With a chilling breeze rushing from a royal blue sky to whisk, roil and twirl the autumn-colored leaves, change was in the air Saturday at the Region 3 meet at Tsalteshi Trails.
Change was in the results, too, as all of the champions were different from last season.
That comes with an asterisk, though. The Kenai girls won a Region 3 title for the fourth straight season, but this one came at Division II, where the Kardinals moved from Division I this season. The triumph stopped Homer’s four-year run on top of the region. Senior Jaycie Calvert, the Division II girls runner of the year, led the effort for her first region title. Calvert’s mother, Maria, was Division II coach of the year along with Grace Christian’s Tara Edwards.
For the Division II boys, Grace took down defending region champion Anchorage Christian Schools for its first title since 2013. The individual race and runner of the year honors belonged to Lions sophomore Tristian Merchant.
The Division I girls race saw a historic change as the Palmer girls won their first title since 1989. The effort was led by an individual win from Moose freshman and runner of the year Katey Houser.
Finally, the Division I boys race saw Kodiak reclaim region supremacy. The Bears had won 15 straight crowns before Wasilla, temporarily, stopped the dominance last season. Colony sophomore Lane Meier won the individual race and runner of the year, while Wasilla’s Lesley Varys was Division I coach of the year.
Division II girls
Calvert became the seventh Kenai girls region champion in the last eight years, following Allie Ostrander from 2011 to 2014, Riana Boonstra in 2015 and Addison Gibson in 2017.
That string of success is no coincidence, because each group has a chance to see what it takes to win. Calvert learned a lot from watching Gibson, who had a very successful cross-country season as a senior due to all the work she put in during the summer.
“Addison really inspired me last year,” Calvert said. “She had an amazing year, especially for her team. I wanted to do the same thing as a senior, so I put in as much work as I could.”
Calvert attended the Steens Mountain Running Camp in Oregon this summer and needed every bit of that summer base to hold off defending Division II state champ Autumn Daigle of Homer. Calvert won at 19 minutes, 22 seconds, while Daigle was next at 19:39.
At the two-kilometer mark, Calvert said the lead group was in a pack and she was able to pull away. Daigle, a junior, made up ground late in the race, but Calvert was able to hold off Daigle with a strong kick.
Daigle also said she was hampered late in the race by a big blister on her right toe that came from wearing her new shoes in a race for the first time.
“I forgot you had to break in shoes,” she said.
All of this just adds intrigue to another showdown next weekend at state. Calvert has not lost to a Division II runner all season.
“She’s like incredible,” Daigle said of Calvert. “I want to get her. It’s about what you eat and how you feel physically on that day.
“I feel like we’re pretty much the same, but obviously she was ahead of me at regions.”
The Kardinals put all of their scoring runners in the top 12 to stay perfect this season against Division II competition.
Senior Brooke Satathite continued a late-season surge by finishing third in 19:58. Freshman Logan Satathite was seventh, freshman Summer Foster was ninth and freshman Leah Fallon was 12th.
“It’s just been amazing what they’ve been able to do,” Brooke Satathite said of her freshmen teammates. “They haven’t been able to replace all of the seniors we lost, but they definitely made up for what we lost.”
The top four teams qualified for state. Kenai was first at 32, Grace was next at 39, Homer followed at 52 and ACS took fourth at 115.
Division II boys
Merchant, just a sophomore, had the fastest time of the day at 15:46, a new personal record. When the Tsalteshi Invitational was held on this same course in August, Dimond’s Santiago Prosser won at 15:45.
“God let me do that,” Merchant said. “He blessed me with a gift. I couldn’t do any of this without him. I was praying the whole race.”
Kenai sophomore Maison Dunham ran 16:41 to finish third, while Grace senior Gabe Martin was in second at 16:31. Dunham had finished second at the Division I level in the region as a freshman.
“I don’t know if 3A is better than 4A, but we’re in a pretty competitive region,” Dunham said.
