Breaking from pack

Peninsula Clarion

Anchorage Christian's Nychele Fischetti and Seward's Denali Foldager race in the 3,200-meter relay at last year's Region III Track and Field Championships at Skyview High School. This season, Class 1-2-3A schools, like ACS and Seward, will be split up from Class 4A schools at the region and state levels.
Photo by M. Scott Moon

Last season at the state track and field championships, athletes from Class 1-2-3A schools, or schools with 400 students or less, won exactly two events.

This season, athletes from Class 1-2-3A schools will win 17 events on the girls side and 17 events on the boys side. A small school also will win a girls and boys state title. That has many at the smaller schools fired up.

This year, the kids are very excited about being able to go for a state championship as a team, Seward track coach Lori Krier said.

This year, for the first time, the Class 1-2-3A schools will be separated from the Class 4A schools at the region and state levels. For Region III, the small schools will be Anchorage Christian Schools, Cordova, Glennallen, Grace Christian, Nikiski, Seward and Valdez. The large schools will be Homer, Soldotna, Skyview, Kenai Central, Kodiak, Houston, Wasilla, Palmer and Colony.

The large schools meet for Region III will be May 16 and 17 at Palmer High School, while Region III's small schools will compete on the same days at Goldenview Middle School in Anchorage.

Cook Inlet Academy, Ninilchik and Seldovia will continue to compete in Region II, then go on to compete against the small schools in the state meet.

The small-schools and large-schools state meet will be held at the same time on May 23 and 24 at Lathrop High School in Anchorage. John Andrews, the director of special events for the Alaska Schools Activities Association, said a schedule will be ready within the next week for the new-look state meet.

It's a win-win for both levels, Andrews said.

Andrews said the new format keeps the small schools from having to compete against schools that are five or 10 times bigger than they are for a state title. Previously, the top Class 3A school at the state meet received a plaque, but the award came with little fanfare. Last year, the ACS girls tied for sixth to pick up the plaque while the Seward boys tied for 11th.

The kids actually get to shoot for a team title, ACS track coach and athletic director Jason Hofacker said. That they actually have a shot to win it is cool.

Everybody is really excited. We're hoping it encourages more kids to come out.

The new format also creates more opportunity for Class 4A athletes. Even with the small-schools athletes out of the picture, there will still be 16 slots available at each individual event at the big-schools state meet. The small-schools meet will have eight slots per individual event.

It's more of an opportunity for us, Skyview track coach Rob Sparks said. We can get twice as many kids in.

Cook Inlet assistant Trish Kopp said splitting small schools from large schools in track is similar to what happened in football. Soldotna won a second-straight small-schools state title in football this year. Kopp said the Stars could have competed with the large schools this year, but that most years it's better for small schools to compete with small schools.

For most kids, this is going to be great for them, Kopp said. Nobody wants to get slaughtered. You're always trying to balance competition with having a chance at success.

As for predictions on which teams will be the best in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, most coaches said they had no idea due to the persistence of winter. All of the peninsula's schools have only been able to overcome the ice and snow for a nibble of track time „ if they have been able to get on the track at all.

Coaches agreed that prospects will start to get clearer today and Saturday, when most peninsula schools will compete at the Big C Relays at The Dome in Anchorage. The meet starts at 2 p.m. today and 7 a.m. Saturday.

The following is a closer look at the peninsula's track teams:

Small schools get their own state meetHeath Fulk is in his third year as head coach and will be assisted by Kopp, Clint Hall and Ted McKenney. The Eagles have between 15 and 20 athletes on their team.

Both the girls and the boys won the Region II title last year. The girls return plenty of firepower.

Senior Brooke Forsi qualified for state in the 200- and 400-meter dashes. She finished fourth in the 400.

Junior Holly Kopp also returns after qualifying for state in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Sophomore Amie Smithwick made it to state in the 100 and 300 hurdles.

The Eagles also used their depth to qualify the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays for state last season. Sadie Arneson, a sophomore sprinter, was a crucial part of some of those relays.

Trish Kopp also said she is looking for good things from freshmen Lauren Bauder, Tiffany Smith and Hayley Michel.

That's what the kids really enjoy doing is those relays, Trish Kopp said. In the girls, the 4-by-1 and the 4-by-4 should be strong. For the boys, the 4-by-1 should be their strength.

On the boys side, sophomore Josh Holly qualified for state last season in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Holly pulled off a sixth-place finish in the 3,200.

Junior Lars Arneson joined Holly at state by qualifying in the 400. Junior Scott Litchfield will do the throws and sprints, while junior Eric Bell will help out in the sprints.

