Region III titles and a state crown.
“West Valley is extremely, extremely strong and they’re deep at the same time,” Kenai coach Maria Calvert said. “We’re champs. They’re champs.
“All I can ask as a coach is we bring everything and leave everything, and we’ll see what happens. We’re thankful for the opportunity to represent our community and school again at state. We don’t take state for granted.”
Kenai’s traditional scoring group is seniors Addison Gibson, Riana Boonstra and Ithaca Bergholtz and juniors Jaycie Calvert and Brooke Satathite. Junior Sarah Drury and senior Dareena Doyle provide the insurance.
While the Kardinals are the underdog, not many were expecting their state victory two years ago. Gibson has been the team’s top runner all year. Boonstra and Calvert have never finished out of the top 10 at state. Bergholtz has been as high as sixth at state, while Satathite was 14th at state last season.
“The beautiful thing about sports is anything can happen on any given day,” coach Calvert said. “Two years ago, nobody would have expected our girls to win.”
In the Division I individual race, West Valley’s Kendall Kramer and Juneau’s Sadie Tuckwood, both sophomores, are expected to stage a duel for the crown.
SoHi’s Erika Arthur also qualified for the race.
“It’s a building year for her,” SoHi coach Ted McKenney said. “She got in there as a freshmen. She’ll go out and we’ll see what she can do.”
The Homer girls showed they are primed for another title by edging Grace Christian, 45-41, at Saturday’s region meet.
“It was a real big win for us and it was super close,” Homer coach Annie Ridgely said. “I wasn’t even doing times at the finish, I was counting places, and at first I thought we didn’t get it.”
After sweeping both state titles last season, Homer had turnover among athletes and at the head coaching position.
But this season has shown the running culture former coach Bill Steyer talked about is bigger than one coach or group of runners.
“It speaks volumes about the amount of support we have for running in Homer,” Ridgely said.
Scoring for Homer at regions were sophomore Autumn Daigle, senior Alex Moseley, freshman Brooke Miller, junior Siena Carey and freshman Shine Carey.
With Grace and Homer so close, junior Kate Davis and freshman Harmony Davidson also will be important at state.
Tessa O’Hara of Anchorage Christian Schools put herself in good position for a state title by winning at the Region III meet, but Seward senior Ruby Lindquist and sophomore Autumn Daigle won’t go down without a fight.
“We’re happy for Tessa,” Seward assistant coach Theresa Bickling said. “It’s Ruby’s senior year. I just hope that she runs smart, has a good time and enjoys herself.”
Ridgley, meanwhile, thinks Daigle can somehow find a way to finally top Lindquist.
“Autumn has incredible heart and sportsmanship,” Ridgely said. “She’ll take what she has learned in past races and apply it.”
The Seward girls will be at state as a team, and Bickling is particularly happy for seniors Lindquist and Emma Moore.
“State is like frosting,” Bickling said. “We’re going in with a little bit of strategy, but we’re also giving kids the freedom to run their own race.”
Also toeing the line for Seward will be juniors Sadie Lindquist and Shiphrah Brueckner, sophomores Kalista Rodriguez and Sophia Dow, and freshman Hana Cooney.
The Nikolaevsk girls team of Elizabeth Fefelov, Justina Fefelov, Isabelle Hickman, Kristin Klaich and Sophia Klaich also will run at state.
The Homer boys finished second to ACS on Saturday at regions by eight points. Ridgely said the Mariners will have to get past the Lions, plus hold off Sitka, to gain another state crown.
Saturday’s race did not go according to plan because junior Bill Rich, the team’s No. 4 runner, finished 22nd.
“We walked away from Wasilla really happy and pleased because our No. 4 runner lost his shoe in the mud and turned around to get it,” Ridgely said. “Then when he put it on, someone told him he had to tie it.”
At state, the runners expected to score are seniors Jacob Davis, Jordan Beachy and Denver Waclawski, and juniors Luciano Fasulo and Rich. Clayton Beachy and Dexter Lowe, rounding into form after injury, round out the lineup.
“It’s pretty simple,” Ridgely said. “We all just need to run our best.”
In the individual race, Galena’s Jacob Moos will try to defend his title by holding off Blake Bennett of ACS in a race that could go faster than the Division I competition.
Senior Zen Petrosius, junior Brendan McMurray, sophomore Jaden Van Dyke and freshmen Neil Lindquist, Max Pfeiffenberger, Trey Ingalls and Samuel Koster will run for Seward.
Bickling said Petrosius has done a great job of leading the team all year, and now his task is to introduce the young group to state.
Nikolaevsk’s Zachary Trail also will compete in the race.
In the Division I boys race, Soldotna will make its first state appearance since 2008.
McKenney said a state title is not in the cards with teams such as West, Dimond and West Valley in the field, but the Stars would like to defeat Wasilla, which won the Region III meet.
“We’re going to try and take it up a notch,” McKenney said.
The Stars have a deep roster of really good runners without an elite runner. McKenney said all seven runners will most likely stay together until the very end before separating. At regions, all seven runners were in the top 19.
Seniors Josh Shuler, Koby Vinson, Sean Verg-in, Bechler Metcalf and John-Mark Pothast will toe the line for the last time. Sophomores Bradley Walters and Lance Chilton will join them.
Kenai freshman Maison Dunham also will make his debut at state. Dunham was 10th at the Bartlett State Preview.
“He’s competed against these guys before,” Calvert said. “It isn’t going to be a shock to him.
“He’s competed, and competed well.”