Dunham said he didn’t train as much as he should have this summer, but hard work in practice has gotten him back in form. Dunham’s best time as a freshman was 16:37. He said he’s excited to have a runner like Merchant in the region.
“He’s going to give me a lot of motivation to train and try and keep up with him next year,” Dunham said. “Maybe at state, but probably not.”
Dunham also helped lead the Kenai boys to their first state appearance since 2014. The Kardinals finished fourth with 80 points, edging out Seward’s 91 for the state berth. Grace won with 36 points, while ACS was second with 64 and Luciano Fasulo’s fourth-place finish led Homer to third at 73 points.
Though the Seahawks did not qualify as a team, Max Pfeiffenberger was able to secure a state spot by finishing ninth at 17:10. The Nikiski boys also finished sixth, notable because the Bulldogs have had trouble putting together a full team in recent seasons.
Division I girls
Palmer freshman Katey Houser held off Wasilla senior Allison VanPelt to lead the Moose to their first girls team title since 1989. Houser clocked in at 18:47, while VanPelt was two seconds behind.
“She’s a beast,” Houser said of VanPelt. “She had me until three kilometers. I thought to myself, ‘Do you want this? Yes, you want this. Then go get it.’”
Houser surged ahead of VanPelt then, but had to hold off VanPelt’s ferocious kick.
“I was scared, for sure,” she said.
The team title is icing on the cake. Palmer, with four of the top six finishers, won with 31 points, while Soldotna was second at 55 and Colony was third at 61. The top three make state at the Division I level, so the Stars will make their first appearance since 2015.
“I think our strength is our team dynamic,” Houser said. “We all support each other so much.”
Soldotna freshman Jordan Strausbaugh made her debut at regions by finishing third at 20:08. Strausbaugh said her goal was to get fourth place, but three-quarters of the way through the course, she saw the opportunity to move up to third and took it.
Strausbaugh drew inspiration from Houser’s performance.
“She’s super fast,” Strausbaugh said. “I’m going to try and train this summer to see if I can maybe catch up to her.”
Division I boys
Meier was able to get the victory at his home away from home, running 16:30 to top the 16:49 of runner-up Paul Winegeart of Kodiak. Meier travels to Kasilof each July to work as a set-netter. While there, he runs on the beach to stay in shape, but also squeezes in runs and bike rides at Tsalteshi Trails.
“I knew this was possible if nothing bad happened,” said Meier, who gradually took control of the race after one kilometer. “I’ve been doing what the coaches say, and we have some of the best coaches around.”
Makbeb Denbrock led Soldotna by finishing fourth in a personal-best 16:57.
“I tried to stay with the leaders as long as I could because I knew that would get me a fast time,” Denbrock said. “I stayed with them as long as I could, but they were fast.”
SoHi coach Ted McKenney said it was a neat team race because four teams had taken turns beating each other this year. Kodiak won at 52, while Colony was next at 55 and Soldotna grabbed the final state berth at 73. While the Stars return to state, Palmer missed a berth with 80 points.
“We did what we could,” said McKenney, whose boys missed a first team title since 2001. “We didn’t have two of our top seven on the boys side, but we got both teams to state.”
Region 2 meet
After the Region 3 meet concluded at Tsalteshi Trails, Nikolaevsk hosted the Region 2 meet. The boys race saw three Kenai Peninsula runners make it to state by finishing in the top 10.
Nikolaevsk freshman Justin Trail finished second running 18:49 to lose out to the 18:24 of champion Andrew Stringfellow of Nenana. Nikolaevsk coach Steve Klaich said Stringfellow, the boys runner of the year, put up fast times in past years, but didn’t have a 5K on athletic.net this year so he was a bit of a wild card.
“It was great competition,” Klaich said. “They battled throughout. That’s the kind of competition Justin needs.”
Trail’s brother, Michael, finished third at 19:36 for his third state berth in four years. Port Graham’s Eli Moonin also made state by finishing seventh in 21:31. Michael Trail had finished 11th to just miss state last season.