The Eagles also will get a nice infusion of youth from freshman Robbie Smithwick in the throws and long jump, and freshmen Michael Horton and Cole Davidson in the throws.

Breaking from pack

Mark Casseri takes over the program in Homer, which has 32 athletes out for the team. Casseri ran four years of track in college and coached at several schools before coming to Homer.

Casseri, who was an assistant with the Homer program last season, showed he has made a quick adjustment to Alaska track by detailing how he is getting his athletes ready despite the fact that one corner of the Homer track is still covered with the remains of winter.

The team will not get on the track this weekend, either, because the Mariners cannot attend the meet at The Dome due to prom.

Casseri said it would have been nice to compete in events on a real track. At the same time, he said this gives his squad more time to work on strength training and technique. Those two things could help avoid the injury that ends an athlete's season.

Casseri said he will count on seniors on the girls and the boys team.

For the girls, Reba Temple returns after qualifying for state in the shot put last season. Homer also will count on Claire Laukitis in distance events, Lindsay Henkleman in mid-distance, Marina Critchett in sprints and jumps, and Anna Duz in mid-distance.

On the boys side, Casseri is looking forward to seeing senior Wyatt Rehder participate in the hurdles this year. Rehder started doing the hurdles at the end of last year, and Casseri said Rehder has looked extremely good in the hallways so far.

Casseri also said senior distance runner Tyler Haas will be a key component of the boys team.

The coach added there are a lot of underclassmen on the girls and boys teams that should do well this season.

After the boys team grabbed second at state last year, Tim Sandahl, in his third year as head coach, was welcomed by a group of 53 athletes this year, including a large number of freshmen and sophomores. Sandahl said the team had about 35 members last season.

The coach said a repeat of last year's success will be tough on the boys side.

This is more of a rebuilding year, he said. We have some very talented individuals but not quite as many as last year.

Senior Bill Chimphalee is the lone state placer to return for the boys. Chimphalee took fourth in the long jump, and also competed at state in the triple jump and 110 hurdles.

Senior Nate Byrd and junior Nikita Naumoff also competed at state for Kenai. Byrd made it in the discus, while Naumoff qualified in the high jump and triple jump.

Sandahl also expects good things from sophomore Billy Kiefer in mid-distance, senior Jamie Duke in the throws, freshman Brett Meyer in the sprints and freshman Tyler Spalding in the high jump.

On the girls side, Sandahl said the team is made up of about 20. Sophomore Lierin Flanagan is looking to follow up a solid freshman year.

Flanagan ran in the finals of four events at state last season, finishing fifth in the 100 and 400. She also helped the 1,600 relay to a fourth-place finish.

She's looking at bigger and better things this year, Sandahl said.

Junior Kalee Alsworth and junior Molly Watkins also were on that 1,600 relay team that finished fourth. Alsworth also qualified for state in the 400, while Sandahl said Watkins should be tough in the distance events this season.

Sandahl also is excited by the talents of freshman Shaynee DeVito in the hurdles and relays and freshman Michelle Klaben in the mid-distance events.

After serving as an assistant last season, Ken DiMarzio takes over as the head coach this season.

Nikiski has five girls and one boy out for the team. DiMarzio said a lot of turnover in the head coaching slots for cross country and track is one reason for the low numbers. He also said Nikiski's soccer programs are drawing a lot of participants.

The leader of the team will be junior Eliza Chadwick, who qualified for state last season in the 100 hurdles and the 300 hurdles. She also will run the 100.

We just want to get the program rolling a little bit, DiMarzio said. There are 48 kids out for middle school track, so we should be pumping the program up with some younger kids. We're going to be growing the next couple of years.

In his first year as head coach at Ninilchik, David Patat has 18 athletes out for the team. Patat said that is a very large turnout for the Ninilchik program.

We've got a ton of freshmen that started with us this year with a chance to do well, Patat said. I'm hoping to get them experience and to get them proud about doing it. I'd like them to return and start a tradition in track.

We're working hard and having a good time.

The Wolverines have a greater challenge than a lot of other schools because Ninilchik School is not very big, and thus not as good for indoor workouts. Ninilchik has been running on the beach, or in the snow, or running stairs in the school.

Three athletes qualified for state last year from Ninilchik and all three return this season.

Senior Ashley Bartolowits made it in long jump, and Patat said she looks poised for a repeat performance.

Dillon Covey qualified in the 110 hurdles. Patat has experience as a hurdler and said he hopes that will make Covey better this season. Brianna Goins also made the trip to state in the high jump.

Patat also likes what he has seen from juniors Cody Presley and Keith Harvey in the 100 and sophomore Jeff Klapak in the mile.

Patat said chasing a team title with five girls will be tough, but he has high hopes for his boys.

