Kenai Central’s Reagan Graves and both Homer squads led the way for the Kenai Peninsula on Friday and Saturday at the state track and field meet at Palmer High School.
Graves was named the Division II boys outstanding competitor for winning the 200 meters, and joining Daniel McRorie, Robert Hayes and Ransom Hayes to win the 400 and 800 relays. Graves also was second in the 100 meters.
The Homer girls and boys both were second in Division II. The Mariners girls scored 76 to finish behind the 113 of champion Sitka. Grace Christian won the boys title with 105 points, with Homer and Sitka tying for second at 81.
Only the top 11 teams were available as the Clarion went to press. For the Division II girls, Kenai was third with 72 and Seward was 11th with 24. In the top 11 for Division II boys, Kenai was fifth with 71 and Nikiski was seventh with 67.
Chugiak won the Division I girls title with 113 points, while Soldotna was fourth with 50. Colony, with 73 points, was the Division I boys champion, with Soldotna sixth with 43.
The peninsula won 12 state titles.
Homer’s Seamus McDonough won the 3,200 and also teamed with Lukyan Dax, Jonah Mershon and Lance Seneff to take the 1,600 relay.
Nikiski’s Truit McCaughey also had a Division II win in the shot put.
For Division II girls, Homer’s Gracie Miotke won the 300 hurdles and Homer’s Brightly Thoning won the high jump. Miotke and Thoning also teamed with Eryn Field and Beatrix McDonough to win the 1,600 relay.
In the 400 relay, Kenai’s Sierra Hershberger, Emilee Wilson, Malena Grieme and Sophie Tapley teamed up for the win.
At Division I, Soldotna received victories from Anaulie Sedivy in the 300 hurdles and Katelyn Morrison in the high jump.
Graves leads Kenai to big day
Graves, a recent graduate, had a big day despite starting with disappointment. He had the top time in the Friday preliminaries in the 100, but finished second to Delta Junction’s LJ Clark, running 11.45 seconds.
“After I got second in the first, it’s all I could think about. I really wanted it,” Graves said after completing his day by winning the 200 meters in 23.29 seconds.
After the 100, Graves, who thanked parents Michelle and Chris Graves for support, didn’t have much time to stew in the loss in the 100.
The next event in the meet was the 800 relay. Graves anchored the winning 1:35.97 time, with Sitka more than a second behind.
After the 1,600-meter run was contested, Graves was right back on the track for the 400 relay, anchoring a victory in 45.70 seconds. Seward was runner-up at 46.08.
Kenai also swept the 400 and 800 relays last season, but Graves was the only returner from that effort. He was so determined to repeat that effort that he started track workouts in January during hockey season.
“I definitely felt a lot of pressure coming in,” recent graduate Ransom Hayes said. “We wanted to keep the state title for our team.”
The teams got a big boost when McRorie, a recent graduate who runs the first legs, came back in time for the Region 3 meet.
“I was out for most of the year,” McRorie said. “I have bone bruises in my femur and tibia, and I’m running on a torn MCL right now.
“So I’m just glad to be back and obviously win with my guys.”
The Kenai group gave credit to Seward for putting up a good fight in the 400 relay.
Robert Hayes, an incoming junior, said the battle with the Seahawks started before the race.
“Me and this Seward kid were talking that whole time,” Robert said. “He was kind of getting in my head over there. I’m not gonna lie.”
Both Hayes and McRorie all won state titles for the first time. The four thanked head coach Joe Shirley, and also gave credit to Maria Calvert for making the quartet do hurdle drills in addition to sprint drills.
The Kenai girls 400 relay also had to overcome some disappointment.
Hershberger, Grieme, Tapley and Cara Graves had finished fourth in the 800 relay at 1:55.81 to start the day.
Recent graduate Grieme, incoming senior Wilson, incoming junior Hershberger and incoming sophomore Tapley came back in the 400 relay to win in 52.46. It’s the first state title for all four.
“That last race wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but this was the comeback that we wanted,” Hershberger said.
Grieme said the Kards were seeded second in the 400 relay.
“We prayed, and practiced handoffs really hard,” Grieme said.
“Our handoffs were phenomenal,” Wilson added.
They were so good the Kards got the baton to Tapley on the anchor leg with a sizable advantage.
“When I saw Emilee gap them, I had a really good feeling we were going to stay in the lead,” said Tapley, who also was sixth at 13.61 seconds in the 100.
The Kardinals also got big performances from Adam Anglebrandt and Emma Beck in the throws.
Anglebrandt was second in the shot put at 42 feet, 8 inches, and second in the discus at 123—10.
Beck was second in the shot put at 34—7.75 and third in the discus at 112—3.
Wilson got in the top six in three individual events, taking fourth in the 800 at 2:34.36, taking second in the triple jump at 31—10.5 and taking third in the long jump at 15—3.5.