“He worked really hard this year, so it was nice to see it pay off,” Klaich said of Michael Trail.
The final peninsula finisher in the boys race was Tyson Breedlove of Port Graham, who was 22nd in 41:50. The girls race saw one peninsula runner make it to state. Cordova’s Anika Witsoe won at 21:52 and was runner of the year, while Nikolaevsk’s Isabelle Hickman returns to state after running 25:29 to finish seventh. Nikolaevsk’s Sophie Klaich just missed out, taking 11th at 27:37.
“Sophie was one spot out coming off ACL surgery, so I’m absolutely thrilled,” Klaich said of the June 2016 operation.
The Cordova girls and boys won the sportsmanship awards.
Region 3 meet
GIRLS: Team scores: 1. Kenai, 32; 2. Grace Christian, 39; 3. Homer, 52; 4. Anchorage Christian Schools, 115.
Individual five-kilometer results
1. Calvert, Ken, 19:22; 2. Daigle, Hom, 19:39; 3. B. Satathite, Ken, 19:58; 4. Jackson, Gra, 20:12; 5. Miller, Hom, 20:25; 6. Annett, Gra, 20:35; 7. L. Satathite, Ken, 20:39; 8. Ellis, Gra, 20:45; 9. Foster, Ken, 20:55; 10. Coverdell, Gra, 20:57; 11. Lash, Gra, 21:02; 12. Fallon, Ken, 21:11; 13. Hatton, Hom, 21:22; 14. McLaughlin, Gra, 21:26; 15. Holmes, Hom, 21:30; 16. Lindquist, Sew, 21:41; 17. Stephan, Red, 21:50; 18. Morgan, Gra, 22:02; 19. Anderson, Hom, 22:11; 20. Reimers, ACS, 22:22; 21. Super, Hom, 22:23; 22. Carey, Hom, 22:43; 23. Stockton, Ken, 22:44; 24. Bohlman, ACS, 22:47; 25. Salzetti, Ken, 22:59.
26. Parks, ACS, 23:22; 27. Tedrick, ACS, 23:39; 28. Cooney, Sew, 23:51; 29. Smallwood, ACS, 24:18; 30. Fuller, ACS, 24:20; 31. Hankins, Sew, 24:42; 32. Smith, ACS, 24:48; 33. Brueckner, Sew, 25:16; 34. Nolan, Red, 25:29.
BOYS: Team scores: 1. Grace Christian, 36; 2. ACS, 64; 3. Homer, 73; 4. Kenai, 80; 5. Seward, 91; 6. Nikiski, 189.
Individual five-kilometer results
1. Merchant, ACS, 15:46; 2. Martin, Gra, 16:31; 3. Dunham, Ken, 16:41; 4. Fasulo, Hom, 16:47; 5. L. Fritzel, Gra, 16:52; 6 (tie). Kniegge, Gra, Knapp, Hom, 17:01; 8. Parks, ACS, 17:09; 9. Pfeiffenberger, Sew, 17:10; 10. Kopp, Gra, 17:13; 11. Lindquist, Sew, 17:21; 12. Rich, Hom, 17:23; 13. Wethington, Gra, 17:23; 14. Hamilton, Ken, 17:26; 15. Davis, ACS, 17:28; 16. Metzger, Gra, 17:38; 17. Smith, ACS, 17:47; 18. Mueller, Ken, 18:06; 19. Nilson, Sew, 18:12; 20. C. Fritzel, Gra, 18:16; 21. Stockton, Ken, 18:17; 22. Beachy, Hom, 18:18; 23. Robinson, ACS, 18:19; 24. Roberts, Ken, 18:21; 25. Deboard, Sew, 18:22.
