The Seward girls cross-country team captured their seventh small-schools title, and first since 2007, Saturday at the state cross-country meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.
The win for the Seahawks on the blustery, cloudy, muddy and hilly course highlighted a day of notable performances for Kenai Peninsula runners.
Also in the Division II girls race, Kenai Central senior Jayna Boonstra came up short of a third-straight crown, but her third-place finish was enough to cement her status as one of the best small-schools runners of all time.
Seward junior Hailey Ingalls also finished fifth as Kenai Peninsula runners took home six medals by placing that many in the top 15.
In the Division II boys race, Grace Christian senior David Sliwinski defended his crown by winning a back-and-forth race with Homer senior Seamus McDonough. Sliwinski ran the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 55 seconds, two seconds faster than McDonough and 18 seconds faster than Division I winner Matthew Rongitsch of Colony.
In the Division I girls race, a couple of Soldotna freshman burst onto the state scene. SoHi’s Sophia Jedlicki finished second at 19:36 — 20 seconds behind Chugiak senior Campbell Peterson — while Tania Boonstra was fifth.
Division II girls
In her second year as head coach, Rachel Dow, a 1997 graduate of Seward High School, has the Seahawks back on top of the state.
Dow was hired at the last minute before the 2021 season and had just five girls and four boys on the team. Ingalls was the only Seward runner that made state.
Although the boys team stayed at four this year, the number of girls went over 10.
“I was really lucky this year, having a great group of girls who wanted to work hard,” Dow said. “It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Seward scored 56 points, while Grace had 68 and Homer had 70. The Mariners had defeated the Seahawks at the Region 3/Division II meet the weekend before.
Dow, a 12-time finisher of the Mount Marathon Race with seven top 10s to her credit, is happy to continue the tradition of former Seward cross-country coach Dan Marshall, who stepped down in 2018 after 23 years at the helm.
“Dan has been a huge mentor to me,” Dow said of her former coach. “I feel so fortunate not only to have had him coach me, but also now to just be there as a source for me.”
Last summer after Mount Marathon, Dow restarted a staple of the Seward programs under Marshall — weekly team sessions on the bounty of top-notch trails around Seward.
With that plan in place, the Seahawks aren’t going anywhere. In addition to Ingalls, senior Aly Guernsey was 13th, freshman Maddie Haas was 16th, sophomore Katie Van Buskirk was 17th, freshman Juniper Ingalls was 24th, sophomore Natalie Sieminski was 40th and junior Stella Dow was 45th.
Another banner program for the peninsula has been Kenai Central. Since Allie Ostrander won a state title in 2012, the Kardinals came into Saturday’s race with a state champion in six of the last 10 races.
Jayna Boonstra hung on until the last kilometer trying to make it 7 of 11, but Sitka senior Anna Prussian and Sitka freshman Claire Mullin pulled away. Prussian won at 20:01, Mullin was a second back and Boonstra was 22 seconds back.
“My legs were pretty tired from working to stay with the back the whole time,” Boonstra said. “My body’s a bit run down because I’ve been sick for the past week and I’m still trying to get over that.”
Boonstra spent the summer training with her sister Tania, and father, four-time MMR champ Todd, with an eye on a third-straight title, but struggled with sickness this season.
“It was a good season, but it definitely had its challenges,” she said. “That’s just part of the sport. Obviously, it’s not the way I wanted the senior season to end, but it was a good race.”
The Alaska School Activities Association keeps a career performance list on its website. Boonstra’s finish moves her up to fourth on the small-schools list.
Hailey Ingalls, who was considered a state contender after defeating Boonstra for the Kenai Peninsula Borough and region titles, also stayed with the lead pack and fell off in the last kilometer when her side cramped up.
Ingalls collapsed at the finish and said if the race had been any longer, she would have had to walk.
“We started out a little bit fast, and so I kind of paid for that later,” Ingalls said. “I wasn’t expecting it to start so fast. I don’t really remember what happened after 3K.”
Also getting medals from the peninsula were Homer’s Daisy Walker in sixth, Kenai’s Emilee Wilson in seventh and Homer’s Eryn Field in 15th.
Division II boys
A Homer boys cross-country runner has not won a state title since ASAA started keeping records in 1973. Seamus McDonough has not won a state title in his running career.
Both accomplishments remained elusive despite a valiant effort Saturday.
After finishing ninth at state cross-country last year, McDonough ran on the treadmill after ski workouts all winter, then went out for track for the first time in high school to improve his running.
At the state track meet, he didn’t duck any of his races to stay fresh for a possible title. In the 800 meters, he finished second by .08 seconds. In the 1,600, he was third, less than a second behind the winner. In the 3,200, he was second, again less than a second from glory. He still took the baton on the anchor in the 1,600 relay and finished second by a little over a second.
McDonough trained hard all summer and finished second — by a second — to Sliwinski at the region meet before finishing two seconds back Saturday. Sliwinski led Grace to the team title, while Homer was third and Kenai was fourth, while also winning the academic award.
McDonough said he traded the lead with Sliwinski all race.
“The final downhill was really muddy,” McDonough said. “I just couldn’t move my legs fast enough without slipping. He got a lead I couldn’t catch.”
