Kenai Central’s Julieanne Wilson competes in the 4A girls long jump event in May 2016 at the state track and field championships at Dimond Alumni Field in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Julieanne Wilson competes in the 4A girls long jump event in May 2016 at the state track and field championships at Dimond Alumni Field in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Track and field season opens without Big C Relays

As the spring track and field season shifts to the center of attention, there is a noticeable absence on the calendar, and it is leaving everyone in the dark.

The traditional Big C Relays — an annual track and field pilgrimage that feels like a runner’s Woodstock — had to be scrapped due to the collapse of The Dome in Anchorage in January. The event typically signifies the beginning of the prep track and field season in Alaska every April, and the cover and protection that the pressurized Dome provided from the outside elements was a perfect opportunity to get a first look at the contenders and pretenders.

With The Dome out of commission, coaches and athletes have been getting more of a workout digging their way through the snow-covered fields.

“If you would’ve asked me if we’d be out here (at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna) 10 days ago, I would’ve said you’re crazy,” said Soldotna head coach Phil Leck.

SoHi and Kenai Central have both had their turf fields and tracks available to use for over a week, but when the month started, it looked pretty bleak.

“With the training conditions outside, it’s hard even to know exactly where I’m at with my own team,” said Kenai Central head coach Chris Hanson. “We’ve all gotten spoiled with the weather, but I’m not too worried about that.”

The Kardinals will get the chance to host the first meet of the year for Kenai Peninsula schools with the annual Kenai Invite on April 21 and 22, which should give coaches a better idea of who’s been doing their homework over the offseason.

Until then, it’s all about making sure things are in order for a spectacular, albeit late, debut.

“You can’t duplicate competition,” said Homer head coach Bill Steyer. “As a coach in any sport, you realize that’s a disadvantage, but everyone’s in the same boat.”

The season is a short one, with the Region III championships scheduled for May 19 and 20 in Homer, and the Class 4A and 1-2-3A state championships May 26 and 27 in Palmer. The following is a closer look at each team:

SOLDOTNA STARS

With a full squad of about 100 athletes, Leck has the numbers to pick out the best for a state points haul, but the SoHi coach but will also be dealing with the loss of a lot of talented seniors.

“We probably lost 90 percent of our points,” Leck said. “I hate the word rebuilding, but we’re going to be getting a lot of kids up to speed. I don’t know how good we’re going to be until we get out on the field.”

Leck said there are around 45 freshmen on the team, giving hope to the future of the team, but until the first meet of the year at Kenai, there’s no telling where the Stars may land in the race for first.

One of the Stars lost to graduation was last year’s 400-meter state champion Daisy Nelson, who was also part of the SoHi girls 1,600-meter state champion relay. Nelson’s graduation was the final piece that made up the 2015 girls 3,200-meter relay that set a state record two years ago. And, with Lindsay Wong also gone to graduation, it leaves the state champion 1,600-meter relay essentially disbanded.

Returning, however, is sophomore Brittany Taylor, who was second-fastest behind Nelson in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races. As a freshman in 2016, Taylor made the Class 4A state finals in both the 100 and 400.

On the boys side, junior Brenner Furlong returns and will race all three sprint events again.

Leck said losing distance stars Aaron Swedberg and Levi Michael was tough, but he currently has at least 10 freshmen boys eager to run the long races. Swedberg was the sixth-fastest 800 runner last year with a time of 1 minute, 58.70 seconds, and finished second at the 4A state meet, as well as seventh in the 3,200.

Of the girls distance crew, junior Kellie Arthur and senior Molly Erickson return. Arthur finished sixth in both the 1,600 and 3,200 races at the Region III meet last spring.

One of Soldotna’s strongest groups remains the throwing contingent. On the girls side, junior Emily Pieh and senior Annie Quinn return eyeing gold at the region and state meets. Pieh and Quinn took second and third, respectively, in the girls discus at state last year.

“We have a deep team in throwing,” Leck said. “From the freshmen all the way up through the seniors, it’s nice to have that mix.”

Leck also pointed to senior Abraham Van Hout as a challenger in the hurdles. Van Hout took fifth in state in the 110 hurdles last year, and was third in the Region III meet. On the girls side, sophomore Sophie Thomas is back to challenge in both hurdle races. Thomas took fifth as a freshman in the 300 hurdles at state last spring.

KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS

Hanson’s three team goals for the Kards haven’t changed in the years he’s been coaching. Run fast, jump far and throw far.

“We’re not necessarily running fastest in early April, that doesn’t change,” Hanson said. “We’re still running to be our fastest at the end of the season.”

Last year, Kenai grabbed its only state title in the boys long jump with junior Josh Jackman taking the crown. Jackman, a two-time region and state winner in the long jump, hit a personal best of of 22 feet, 2 3-4 inches, in the event, and with the state record of 23 feet not much farther out, Hanson believes the mark could be at risk.

“He had a jump that might’ve come close last year, it was a scratch, but I think he’s capable of that,” Hanson said. “He’s coming into the season a little healthier than last year.”

Jackman’s biggest rival in the event was Colony senior Brandon Nicholson, who took the state triple jump title over Jackman. The two battled each other in both events through the season, and while Hanson said Jackman’s speed tends to carry him farther in the long jump, Nicholson has a better foundation in the mechanics of the triple to split the difference.

Another potential big-time points scorer for Kenai this year is sophomore Jarett Wilson in the boys hurdle races. Wilson finished second in the 110-meter hurdles at the Region III meet last year as a freshman. His time of 16.20 seconds in the 110 hurdles was seventh-best in the state, and fastest among freshmen.

“Jarett’s just one of those kids who’s put a lot of time in the weight room,” Hanson said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger, so it’ll be nice to see what he can do this year.”

The Kenai girls return a lot of speed this season, as junior Tekaiya Rich, sophomore Hayley Maw and senior Bethany Coghill are back to add a spark in the girls sprinting events. Rich and Maw were both the fastest Kardinals sprinters last year, and Rich took fourth in the Region III final.

In the hurdling events, senior Katie Kilfoyle returns to take one last stab at a state crown. Kilfoyle was the fastest female hurdler on her team last year, and raced in the state finals in both the 100- and 300-meter events, finishing fourth in the longer race with a PR of 48.38 seconds. Kilfoyle won the 300 hurdles region title her sophomore year.

Sophomore Brooke Satathite is also returning for the hurdle events this year. Hanson said Satathite will also run some mid-distance events. Satathite was the fastest 800-meter runner on the girls team last year.

Kenai’s throwing contingent will be getting a new coach this year in Zach Taplin, a 2014 Cook Inlet Academy graduate that is a former 1-2-3A state champion in the discus and a four-time Region II discus champ.

Leading the way for the girls throwing is senior Abby Beck, a two-time Region III champion in the discus who finished fifth at state last year in both throwing events. Beck’s discus PR of 126 feet, 5 inches, at the region meet could have won the girls 4A state title one week later.

“I’m really excited about our throwers this year,” Hanson said. “(Taplin) is doing great things with those kids, he’s a young guy and he’s got a lot of energy.”

Julieanne Wilson is back for her senior year to contend in the girls jumping events. Last year, Wilson took third at regions and fifth at state in the long jump, and finished the year with the seventh-best leap in the state among girls with a PR of 16 feet, 9 inches.

The distance crew will see a familiar face back in the lineup after a year out. Junior Riana Boonstra is back after missing her sophomore season, and two years ago as a freshman, Boonstra was 10th-fastest in the state in the 1,600 meters, and ran an 11:45 time in the 3,200 distance event.

Joining Boonstra will be fellow junior Ithaca Bergholtz, a distance ace who posted the 10th-fastest 3,200 time in the state last year and capped her season with a ninth-place result in the race at the state meet. Senior Cy Dull will lead the distance boys crew. Dull topped the Kenai boys with the fastest 800-meter time last year at 2:10.98.

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

Third-year head coach Jake Doth finds himself at war, figuratively, with the Nikiski soccer team. The Bulldogs have just five girls out for the track team, while the soccer team is brimming with a full team of players.

“I try to pull them to the dark side, as I call it,” Doth quipped.

But Doth said that is OK with him, as long as Nikiski’s athletes are out there doing well.

Doth said he’s currently at 24 athletes out for the track team, with a strong core of throwers giving the Bulldogs a real chance at taking on the state’s best. Nikiski lost two-time 1-2-3A state shot put champion Luke Johnson to graduation, but his younger siblings have arrived.