Jayna Boonstra finished her decorated distance career at Kenai by taking second in the 3,200 at 12:35.55 and sixth in the 1,600 at 5:48.88.
The Kenai boys also got a second from Greg Fallon in the 400 at 51.91, a third from Ransom Hayes in the 300 hurdles at 43.63, and a sixth from the 1,600 relay of McRorie, Robert Hayes, Jake Laker and Fallon at 3:47.43.
Morrison leads SoHi with emotional win
Recent graduate Morrison was able to win the high jump at 5—0 after losing her coach during the season. Dan Gensel died at 66 on May 14.
Gensel started coaching Morrison in the high jump when she was a sophomore.
“I was lucky to have been coached by him for as long as I was,” she said. “I feel like me and him had a special bond.
“I feel so lucky to be one of the last people he coached. It was a very emotional end to the season.”
Morrison said that she is glad Gensel was there for her personal record of 5—3 in the high jump, set in Homer the day before Gensel died.
Last season, Morrison said she was stuck at 4—10 and she didn’t think she’d ever get to 5 feet.
“All he wanted me to do was get to 5 feet,” Morrison said. “I didn’t know if I could do 5 feet, but he always believed in me, and I finally did.”
Getting to that number is ultimately what won the state title. Morrison said Gensel’s wife, Kathy Gensel, and Gensel’s daughter, Andrea Frey, reached out before the state meet.
“I’m thankful I had Dan in my life,” Morrison said. “I would not be where I am today without him. He was really devoted to me and this town.”
Sedivy also gave credit to her coach for the win in the 300 hurdles at 47.91 by one-hundredth of a second over Thunder Mountain’s Mallory Welling. Sedivy’s hurdles coach is Jenny Henry.
“My trail leg was not the greatest,” Sedivy said. “Me and my coach worked on it really hard, and that just really helped my form.”
Sedivy, an incoming junior, won her first state title by taking more than 2 seconds off her time in the two weeks since the borough meet.
The boys 1,600 relay of Wyatt Faircloth, Jeren Nash, James Innes and Leigh Tacey II finished second in 3:30.76 to break a school record.
The old record of 3:31.26 was set by Koby Vinson, Logan Schrader, Abraham Van Hout and Brenner Furlong in 2017. SoHi head coach Phil Leck said Elijah Jedlicki also deserves credit for the record for helping get the team to state at regions.
The Stars had a big day for the relays.
The girls 400 relay of Mandi Sisley, Emma Glassmaker, Angelina Chavarria and Sarah Brown was fourth in 51.87.
The 800 relay of Sisley, Glassmaker, Sedivy and Brown also was fourth at 1:50.11.
The 1,600 relay of Sophia Jedlicki, Annie Burns, Sasha Brott and Sedivy was third in 4:19.61.
The 3,200 relay of Jedlicki, Brott, Tania Boonstra and Burns was second in 10:12.41.
For the boys, Tacey II, Innes, Faircloth and Nash also were fourth in the 800 relay at 1:32.35.
Also in the top six for the SoHi girls were Glassmaker in fourth in the 100 at 13.28 and Burns in fifth in the 400 at 1:01.84.
Also in the top six for the boys were Innes in sixth in the 400 at 52.27, Elijah Jedlicki in sixth in the 800 at 2:05.39, William Klein in fifth in the 110 hurdles at 16.89, Faircloth in second in the 300 hurdles at 40.92, Kevin Steger in second in the shot put at 49—6.5 and Luke Miller in third in the shot put at 46—2.
The Soldotna girls also won the sportsmanship award.
McDonough breaks through
Before the state meet, recent graduate Seamus McDonough had no state track titles. Now he has two, and a girls 1,600 relay that is crediting him for coaching another.
McDonough broke three school records at the meet.
His first came Friday, when he won the 3,200 in 9:28.34, breaking his own school record in the process and getting his first state title.
“It took a little bit of weight off my shoulders to finally get an individual one,” McDonough said.
In the 1,600, McDonough ran a school record 4:24.83 but lost to the 4:24.67 of Grace’s Robbie Annett. The old school record was a 1979 mile time of Shaun Marshall-Pryde at 4:25.2
In the 800, McDonough was again second to Annett, 2:00.53 to 2:00.90.
“I ran a couple of risky races today, which is basically leading from the front, because I already had my state title,” McDonough said. “I wanted to go for time.”
McDonough then finished off his high school career in perfect fashion, teaming with fellow seniors Seneff, Dax and Mershon to dominate the 1,600 relay in 3:32.43 and break the 1994 school record of 3:34.8. The quartet has known each other since middle school.
The success of the team was in jeopardy from the start Saturday.