26. O’Hara, ACS, 18:34; 27. Koster, Sew, 18:35; 28. Reutov, Hom, 18:46; 29. Cross, Ken, 18:58; 30. McMurray, Sew, 19:09; 31. Mattingly, Hom, 19:10; 32. Cline, Hom, 19:11; 33. Ingalls, Sew, 19:14; 34. White, Ken, 19:49; 35. McCollum, Nik, 20:20; 36. Brotzman, Hou, 20:39; 37. Tedrick, ACS, 21:07; 38. Yourkoski, Nik, 21:30; 39. Smith, Nik, 22:15; 40. Van Natta, Hou, 24:25; 41. Wilkinson, Hou, 24:25; 42. Gilmartin, Nik, 26:27; 43. Yerkes, Nik, 30:23.
GIRLS: Team scores: 1. Palmer, 31; 2. Soldotna, 55; 3. Colony, 61; 4. Wasilla, 105; 5. Kodiak, 108.
Individual five-kilometer results
1. Houser, Pal, 18:47; 2. VanPelt, Was, 18:49; 3. Strausbaugh, Sol, 20:08; 4. Ortiz, Pal, 20:18; 5. Wright, Pal, 20:31; 6. Nowers, Pal, 20:51; 7. Bushey, Col, 20:54; 8. Spaic, Col, 20:58; 9. Arthur, Sol, 21:02; 10. Lorring, Sol, 21:06; 11. Bustillos, Col, 21:09; 12. Novak, Col, 21:13; 13. Ruffner, Sol, 21:17; 14. Fagan, Kod, 21:17; 15. Kalytiak, Pal, 21:30; 16. Eufemio, Kod, 21:51; 17. Copp, Pal, 21:53; 18. Boucher, Was, 21:56; 19. Arreola, Pal, 21:59; 20. Burns, Sol, 22:05; 21. Blackwell, Sol, 22:22; 22. Griffin, Kod, 22:28; 23. Bell, Col, 22:37; 24. Smith, Col, 22:44; 25. Apthorp, Was, 22:52.
26. Denison, Col, 22:54; 27. Parnell, Kod, 22:57; 28. Rachels, Was, 23:00; 29. Christiansen, Kod, 23:25; 30. Deering, Col, 23:29; 31. Glover, Kod, 23:30; 32. Breshears, Was, 23:31; 33. Steiner, Was, 23:34; 34. Christiansen, Kod, 24:11; 35. Lee, Was, 24:17.
BOYS: Team scores: 1. Kodiak, 52; 2. Colony, 55; 3. Soldotna, 73; 4. Palmer, 80; 5. Wasilla, 86.
Individual five-kilometer results
1. Meier, Col, 16:30; 2. Winegeart, Kod, 16:49; 3. Owens, Pal, 16:54; 4. Mak. Denbrock, Sol, 16:57; 5. Block, Col, 17:05; 6. Marbrey, Kod, 17:09; 7. Walters, Sol, 17:11; 8. Maclean, Pal, 17:12; 9. H. Hayes, Was, 17:22; 10. L. Hayes, Was, 17:25; 11. Chilton, Sol, 17:33; 12. Iverson, Col, 17:34; 13. Gruner, Kod, 17:39; 14. Seto, Kod, 17:40; 15. Reem, Pal, 17:41; 16. Fraker, Was, 17:42; 17. Birbilas, Kod, 17:48; 18. Waterhouse, Col, 17:48; 19 (tie). Hubert, Kod, Good, Col 17:49; 21. Bolton, Kod, 17:50; 22. Greathouse, Was, 18:07; 23. Menard, Col, 18:12; 24. Harris, Sol, 18:13; 25. Streit, Col, 18:14.
26. Hartman, Pal, 18:18; 27. Musgrave, Sol, 18:20; 28. Miller, Pal, 18:26; 29. Logsdon, Was, 18:34; 30. Larson, Was, 18:39; 31. Owens, Pal, 18:40; 32. Walling, Pal, 18:44; 33. Reynolds, Sol, 19:03; 34. Rooney, Was, 19:10; 35. Mal. Denbrock, Sol, 19:19.