Kenai Central senior Tyler Spalding is the only 2010 individual state track champion from the Kenai Peninsula who didn't graduate after the 2010 meet.
Spalding is well on his way to winning more state hardware this season.
Last season, Spalding won state titles in the high jump and triple jump. His winning mark in the high jump was 6 feet, 4 inches. The mark was a personal best and set a school record. Spalding also went 42--2 1-4 inches to win the triple jump title.
Spalding wasted little time establishing himself as the favorite in the high jump this year. Last weekend at a Mini meet at the Dome in Anchorage, Spalding won the high jump at 6--4.
He just barely missed 6--5, Kenai Central track coach Tim Sandahl said. He hit a shoelace. He looks good already. We haven't even jumped yet. This is the first time, literally, that he jumped.
At the Class 4A level, area coaches at Homer, Kenai Central, Soldotna and Skyview find it increasingly hard to compete for team titles due to their relatively small school size, the emergence of soccer, baseball and softball programs in the spring, and the head start Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna valleys schools can get by attending numerous early season meets at the Dome.
The last Kenai Peninsula program to finish first or second at the Class 4A state meet was the Kenai Peninsula boys with a second in 2007. Coaches, in general, favor the Wasilla girls and Kodiak boys in the Region III/4A meet this year.
In the small-schools division, Grace Christian and Anchorage Christian Schools loom large in both Region III and state competition.
In the 3A you've always got ACS and Grace, Seward coach Lori Krier said. They're tough. They have big teams.
With the graduated Ivy O'Guinn and Lierin Flanagan both winning two individual events at Class 4A state last year, plus the double by Spalding, the Peninsula has shown it can still produce individual athletes that compete with the state's best.
And with Skyview drawing a whopping 52 kids to the program this year, and Kenai and Soldotna each getting 35 out, track has shown its ability to still draw a large number of athletes despite the rising popularity of soccer, and the expansion of baseball and softball programs.
I was flabbergasted, said Skyview coach Rob Sparks of his team's size. The first day we had 50 kids. The first three days, we consistently had 48 to 50 kids each night. It's been great.
More good news comes from the quickening thaw of the tracks. Sparks said 70 percent of Skyview's track was clear by late this week. Area track teams will go to the Dome on April 8 and 9 for the Big C Relays. Sparks is expecting to host a meet at Skyview on April 15 in advance of the Skyview Invitational, which will be April 22 and 23.
The state meet, slated for May 20 and 21 at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, arrives quickly after.
The following is a closer look at the Peninsula's track programs:
Cook Inlet Academy Eagles
Coach Drew Dickson has about six athletes out for the squad this season.
Sophomore Cara Davidson returns for the Eagles after qualifying for state last season in the discus and as part of the 400-meter relay team.
Also for the CIA girls, Ariana Tieaskie will throw and jump, and freshman Meghan Powers will throw, jump and possibly compete in the hurdles.
For the boys, sophomore Koebryn Mlynarik will do sprints, mid-distance and some throwing. Freshman Zack Taplin will throw, while freshman Caleb Combs will sprint, hurdle and throw.
For me, the goals are twofold, Dickson said. We're a Christian school, so I want to take some time to increase their knowledge of the Bible and faith in Jesus Christ. On the athletic side, I want to develop skills in their events to help them achieve their goals.
In his second year as head coach, Bill Steyer and assistant coach Lance Williamson continue to build the program as it is up to 25 athletes this season.
The girls team is small, with just six athletes, and is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
Steyer said freshman Cassidy Soistman has potential as a jumper and mid-distance runner. Steyer also mentioned sophomore distance runner Casey Farrell, sophomore sprinter Diane Frank, freshman distance runner Matea Peters and freshman high jumper and hurdler Tayla Cabana.
On the boys side, Steyer said his team has the numbers to be more competitive.
Steyer said senior thrower Ross Kalke has the talent to make state in the shot put and discus.
The squad also gets a boost from brothers Marcus and Izahia Henry, who moved back to Homer from Oregon. Marcus is a senior mid-distance runner, while Izahia is a sophomore sprinter.
Other key performers for the Mariners will be junior Travis Smith in the sprints, senior Mitch Wyatt in the 300 hurdles, junior Dan Adickes in the distance runs, junior Ryan Cotney in the hurdles, senior Hoss Frank in the sprints, and sophomore Dylan Faulkner in the distance races.
