Area runners streak to impressive finish

Facing the best cross country runners from around the state, Homer High School athletes met the challenge one fast step at a time at the ASAA-First National Bank state cross country championships at Bartlett High School in Anchorage last Saturday.

“It was a great race, a great outcome,” said Bill Steyer, head coach of the Mariners’ cross country program. “They did really good. I’m really proud of all of them.”

With 11 teams in the girls 1-2-3A 5K competition, Homer scored 32 points, a close second to Grace Christian’s first-place score of 25. There also were 11 teams in the boys 1-2-3A 5K competition, and Homer boys claimed third place with a score of 95. Grace Christian took first with 35 and Anchorage Christian School was second with 42. 

“It was a fast course, but just about everybody ran significantly their best times,” said Steyer. “It was really impressive. And that’s what you have to do at a state championship meet. You’ve got to step it up and they did.”

The course was opened Friday so those unfamiliar with its twists and turns and ups and downs would have an opportunity to see what Saturday’s race would include.

“Each course has different elevation changes, different areas that we wanted to look at,” said Steyer. For instance, “there’s a good hill a little after four kilometers and it’s a 5K course. That’s certainly a place where you might want to make a statement, make a move and try to pull way from your close opponents. It’s good to know where that is in the race.”

Glennallen’s Briahna Gerlach was the first girl across the finish line with a time of 18:34.3, followed closely by Taylee Nyquest of Thorne Bay, finishing in 18:40.5. Megan Pitzman was the first Homer runner to cross the finish line, claiming third with a time of 19:32.7. Mariner Molly Mitchell was the second Homer runner to finish, claiming sixth place with a time of 19:50.0.

“(Pitzman) probably could have gone a little faster than she did, but realistically, we knew that those two girls in front of her were not in her range yet this year and her main goal was to run a strong race, come in third and finish well ahead of the Grace girls,” said Steyer. 

It was the first time Mitchell had finished a 5K in less than 20 minutes.

“She had an incredible race,” said Steyer.

Daniel Serventi of Grace Christian took first place in the boys race with a time of 16:20.4. Homer’s Pedro Ochoa was the first Mariner to finish the 5K course, with a time of 16:68.7.  

“The boys really ran awesome, all of them,” said Steyer. “It was terrific.“

Finishing in 30th, Jared Brant had a time of 18:02.2.

“You’ll hear that boy’s name more,” said Steyer. “He’s got a great build, is real competitive and is an awesome kid. He could be really good next year.” 

Steyer, who describes himself as “ultra competitive,” had his eyes fixed on “taking down Grace. We beat them a couple of times this year, but when it came down to it, they were a little stronger than us. We needed 100 percent perfect races and Grace did it.”

Steyer said he is already thinking, “What can I do next year? We could have a really good team again next year, but it won’t come without a lot of work from the kids.”

With cross country season over, runners have an opportunity to participate in the upcoming cross country skiing and
basketball seasons.

“If not, they should be conditioning, doing some core work, some aerobic work. And I’d certainly like to see all of them come out for track,” said Steyer.

Track begins March 10.

“The key is that they have to run in the summer,” said Steyer.

With coaching over for now, Steyer is headed off for a race of his own, the Pisa Half Marathon in Pisa, Italy. 

Although lacking enough runners to compete as a team, Nikolaevsk had two runners in the state meet in Anchorage. With 108 in the girls competition, Nikolaevsk’s Megan Hickman finished 43rd, with a time of 22:24.6. With 119 in the boys race, Greg Trail finished in 45th place, with a time of 18:39.7.

“I am extremely thrilled with Greg and Megan,” said Coach Steve Klaich. “They ran fantastic races and achieved personal best times. Their hard work has paid off as times have dropped dramatically over the past month.”

Klaich attributed Hickman and Trail’s race times to training and dedication.

Like Steyer, Klaich knows the value of continued training for the runners.

“I hope that this success is a springboard to off-season training and work and continued success next season,” he said.

The next sports at Nikolaevsk are mixed-six, coed, high school volleyball as well as boys and girls junior high basketball. In addition to coaching cross country, Klaich coaches junior high girls basketball and high school boys basketball. His wife, Bea Klaich, coaches high school mixed six volleyball, high school girls basketball and elementary basketball. Nikolaevsk’s junior high boys basketball and junior high volleyball are coached by Ducia Fefelov, while Chris Normandin coaches junior high cross country.  

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at 


ASAA/First National Bank State cross country championships

Bartlett High, Anchorage

5 kilometers

CLASS 1-2-3A BOYS TEAM SCORES: 1. Grace Christian, 35; 2. Anchorage Christian School, 42; 3. Homer, 95; 4. Seward, 98; 5. Sitka, 126; 6. Kotzebue, 199; 7. Mt. Edgecumbe, 210; 8. Eielson, 213; 9. Wrangell, 230; 10. Chevak, 235; 11. Su Valley, 318.


CLASS 1-2-3A SOUTHERN KENAI PENINSULA BOYS INDIVIDUAL SCORES: 5. Pedro Ochoa (Homer) 16:58.7; 16. Josh Vantrease (Homer) 17:31.9; 30. Jared Brant (Homer) 18:02.2; 37. Brandon Beachy (Homer) 18:15.2; 45. Greg Trail (Nikolaevsk) 18:39.7; 48. August Kilcher (Homer) 18:45.0; 54. Dakota Alward (Homer) 18:52.3; 105. Calvin Johnson (Homer) 20:35.1. 


CLASS 1-2-3A GIRLS TEAM SCORES: 1. Grace Christian, 25; 2. Homer, 32; 3. Petersburg, 139; 4. Delta Junction, 152; 5. Mt. Edgecumgbe, 157; 6. Craig, 179; 7. Bethel, 185; 8. Seward, 187; 9. Barrow, 191; 10. ACS, 211; 11. Su Valley, 275.


CLASS 1-2-3A SOUTHERN KENAI PENINSULA GIRLS INDIVIDUAL SCORES: 3. Megan Pitzman (Homer) 19:32.7; 6. Molly Mitchell (Homer) 19:50.0; 13. Aurora Wacslawski (Homer) 20:40.7; 15. Evarts Lauren (Homer) 20:47.0; 16. Ziza Shemet-Pitcher (Homer) 20:49.6; 37. Pam Jantzi (Homer) 22:02.6; 43. Megan Hickman (Nikolaevsk) 22:24.6.