Kenai Central senior Jayna Boonstra runs to victory in a Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central senior Jayna Boonstra runs to victory in a Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Verdict from Kenai-SoHi dual: Nikiski trails are harder than Tsalteshi

Nice try, Anna Widman.

Widman is the new Kenai Central cross-country coach and a past coach at Nikiski.

Nikiski does not have a cross-country team this season so the Nikiski Class Races, the traditional opening race for the Kenai Peninsula, were not held.

In its place, Widman and Soldotna coach Krista Arthur got together Monday at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna for a dual meet.

The Nikiski Class Races were known for an absolutely brutal and unrelenting set of hills at the Nikiski Community Trails next to Nikiski High School. In honor of that test, Widman dialed up a course at Tsalteshi that went down and up the big hill that greets drivers leaving Soldotna and heading to Kasilof on the Sterling Highway.

Did Widman succeed in creating Nikiski difficulty?

“It was easier,” Kenai Central senior Jayna Boonstra said of the Tsalteshi course after winning the girls overall race in 21 minutes, 34 seconds.

Boonstra said the big uphill and downhill were a challenge, but the trail to and from the big hill was mostly flat and not close to the constant grind at Nikiski.

Kardinals junior Greg Fallon, who won the boys overall race at 19:02, also said the Tsalteshi course couldn’t match Nikiski.

“It was the one big hill,” Fallon said. “It wasn’t like Nikiski, though.”

In Widman’s defense, Arthur said the course was hard, with many runners stopping to walk on the uphill that lasts for a half mile.

“At Nikiski, we see that too,” Arthur said. “Runners walk up some of those hills.”

Upon hearing that Tsalteshi didn’t meet the test of Nikiski, which Widman described as “awesomely hard,” Widman came up with an idea.

“Maybe next year we’ll get with the Nikiski community center and do it out there since they seem to miss it,” Widman said of the runners. “Don’t tell me my race isn’t hard.”

However tough the course was, it still gave runners a chance to kick the tires before the big Ted McKenney Invitational on Saturday at Tsalteshi.

Boonstra got her season off to a positive start as she searches for a third-straight Division II state title.

“I feel pretty confident,” Boonstra said. “I’ve been training for basically the whole summer. So I feel like that will definitely help me moving into the season to have a better base.”

Boonstra didn’t take the lead in the race until the big uphill. Soldotna freshman Sophia Jedlicki led the race until then. Jedlicki won the freshmen-sophomore girls race at 22:16 and also finished second in the overall race.

When asked what it was like to lead a two-time state champion in her first high school race, Jedlicki’s freshman status shone through.

“I didn’t even know who she was,” she said.

Jedlicki said she knows who Boonstra is now. Jedlicki added she would love to get to state this year, though the one challenge will be dealing with sore knees from growing so quickly in the past year.

On the boys side, Fallon won his first race since winning the Division II 800-meter title at the state track meet for the Kardinals last season.

“Today, it felt kind of weird,” Fallon said. “I was kind of by myself for the whole race, so I couldn’t push it as much as I wanted. But it was good to start off the season.”

Kenai junior Jack Laker was second overall at 19:47, while Soldotna sophomore Jacob Strausbaugh was third overall and first in the freshmen-sophomore boys race at 19:54.

Laker had a good, and very Alaska, excuse for not pushing Fallon harder. Laker’s dad, Mark, is an ecologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and a couple of his work friends shot some caribou in the benchlands betweeen Tustumena and Skilak lakes.

Jack and his brother, Chase, went with Mark to retrieve the friends and meat. Jack ended up walking 7 miles up the Emma Lake Trail, then 7 miles down with 90 pounds of game meat on his back. He got home at 1:30 a.m. and still raced at 12:30 p.m., while Chase, a freshman at Kenai Central, passed on the race.

“I felt like I had the energy, but my muscles weren’t feeling it so much,” Jack said.

Widman said she has 19 runners out for the program and will be looking for more once school starts.

“I want to build our team unity and really bring in those younger runners,” Widman said. “We lost a lot of our team because they graduated last year.

“I want to keep building the team culture, meet each runner where they’re at and really build their skills both physically and mentally.”

Arthur said she has 46 out for the program, the most since the Stars got a dose of runners when Skyview High School closed in 2014. The coach added that most of the team is juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

Arthur is really high on the young girls team, led by freshmen Jedlicki, Laurel Johnson and Tania Boonstra, sophomores Annie Burns and Ariana Cannava, and juniors Kaytlin McAnelly and Megan Whittom.

The coach said some of the top runners for the boys will be freshman Strausbaugh, sophomore Noble Cassidy, juniors Finnley Loop, Wesley Johnson and Levi Mickelson, and senior Jon Gordon.

Kenai-Soldotna dual meet

Monday at Tsalteshi Trails

Freshmen-sophomore girls — 1. Sophia Jedlicki, Sol, 22 minutes, 16 seconds; 2. Annie Burns, 25:26; 3. Laurel Johnson, 26:31; 4. Ariana Cannava, 26:37; 5. Delainie Wagers, 27:38; 6. Taylor Mya, 29:13; 7. Leanne Gordon, 29:14; 8. Anaulie Sedivy, 30:25; 9. Alexis Wells, 37:01.

Freshmen-sophomore boys — 1. Jacob Strausbaugh, 19:54; 2. Noble Cassidy, 20:42; 3. Vail Coots, 23:50; 4. Parker Richards, 24:18; 5. Brenden Jones, 25:01; 6. Logan Cartwright, 25:06; 7. JJ Abel, 25:54; 8. Cooper Darling, 27:07; 9. Trenton Towark, 27:36; 10. Brody Linton, 27:53; 11. Caleb Wohlers, 28:27; 12. Lance Sego, 29:46; 13. Aaron Fletcher, 30:32; 14. Joel Moss, 30:36; 15. Briggs Cheeseman, 31:13; 16. Elias Bouschor, 32:35; 17. Elliot Hanson, 34:09; 18. Ari Miller, 34:36.

Junior-senior girls — 1. Jayna Boonstra, 21:34; 2. Emilee Wilson, 23:44; 3. Emily Moss, 24:41; 4. Kaytlin McAnelly, 24:53; 5. Megan Whittom, 25:53; 6. Avery Ciufo, 31:23.

Junior-senior boys — 1. Greg Fallon, 19:02; 2. Jack Laker, 19:47; 3. Jon Gordon, 20:12; 4. Levi Mickelson, 20:47; 5. Finnley Loop, 20:54; 6. Robert Carson, 22:10; 7. Zane Pellegrom, 22:12; 8. Zane Tews, 22:36; 9. Elijah Jedlicki, 22:55; 10. Wesley Johnson, 22:57; 11. Issac Chavarria, 23:08; 12. Jeren Nash, 23:09; 13. Drew Cox, 23:29; 14. Nico Walker, 28:33; 15. Carter Kincaid, 34:20.

Soldotna freshman Sophia Jedlicki takes second place at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna freshman Sophia Jedlicki takes second place at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central junior Greg Fallon takes the lead for good at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central junior Greg Fallon takes the lead for good at the Kenai-Soldotna dual meet Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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