After the race, McDonough said he surpassed his expectations this season.
“But the disappointment never starts setting in until the weeks after,” he said. “So I’m sure that when track season comes around, I’m going to be a whole new Seamus.”
And who’s the new Seamus?
“I’m going to put in the work,” he said. “I really want a state title. That’s my top goal. I’ve come in second four times now in track and cross country, and all of them by a second, so I just need to get that extra little boost.”
McDonough said he’s fortunate to have a rival like Sliwinski.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” McD0nough said. “I like having people there ahead of me. I’m just glad there’s other people like me who are motivated runners and love it enough to train hard and do it as a sport.”
McDonough, who was joined on the medal stand by senior teammates Lance Seneff in 10th and Theodore McDonough in 11th, also said he sees big things in the future for the girls and boys teams after the work they put in this year.
Kenai junior Greg Fallon also picked up a medal by taking sixth. At that 800 at state track last year, Fallon proved to be a big meet runner by taking almost two seconds off his PR to top McDonough.
Fallon swung big again Saturday, sitting third behind Sliwinski and McDonough halfway through the race.
“I definitely went out way too fast for what I wanted, but I guess for state, I always go out too fast,” Fallon said.
Fallon said he wasn’t happy he fell back to sixth, and he plans to be faster for next season.
Soldotna principal Sarge Truesdell knows a thing or two about athletic greatness. He starred as a quarterback and wrestler at Skyview High School before going to play those sports in college. As head coach, Truesdell got the Soldotna football juggernaut rolling before giving up the job to be an administrator in 2007.
Truesdell knew what he was getting into with freshman Sophia Jedlicki. And now his hair is going to be hot pink.
Early in the season, Jedlicki got her principal to commit to dyeing his hair if she finished in the top 10 at state.
“I was just really expecting to get like 20th place in every race or something,” Jedlicki said. “I’m really surprised, and happy my principal is dyeing his hair hot pink.”
Jedlicki said she tried staying with Peterson. The flats and downhills went fine, but the uphills took their toll.
“The second time around, I didn’t know if I could actually get up the hill,” she said. “The downhills helped. I don’t think I would have been able to get second if I didn’t have the downhills.”
As Jedlicki moves forward with her running, she will have a teammate to push her in Tania Boonstra.
Boonstra ran 19:52 in breaking 20 minutes for the first time and finishing fifth.
“I just like state and it’s where you have the most adrenaline, I guess,” Boonstra said. “And it’s just so exciting to be here.”
Soldotna coach Krista Arthur was more than pleased with the effort of her young team, which included two other freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors.
The Stars were sixth in the team scores, while Chugiak won. Soldotna also had sophomore Jacob Strausbaugh take 24th in the Division I boys race. Colony’s Matthew Rongitsch won that race, leading the Knights to the team title.
Arthur said she started summer workouts this summer and had 20 kids show up.
“We’re trying to build that culture at SoHi with track and cross-country running because we have the athletes,” she said. “Running’s got to be cool again, right?”
ASAA State Cross-Country Meet
Saturday at Bartlett
Team scores: 1. Seward, 56; 2. Grace Christian, 68; 3. Homer, 70; 4. Sitka, 80; 5. Bethel, 122; 6. Redington, 130; 7. Mt. Edgecumbe, 158.
Individual 5-kilometer results
1. Anna Prussian, Sitka 20:01 2. Claire Mullin, Sitka 20:02 3. Jayna Boonstra, Kenai Central 20:23 4. Megan Nelson, Grace Christian 20:41 5. Hailey Ingalls, Seward 20:46 6. Daisy Walker, Homer 21:21 7. Emilee Wilson, Kenai Central 21:33 8. Mya Campbell, Redington 21:46 9. Rosemarie Dyment, Bethel 21:56 10. Miranda Wilkerson, Monroe Catholic 21:56 11. Tessa Anderson, Mt Edgecumbe 22:08 12. Xiimara Salazar, Kotzebue 22:08 13. Aly Guernsey, Seward 22:09 14. Rebekah Annett, Grace Christian 22:19 15. Eryn Field, Homer 22:25 16. Maddie Haas, Seward 22:28 17. Katie Vanbuskirk, Seward 22:28 18. AwaLuk Nichols, Nome-Beltz 22:34 19. Ella Boerger, Grace Christian 22:39 20. Claire Booz, Homer 22:46 21. Elena Badajos, Homer 22:53 22. Natalie Hall, Sitka 22:53 23. Faith Carter, Anchorage Christian 22:54 24. Juniper Ingalls, Seward 22:54 25. Lauren Kingstrom, Nome-Beltz 23:01.