In her third year as head coach, Krier has nine girls and 20 boys out for the team.

The Seahawks pack a lot of talent into those nine girls. The squad will be led by seniors Rubye and Denali Foldager. The two, along with sophomore Allison Barnwell, were on the 3,200 relay team that finished fourth at state last year. Rubye also qualified for state in the 3,200.

Krier also said the distance crew gets a nice addition in freshman Mackenzie Barnwell.

Krier also mentioned senior Michelle Buchanan in the 100 hurdles, junior Samantha Seemster in the 400 and relays, freshman Kelly Sefton in the sprints, senior Tori Seemster in the throws and sophomore Serena Melville in the sprints.

I have great kids to worth with, Krier said. We've had some good practices. The kids, those not in winter sports, started meeting together in the winter and ran on their own.

On the boys side, every member of the 3,200 relay that took first in the state last year returns. The team was made up of junior Travis Price and seniors Matt Nyholm, Mark Chase and Nick Spurr.

Price also made a statement by qualifying for state in the 800 and 1,600 last year, finishing second in the 800 with a scorching time of 1 minute, 57.77 seconds.

Krier returns another state qualifier in junior Dylan Beck. Beck qualified in the high jump and also will run the 300 hurdles.

Krier also likes what she has seen from freshmen Andrew Buchanan and Cody Chisholm in mid-distance, freshmen Austin Gillespie and Brett Chase in distance, freshman Trever Clark in the sprints, freshman Beau Crosby in the 200 and 400, sophomore Jason Audette in the discus and seniors Jonas Romero and Koal Backlund in the throws.

Skyview coach Sparks begins his 10th year as head coach and 17th year with the program with about 40 athletes.

Sparks said his distance runners were able to get on the track on April 3 and the sprinters followed in the next few days. That has only made everybody more anxious for the meet at The Dome in Anchorage.

We'll go up there and hopefully learn a lot, Sparks said. So many haven't done track „ there's a lot of inexperienced kids. It'll be good to have fun instead of chipping ice off the track.

Sparks said his girls team is missing a few key performers from last season, but has some core key performers back.

Sophomore Ivy O'Guinn qualified for state last season in the 1,600 and 3,200, finishing third in the 3,200. O'Guinn also was a part of the 3,200 relay team that finished sixth.

In the sprints, Sparks is excited about the return of sophomores Casee Penrod, Paris Cooper and Jessica Stewart.

Sparks also sees a lot of potential in freshman Megan Janorschke in the sprints and jumps and freshman Elisha Hollers in the hurdles and the 400.

On the boys side, Sparks expects good things from junior Kenny Mahan in the throws, junior Matt Meade in the sprints and relays and senior Eddie Buffington in the sprints and relays.

Sparks said senior Tommy Honer and freshman Brayden Holt should do well in the distance events, while sophomore Justin Marsh will get points at mid-distance.

Freshman Wayne Epperson has shown a lot of potential in the throws, while sophomore Freddie Pollard should earn points in the jumps and sprints.

Sparks also is excited to see what junior hurdler Mike Thornton can do this year. Thornton made it to state as a freshman, but then got a late start to the season last year due to a vacation.

After two years as an assistant, Jason Buckbee takes over as a head coach. He said that the Stars have 55 athletes out for the team, which is a normal turnout for the program.

As of Monday, that Stars had not been on a track yet.

It's typical for week five of the track season, he said. When you wake up Sunday and see fresh snow on the ground, it doesn't give you a good feeling that you'll be on the track anytime soon.

Buckbee said his girls team has top-end talent. Because the team has not yet been on a track, he is not sure how much depth his squad will have.

The Stars should be able to count on plenty of points from senior Paige Blackburn. Blackburn won the discus and shot put at the state meet last year and will compete in NCAA Division I track and field next season at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Buckbee also said sophomores Chelsea Wilbanks and Kailey Mucha should give the Stars plenty of points. Mucha qualified for state last season in the 800, while Wilbanks finished third in the state high jump and also qualified with the 400 relay.

Junior April Heffner also returns after making state in the 200 and as a member of the 400 relay.

After that, we've got quite a few younger girls, Buckbee said. We've got some young talent mixed in with the sprints, we've got a couple young throwers that will do all right, and we've got a distance runner as well.

The boys team also will be able to count on getting points from the throws. Senior Ryan Shelton took fourth place last season at state in both the shot put and discus. Buckbee also said that sophomore Nathan Strieby, who qualified for state in the shot put, has potential.

Buckbee also expects a lot of improvement this season from Chase Jenson, who qualified for state in the 300 hurdles last season.

Buckbee said he also is excited about some of the young talent on the boys side.