Steyer also is excited by some of the relays he may be able to put together.
I need to mold them into a team, Steyer said. I need to see how hungry they are. That's what it will come down to.
Kenai Central Kardinals
Normally, it would be impossible to fill the track shoes of someone like Flanagan. Last year, Flanagan won the 200 at state, won the 400 in a state-record time, then anchored the Kards to a state record in the 1,600 relay.
In junior Bailey Beeson, who finished second to Flanagan at state in the 400 last year, the Kards have someone capable of performing at the level of Flanagan.
At the Mini meet, Beeson won the 800 even though she had never run the event before. Sandahl said Beeson texted Flanagan the night before the meet for some quick tips.
The sky is the limit for her, Sandahl said of Beeson.
In addition to Beeson, senior Shaynee DeVito and sophomore Leah Sandahl were part of the 1,600-relay team last year. DeVito has qualified for state in past years in the 100 and 300 hurdles, while Sandahl also will run the hurdles for the Kards.
Sandahl said the Kardinals will be searching in the next few weeks for the fourth member of the relay team. Carolyn Kiefer, a junior who went to state in the 800 as a freshman, will get a look.
Senior Kendra Ashwell also has shown versatility for the Kardinals, getting chosen to compete in the pentathlon at the Big C Relays. Sandahl said it's an honor for an athlete to get chosen to compete in the event, but he said Ashwell is a thrower so she will have to learn the hurdles quick.
The coach said his girls team is rounded out by a lot of unknowns.
Sandahl said the boys team will be led by Spalding, who also will compete in the discus and long jump. He also will do some hurdling, because if he decides to do track in college, college coaches have said he would make a good decathlete.
Senior Adam Agosti and junior Joe Sandahl went to state last year on a 1,600-relay team. Sandahl will be a key hurdler for the Kards.
Junior Andrew Mole will be a key distance runner for Kenai, while sophomore Brad Smithwick, after throwing last year, has opened up some eyes as a sprinter.
Our boys team is small, Sandahl said. We've had the boys congregate to baseball. Right now it's hard to say who is going to step up and show themselves.
Third-year head coach Dan Adair continues to build his program. He said he had five athletes his first year before bumping up to 13. This year, Nikiski has 18 athletes out.
The girls team lost its state qualifiers to graduation. Adair said the team will be led by sophomore Sienna Wallis, who will do the long jump, 800 and hurdles, and sophomore Haley Conti, a thrower.
I'm really pumped up that we can have relay teams again with the girls, Adair said.
The boys have three returning state qualifiers. Junior Sayyid Parrish qualified in the 100, 200 and was part of the 1,600 relay.
I'm expecting even bigger things from him, Adair said. He's had a great attitude since the season started and his leadership is definitely starting to emerge.
Two others return from the relay team -- sophomore Trevor Ray and junior Jordan Taylor. Ray will run sprints for the Bulldogs, while Taylor will be middle and long distance.
The three state qualifiers are really hungry to get back to state, Adair said. I can tell they expect to get back there.
Adair is happy to have Tim Johnson back to work with the throwers this year. He said Johnson's son, Lincoln, has potential to get to state as a thrower.
The coach also said he has a number of freshmen. He said one freshman who stands out is Seth Carstens. Adair is excited to see him in the high jump.
Coach Krier has 24 athletes out for her team.
While the girls team has just six members, Krier said her boys squad is balanced.
Our boys team is pretty well-rounded, she said. We've got throwers, hurdlers, sprinters and distance kids. We're a little weaker in the jumps.
The Seward boys won the state 3,200 relay last season and return three runners from that team in Andrew Buchanan, Brett Chase and Austin Gillespie. With Jacob Marshall and Miles Knotek also returning as distance runners, Seward will be deep in that discipline.
The Seward boys also won the 400 relay at state last year, losing one off the team to graduation. The team will be led this year by senior Evan Pullins, who also went to state in the discus last year. Beau Crosby also returns for the Seahawks after finishing third in the state in the discus.
Krier also said the team will get a nice infusion of youth from freshman Matt Moore in the high jump and sophomore Dezi Smith in the sprints.