Junior Ian Johnson had the longest Region III discus throw last year, which ranked 11th in the state, and Doth said the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree with freshman Kaitlyn Johnson.

“She’s extremely strong, she’s ripped,” Doth said. “She’s completely shredded.”

Johnson, like her older brother, Ian, will be competing in both throwing events, and Doth said he has been trying to coax her into trying several running events as well. Senior Amy Porter, an adept shot putter, will join Johnson in the throws.

Doth said he likes Ian Johnson’s chances at repeating as Region III champion, and perhaps making a run at a state crown.

“That’s what we’re hoping, that’s the goal,” he said. “He’s gotten stronger, he’s an animal in the weight room, and it doesn’t seem like he’s lost that range of motion.”

Doth also praised the potential of the boys 400-meter sprint relay, which will consist of returning runners such as senior Patrick Perry, senior Matthew Minium and junior Jack Sullenger, as well as newcomer Isaac Averill. Last year’s boys relay finished second in the Region III meet and fourth in the 1-2-3A state meet. Doth said Perry is an adept 200 runner, and Minium brings speed in the 100. Minium was third in last year’s region 100 final.

With a number of speedsters showing up this year, Doth said he also hopes to assemble good 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter relay teams. A potentially strong addition to those squads could be junior Aaron McCollum, who plans to race the sprint events, along with the jumping competitions. Sophomore Garrett Ellis also provides depth in the long and triple jumps.

In the hurdle races, Doth said senior Crystal Epperheimer returns after finishing fifth in the Region III final in 2016.

Finally, Doth said sophomore Jace Kornstad will feature as Nikiski’s star distance runner. Kornstad will run the 800 and 1,600 races, while doubling down in the relays as well.

“It looks like he ate three other distance runners before he hit the track,” Doth quipped, referring to Kornstad’s impressive build as a multi-sport athlete. “He’s got big calves and traps, and he’s chewing up the track out there.”

HOMER MARINERS

Last year’s Homer girls team finished second at both the Region III and 1-2-3A state meets, both times falling short to the Anchorage Christian girls. Homer made off with state titles in three of the four girls relays, and finished second in the fourth.

This year’s hosts of the Region III championships are back with the goal of winning the team title, but have lost several key point scorers, including a chunk of the Mariner’s middle-distance runners. Gone to graduation are Aurora Waclawski and Ziza Shemet-Pitcher, while junior Sarah Wolf moved with her family to Anchorage. Those three runners individually made up five positions in the girls 200 and 400 sprint events at the 1-2-3A state meet, and all three contributed to the state championship 1,600-meter relay team.

“We lost most of our seniors on the relay team, that was our strength, but I think that’ll be redistributed in other relays,” coach Steyer said.

The ACS girls also lost several big runners. Girls 400-meter state record-holder Tanner Ealum graduated, along with distance ace Elizabeth Balsan and throwing specialists Hannah Edmonds and Amir Williams.

“However it pans out, that’s fine,” Steyer said.

Steyer said he is pleased to be hosting not only the Region III meet on May 19 and 20, but also a one-day meet April 29, which will include a special 400-meter hurdles race and a 5,000-meter event.

Steyer said the Mariners just got out on their track this week after several inches of ice finally melted away, and with 35 athletes out this spring, the forecast is increasingly bright. Steyer said the team also welcomed a new throwing coach in Nikki Fazenbaker, a former heptathlete who also coached the sport in Maryland.

Among the state returners are senior Lauren Evarts, last year’s 1-2-3A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles. Steyer said Evarts broke Homer’s 27-year-old school record in the girls hurdles, and she finished the year with the fourth-quickest 300 time in the state, and seventh-fastest 100 hurdles time. He added that Evarts will be a walk-on at Division I Utah State next year.

“She’s a terrific athlete across the board, in terms of athletic potential, motivation and coachability,” he said.

Evarts won the 300 hurdles state title last year by slashing nearly two seconds off her previous best with a time of 46.67 seconds.

“That was a breakout meet for her,” Steyer said.

The girls state-winning 800-meter relay is back with sophomores Alia Bales and Kaylee Veldstra, Evarts and either freshmen Marina Carroll or Autumn Daigle. Veldstra had the seventh-fastest 100 dash time in the state last year and Daigle showed speed last fall by finishing sixth at the 1-2-3A state cross-country meet. Another member that could join the relay is senior Lauren Kuhns, a region champion distance swimmer who is turning out for the track team for the first time.