“I woke up and my eyes were sealed shut,” Mershon said. “I had an ear infection — coughing, sneezing — and I really just knew that if I didn’t race today, our team wasn’t getting it.
“So I had to prepare myself to run all day.”
When asked when his eyes stopped sealing shut, Mershon said they were still doing that after the race.
“That’s your Michael Jordan flu game right there,” Dax said.
Dax also finished third in the 100 at 11.76, third in the 200 at 23.46 and third in the 400 at 52.11. Seneff also was third in the 800 at 2:01.31, sixth in the 400 at 53.75 and sixth in the triple jump at 37—9.
There is just one event between the 800 and 1,600 relay. Seneff said he was going to save himself for the relay, but couldn’t help himself.
“I always seem to be kind of fine for the relay,” he said. “It’s all just mental. When you’re with your team, it just really helps push you.”
The four thanked coaches, teammates and parents for all the support.
The girls 1,600 relay team also said Seamus McDonough was a big part of their win.
“He helped teach us what we were going to have to do to get the win,” said McDonough’s sister Beatrix, who is an incoming junior and won her first state title with the relay win.
The strategy was to get a big lead heading into the final leg, when Field, a recent graduate, would duel with Sitka’s Clare Mullin, who had dominant wins in the 800 and 1,600.
Field, looking for her first state title in her final event, started the final leg with a nice gap, but Mullin had caught her by the homestretch. But making up the deficit had taken just enough out of Mullin to allow Field to finish at 4:18.69, with Sitka at 4:19.07.
Field, who also was second in the 400 at 1:02.14 and third in the 800 at 2:33.92, said she almost fell when Mullin caught up.
“Just thinking about these guys, and we’ve run together all year,” Field said. “These guys were the best team I could ever imagine. I wanted to get it for them.”
Miotke, an incoming junior, got the Mariners off to a good start despite a tough program.
In addition to the 1,600 relay, she won the 300 hurdles in 47.11 and also did the 200. Those are three of the last four events at the meet.
“These people motivate me,” said Miotke, who also credited her hurdles coach, Lauren Jolly, for her win in the 300 hurdles. “I just love them so much that I can’t mess this up.
“I had to give my all so the people around me can share in this great experience.”
Thoning, also an incoming junior, ran the second leg and stuck with Sitka. Thoning had also jumped 4—10 earlier to win the high jump and had finished sixth in the 400 at 1:05.88.
“I really tried to push it to get in front of them,” Thoning said. “Then, on the final part, Sitka actually spiked me in the back of my feet.
“I stumbled and my life flashed before my eyes. I just sprinted and did all I could to stay with them so I could get it to Bea.”
McDonough, who also was fifth in the 400 at 1:05.41 and sixth in the 800 at 2:34.96, then got Homer the gap it needed despite starting her lap a little behind Sitka.
“We have this plan and I gotta stick to the plan,” McDonough said. “So that’s what I tried to do and give the baton to Eryn with enough space that she can stay ahead of Clare.”
Also for the Homer boys, the 3,200 relay of Tait Ostrom, Jai Badajos, Ethan Styvar and Damon Weisser was third in 9:16.10.
Also for the Homer girls, Claira Booz was fifth in the 3,200 at 13:02.65, the 800 relay of Jasmine Lurus, Thoning, Immi Im and Alana Prescott was third in 1:55.52, Auden Cress was fourth in the discus at 105—8, and Leah Evans was fourth in the long jump at 15—2.
The Homer girls also won the sportsmanship award.
McCaughey leads Bulldogs with shot put title
Truit McCaughey, an incoming senior, capped off a frustrating school year with a win in the shot put at 45—6.
McCaughey is a running back on the football team, but hurt his ankle in a game at Seward. Initially, he said the injury wasn’t a big concern, but when he tried to play again the injury did not go away.
An MRI showed McCaughey tore two ligaments in the ankle.
He missed the rest of football season and then the wrestling season. McCaughey wanted to play soccer, but figured that would not be good for his ankle.
“So I decided to do track,” he said.
His original interest was discus, but he found he was good at the shot put. He credited coaches Billie Denison and Matt Trammell for instruction that soon had him dominating Division II.
McCaughey won the shot by almost 3 feet.
Nikiski also got a second from Thayne Quiner in the high jump at 5—6, a third from Walter Haybeck in the long jump at 18—8, a fourth from Braeden Porter in the shot put at 45—6 and a fifth from the 800 relay of James Hemphill, Taisei Horiyasu, Haybeck and Quiner in 1:38.75.
Seward led by boys 400 relay
The top finish for Seward on the day came from the boys 400 relay of Jerick Senecal, Ronan Bickling, Gideon Schrock and Emerson Cross. The group finished second in 46.08.
Schrock also was fourth in the 400 at 52.99.