On the girls side, Tessa Adelman qualified for state in the shot put last season and Maggie Herbert went as part of the 3,200 relay. Ava Dotomain will sprint for the Seahawks.
Sparks has been coaching track at Skyview for all of the school's 20 years. This is his 14th year as head coach. He will be helped by distance coach Ted McKenney and throws coach Barry Hartman. The coach also said Eric Pomerleau has done a great job developing faster, explosive athletes in the school's strength and conditioning course.
Sparks said his boys team received a shot of confidence from winning the borough meet last year. He said confidence continues to rise after a solid performance at a season-opening meet at the Dome on Tuesday.
We're starting to really set some high expectations after our success up there on Tuesday, Sparks said. Eighty percent of them ran (personal records). That's amazing for the first meet of the year.
Junior Jasen Suonvieri won the 200 at the borough meet last year. Heading into the weekend, he was fourth in the 100 and sixth in the 400 on the state performance list at athletic.net.
Junior Albert White also got off to a great start in the sprints, and is sixth in the 100 on the performance list. Sparks said White, who also is a long jumper, slowed once he had the 400 won, or he would be in the top 10 on that list, as well.
Junior Richard Reynolds is fourth in the 400. Sparks said Reynolds will do other sprint events, as well. Also in the top 10 in the 400 are senior Daniel Rozak, at ninth, and junior Cody Williams, at fifth. Williams, who went to state last year in the 3,200, also is fourth in the 1,600.
Sparks said the Panthers also should get sprint depth from junior Kyle Pietro and junior Kyle Shedd. Shedd also does the high jump. Senior James Tonione gives the team more depth in the 400.
Junior Bud Sparks will handle the hurdles for the Panthers, as well as the triple jump.
Senior Brayden Holt, a state qualifier last year in the 3,200, leads the distance crew and is sixth in the 1,600. Senior Jeremiah Hilbish also will be a key distance runner.
Handling the throws for the Panthers will be juniors Alex Rodriguez, JoeBen Hawkins and Cody Clendenen.
The girls team will be led by returning state qualifiers Elisha Hollers, a senior, and Megan Parham, a senior.
Hollers, who went in the 300 hurdles, is looking faster this year, according to Sparks. Parham went to state in the discus. Junior Marrisa Mahan is showing state potential in the throws as well, Sparks said.
Sophomore Sydney Roumagoux is showing potential in the sprints and 100 hurdles after an injury last year, while sophomore Marlee Cunningham will handle the triple and long jumps for Skyview.
The distance crew will be junior Allison Farrington, junior Isabella Jukic and sophomore Catherine Wolk.
The Panthers also will get a boost from foreign exchange student Thit Bak in the high jump. Sparks said Bak jumped 5--4 in eighth grade. That height would put her on top of the state performance list right now.
Sparks also said the team will get points from senior Jaxon Hill, who is out for track for the first time. Sparks said he's still trying Hill out in various events.
Second-year head coach Dave Emery did not lose any members of his girls team to graduation last year.
Senior Jessie Duke finished third in the state in the discus last season. Junior Hannah Cristiano, also a thrower, also qualified for state last season.
Junior Mariah Ulen finished second in the high jump at state, and made the finals in the 300 hurdles. She also was part of a state-qualifying 400 relay that returns senior Megan Gordon, sophomore Jelly Nolden and junior Alicia Hamilton.
Gordon also will do jumps for the Stars, while Nolden also will do sprints and Hamilton will be the heartbeat of our relays, according to Emery.
The Stars return their entire 3,200-relay team, led by junior Bree Mucha, who also went to state in the 400. Melanie Smith was on the team and went to state in the open 3,200. The team was rounded out by Kaillee Skjold and Maranda Merkes.
The boys team will be led by senior Colton Schneider.
He's the backbone of the boys team, Emery said.
Schneider, who has been chosen to participate in the pentathlon at the Big C Relays, should place at state in the 200 and 400, according to Emery.
Junior Ross Skjold will run in the 800 and 1,600. Tanner Minogue went to state in the discus last season, but Emery said Minogue is coming off a knee injury.
I'm not going to push him, Emery said of Minogue.
Other than that, Emery said he has a bunch of newcomers. He said the challenge is to develop them and get them interested in track so they work in the offseason and come back next year even better.