In the distance events, senior Audrey Rosencrans returns as one of Homer’s top girls distance runners, and will be joined by track newbie Megan Pitzman. Rosencrans took sixth in both the 1,600 and 3,200 state races last year, and was a part of the Region III champion 3,200-meter relay. Steyer said Rosencrans will be running for the Division II Academy of Art college in San Francisco.

Pitzman made an appearance at the Big C Relays as a junior last year, but has otherwise dedicated her time to the Mariners soccer team each spring. Pitzman brings a distance pedigree that includes three Region III cross-country titles and two runner-up finishes at state. Steyer said Pitzman is planning to run at Division I Eastern Washington next year.

The Homer boys 800-meter relay also won a state title in 2016, with Teddy Croft, Luciano Fasulo, Zane Boyer and Jake Richter running. Richter was the lone senior on the team, but the remaining three return to make another go, along with newcomer Noah Fisk, who will also run the 400. Croft racked up Region III finishes of second in the 100 and third in the 200 last year in the 1-2-3A battle, while Fasulo went fifth in the 800 and fourth in the 1,600 at the 1-2-3A region meet.

Steyer said Argentine senior Juan Farmiento could make a big impact on the team.

Steyer said four of his runners from the boys state champion cross-country team are out running the distance races, including sophomore Fasulo, junior Jacob Davis, senior Jared Brant and sophomore Bill Rich.

COOK INLET ACADEMY

While small in numbers, the Eagles did have a top-ranked athlete in Noah Leaf last year. As a junior at the 1-2-3A state meet, Leaf won the 110-meter hurdles title while finishing second by a sliver in the 300-meter race. Leaf ranked second among all state hurdlers last year in the 300-meter event with a sizzling time of 41.08 seconds, and ranked third in the 110-meter race at 15.73 seconds.

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

With a student body of only about 150 students to pull from, Seward head track coach Andrew Scrivo said he has managed a solid team of 37 athletes.

“It’s always kind of a struggle for us to diversify our points,” Scrivo said. “We just don’t have that many kids.”

The third-year coach said the Seahawks may have a better shot at closing the gap between them and the top teams after the collapse of The Dome.

“They’re kind of in the hyperbaric chamber up there,” he quipped. “They get more weeks of quality training time with it, so now they’re out in the snow like us.”

Seward will be the first peninsula team to get a glance at real competition today and tomorrow in Wasilla against seven other teams.

While the Seward boys finished fifth in the team standings in the 1-2-3A state meet a year ago, several key point scorers have graduated, including Paxson Berry and Thomas Zweifel, who both made the 800 final and were part of the 1,600- and 3,200-meter relay squads that finished third and second, respectively.

The boys team does return senior distance ace Hunter Kratz, last year’s 1-2-3A state champion in the boys 800. Kratz owns a combined four region titles in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races.

“He’s been training big time,” Scrivo said. “He put in 500 miles last summer.”

Scrivo added that senior Eli Davis should do well in the discus, after a fourth-place throw at last year’s Region III meet, as well as senior Trenten Freiberg in the shot put and Zen Petrosius in the discus. Petrosius will also run the distance races.

Scrivo also said sophomore Trapper Allen could run fast in the hurdling events. Allen took sixth in the boys 300-meter hurdles last year at the region meet.

On the girls side, Seward features a sister duo in Sadie and Ruby Lindquist. Both are strong distance runners, and Ruby, a junior this year, finished second in the girls 800 and third in the 3,200 at the 1-2-3A state meet last year.

In the shorter races, Coral Petrosius could shine in the 200 and 400, as well as the high jump. In the girls discus, Scrivo said to keep an eye on Riley Von Borstel, a soccer player who decided to try another sport this year.

Kenai Central junior Josh Jackman (376) makes a run to the line between two competing 100-meter sprinters in May 2016 at the state track and field championships at Dimond Alumni Field in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central junior Josh Jackman (376) makes a run to the line between two competing 100-meter sprinters in May 2016 at the state track and field championships at Dimond Alumni Field in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski sophomore Ian Johnson releases the disc in the boys discus throw finals in April 2016 at Kenai Central High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski sophomore Ian Johnson releases the disc in the boys discus throw finals in April 2016 at Kenai Central High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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