26. Payton Boney, Bethel 23:07 27. Faith Mondeel, Grace Christian 23:13 28. Tagan Rinner, Grace Christian 23:15 29. Delaney Schaffer, Grace Christian 23:26 30. Anya Simard, Monroe Catholic 23:29 31. Beatrix McDonough, Homer 23:31 32. Frida Renner, Homer 23:42 33. Saydi Cardoso, Redington 23:43 34. Ayilah Merculief, Sitka 24:00 35. Elisa Metzger, Grace Christian 24:10 36. Kyana Harpak, Bethel 24:13 37. Eliana Rice, Redington 24:15 38. Marylene Burgett, Galena 24:18 39. Abri Rice, Redington 24:19 40. Natalie Sieminski, Seward 24:25 41. Aries Bioff, Mt Edgecumbe 24:35 42. Maya Komulainen, Bethel 24:49 43. Jadelynn Kubik, Sitka 25:02 44. Jordan Klejka, Bethel 25:11 45. Stella Dow, Seward 25:17 46. Anika Palomar, Valdez 25:34 47. McKenna Black, Homer 25:37 48. Kiara Burnell, Barrow 25:51 49. Kimberly Wolgemuth, Barrow 25:53 50. Sarah Bahnke, Mt Edgecumbe 25:55.
51. Grace Pearson, Delta Junction 25:59 52. Bessie Williams, Mt Edgecumbe 26:04 53. Marina Anderstrom, Redington 26:32 54. Jelsey Gologergen, Mt Edgecumbe 26:37 55. Constance Albert, Bethel 27:47 56. Marina Marley, Sitka 28:14 57. Faith Walker, Redington 28:14 58. Leilynn Swain, Sitka 28:41 59. Annareese Carroll, Redington 28:55 60. Morgan Hamilton, Valdez 29:28 61. Hannah Leinberger, Bethel 31:00
Team scores: 1. Grace Christian, 47; 2. Sitka, 49; 3. Homer, 62; 4. Kenai, 102; 5. Anchorage Christian, 121; 6. Bethel, 142; 7. Galena, 165; 8. Delta Junction, 213.
1. David Sliwinski, Grace Christian 15:55 2. Seamus McDonough, Homer 15:57 3. Robbie Annett, Grace Christian 16:34 4. Annan Wieland, Sitka 16:44 5. Silas Demmert, Sitka 16:56 6. Gregory Fallon, Kenai Central 17:03 7. Preston Merchant, Anchorage Christian 17:06 8. Trey Demmert, Sitka 17:06 9. Connor Hitchcock, Sitka 17:22 10. Lance Seneff, Homer 17:25 11. Theodore McDonough, Homer 17:36 12. Simon Nelson, Grace Christian 17:42 13. Orson Hoogendorn, Nome-Beltz 18:02 14. Lukas Underlie, Anchorage Christian 18:04 15. Gerremu Daggett, Grace Christian 18:08 16. Ned Peters, Bethel 18:08 17. Jack Laker, Kenai Central 18:24 18. Diego Sanchez, Grace Christian 18:28 19. Stryder Kronberger, Anchorage Christian 18:31 20. Trevor Guernsey, Seward 18:34 21. Gabriel Angaiak, Monroe Catholic 18:36 22. Jai Badajos, Homer 18:36 23. Johannes Bynagle, Homer 18:38 24. Jonah Mershon, Homer 18:44 25. Preston Kopp, Galena 18:45.
26. Hank Maxwell, Sitka 18:55 27. Chase Laker, Kenai Central 19:00 28. Zane Tews, Kenai Central 19:04 29. Sheldon Smith, Bethel 19:05 30. Ethan Styvar, Homer 19:11 31. James Helem, Sitka 19:16 32. Benjamin Milton, Nome-Beltz 19:16 33. Dylan Crenna, Sitka 19:20 34. Rafe Caruthers, Valdez 19:21 35. Milo Huntington, Galena 19:24 36. Jacob Friske, Mt Edgecumbe 19:30 37. Logan Cartwright, Kenai Central 19:35 38. Jonathan Swank, Monroe Catholic 19:38 39. Paul Dyment, Bethel 19:41 40. Son Erikson, Nome-Beltz 19:46 41. Liam Phelan, Bethel 19:46 42. Clint Kopp, Galena 19:47 43. Finn Hornfischer, Galena 19:47 44. Madden Cockroft, Bethel 19:53 45. Anthony White, Delta Junction 20:18 46. Asher McGlinchy, Monroe Catholic 20:23 47. Connor Journey, Mt Edgecumbe 20:23 48. Aiden Bullard, Delta Junction 20:30 49. Robert Carson, Kenai Central 20:32 50. Patricio Vasquez, Bethel 20:35.
51. Colton Paul, Mt Edgecumbe 20:50 52. Liam Quirk, Monroe Catholic 20:51 53. Royce Rock, Anchorage Christian 21:06 54. Liam Pettit, Anchorage Christian 21:17 55. Rory Peters, Bethel 21:47 56. Jonah Echo, Galena 21:51 57. Ethan Dehling, Delta Junction 22:00 58. Tanner Brant, Delta Junction 22:13 59. James Fox, Delta Junction 22:14 60. Vail Coots, Kenai Central 22:23 61. Elijah Szepanski, Anchorage Christian 23:01 62. Noah Douglas, Delta Junction 23:25 63. William Douglas, Delta Junction 23:25 64. Drew Carter, Anchorage Christian 24:11 65. Donovan Olin, Galena 24:50 66. Daniel Holstrom, Galena 25:32.