Track teams ready to strut their best at state

The Soldotna and Homer girls track and field programs have a lot to be happy about after securing team championships in their respective region meets last weekend.

The wick, however, is about to be turned up another level.

At the state meet this weekend, team titles may be out of the question, simply due to peninsula teams’ abilities to keep up with the sheer depth of rival schools from Anchorage and Fairbanks, but the individual stardom could rise to the top.

The track and field state championships will crown champions in 68 total events today and Saturday at Machetanz Field in Palmer. Between the Division I and II meets and 17 events each in the boys and girls divisions, the meet is once again expected to see some magic moments.

At the Division II level, the Homer girls are fresh off a Region III team crown, which they captured last weekend. The Mariners earned 110 points to beat out the 103.3 taken by Grace Christian.

The Mariners claimed the 2017 Division II state crown over Sitka, which returns in full force again. Sitka won last week’s Region V meet in dominating fashion, with the points battle 244 to 177 over their closest pursuer, so it appears the Mariners will have their hands full in search of a repeat.

Unfortunately, Homer head coach Bob Ostrom has already ruled out one former champ in junior Kailee Veldstra, the defending girls 100-meter Division II champion. Veldstra hurt her foot prior to last week’s region meet and therefore was unable to qualify for a chance to defend her title.

But, Ostrom still has another strong sprinter in freshman sensation Laura Inama, who qualified in the girls 100 and 200 sprints, as well as the long jump. Inama finished second in all three events last weekend, and is currently ranked third in the 200-meter times this year and second in the long jump distances.

Other contenders expected to pull their weight for Homer include sophomore Marina Carroll, who finished second in the girls 400 and triple jump last weekend. Carroll qualified for the 400, triple and high jumps, and currently leads the division in both jumping events this year.

Don’t forget junior Anna Brock, who is hot off a pair of Region III titles in the girls discus and shot put last weekend. Brock tops both leaderboards in the two throwing events among Division II throwers, and is primed for a golden double this weekend.

A year after winning three relays at state, the Homer girls might struggle for points as only two relays qualified, and only one — the 3,200-meter team — will race as individual events have disbanded the 1,600 relay team.

Homer’s boys contingent will have a harder time competing for a team title, but still will feature several winning names. Senior Joel Carroll looks to cap his prep career on a high note, having qualified in the boys triple and high jumps, as well as the 300-meter hurdles. Carroll currently leads Division II in the high jump with a mark of 6 feet.

Junior Luciano Fasulo is also a contender in the boys 800 and 1,600 races, and is available to give the Mariners a fighting shot to win the boys 1,600 and 3,200 relays, which won region titles last week. Fasulo currently is ranked third-fastest in the division this year in the 1,600, and last week won the boys region 800.

Among the remaining Division II contenders lies some talent in the Nikiski and Seward programs. Nikiski senior Jack Sullenger is one to keep an eye on, as Sullenger looks to claim a state crown in the boys long jump. Sullenger holds the top mark in Division II this spring with a 21 foot, 6.5 inch, leap, almost a foot ahead of his nearest rival, but was beaten for the region long jump title last week by an inch by Grace Christian’s Michael Kuentzel.

Nikiski also returns a wicked fast crop of sprint relays on the boys side, albeit with a few different names than 2017. The Bulldogs qualified three of their four boys teams, the 400, 800 and 3,200 relays. The two sprint relays won at the region meet last week, and both lead the state in the Division II rankings. Jace Kornstad, Garrett Ellis, Sullenger and Aaron McCollum make up the 400 relay, while Bryan McCollum will take over for Ellis in the 800 relay.

The Bulldogs also feature senior Ian Johnson, a thrower who is looking for big points days in the boys throws. Johnson currently holds the second-best discus throw in Division II this year.

The Nikiski girls’ best hopes for points lie in sophomore Kaitlyn Johnson in the throws and junior Bethany Carstens in the high jump and hurdles. Johnson is fresh off a pair of podium finishes in the girls discus and shot put at the Region III meet, while Carstens made the most of her region meet debut in the 300 hurdles with a runner-up finish.

Seward senior Ruby Lindquist will be one to watch this weekend as she goes for a three-peat in the girls 800, 1,600 and 3,200 races. Lindquist has honed her racecraft to near perfection this year and is seeking a girls school record in the 1,600, which she is just a few seconds off. Lindquist currently holds the fastest Division II times in the 800 and the 1,600, and is ranked second in the 3,200, but only by less than a second.

Moving up to the Division I realm, a lot of the spotlight will fall on Soldotna senior Brenner Furlong, who is looking to cap a senior year with a school record in the 400 dash. Furlong’s current career best in the event is a 51.01-second effort set three weeks ago in Houston, while the SoHi school mark is a 50.62. Furlong is the defending 400 state champ, is primed to repeat.

However, Furlong will need to contend with the likes of Palmer senior Larry Cutsforth, Bartlett senior Kevone Henderson and Service junior Jacob Belanger. Henderson and Belanger both have posted faster times than Furlong this year, with Belanger leading the way at 50.09.

Joining Furlong as a title contender is senior Wendell Tuisaula, who won the region shot put last week, but scratched in the discus, meaning he will miss that event at state.

Tuisaula, however, is among the top throwers with the second-best shot throw in the state this year at 47 feet, 10 3/4 inches, less than three feet behind Bartlett junior Thomas Sio.

The SoHi girls are in position to grab a share of team points from several individuals, led by junior Brittany Taylor in the 200 and 400 races, sophomore Olivia Schwenk and sister duo Danica and Aliann Schmidt in the high jump, and sophomore Ituau Tuisaula and senior Emily Pieh in the throws.

Tuisaula currently holds the second-best mark in the state, only behind Dimond superstar Alissa Pili, while Pieh also sits second behind Pili in the other throw, the discus. Last week at the region championships, Tuisaula claimed the shot put while Pieh cleaned up the discus.

The high jump is loaded with names, as SoHi qualified five individuals from the Schmidt sisters to Schwenk to senior Denali Wurst and junior Kalyn McGillivray. Aliann Schmidt holds the top jump at 4 foot, 10 inches, ranked in a tie for 10th in the state.

The Stars could also get a big day from junior Sophie Thomas in the girls hurdles. Thomas currently ranks third in the state in the 100 hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles.

Kenai’s big contributors will likely come from junior Jarett Wilson in the boys hurdles and Maison Dunham in the boys distance races, and a core of sprinters and distance aces on the girls side.

Wilson is the defending state champ in the boys 300 hurdles, but in 2018 has yet to approach his best time set last year, a 41.35-second winning time. Wilson’s current best this spring is 43.26, while the current state best is 40.69.

Dunham has been a freshman phenom for the Kards, winning a region title last week in the boys 3,200 and finishing fourth in the 1,600.

Kenai qualified three girls in the 100-meter sprint; junior Hayley Maw, sophomore Alyssa Bucho and senior Tekaiya Rich. Maw and Rich also made the 200 field, and Maw has run the fourth-fastest time in the state this year in the 100, second among Division I sprinters, with a PR of 12.71 seconds.

Maw, Bucho, Rich and Kylie-Anne Raye also claimed last week’s Region III 400 relay title, a race the team is ranked fourth in the state in.

Kenai junior teammates Jaycie Calvert and Brooke Satathite staged a wild chase for the girls 1,600 region title last week, with Calvert prevailing by a tenth of a second in 5:33.27. The duo are qualified for the event at state, while Calvert is doubling up in the 3,200 as well. Calvert swept the 1,600 and 3,200 races last week, and will be joined in the longer race by senior Ithaca Bergholtz.

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