Two major knee surgeries is tough to come back from, but Saturday afternoon at the Homer Invitational, Soldotna sophomore Ituau Tuisuaula proved adversity is just a word with a record-setting return to the track.
Tuisaula claimed the gold in the girls shot put with a new personal best of 36 feet, 10 1/2 inches, and took sixth in the discus, highlighting a day of stout competition.
With 15 schools scoring points over the course of the day, the competition was some of the deepest of the season, and for some schools, it was the first of the season.
The host Homer girls nabbed the team championship with a dominating 116 points, besting the 80 points of runner-up Soldotna. The Mariners won five events while the Stars picked up four wins. The Kenai Central girls took third in the team race with 40 points.
In the boys team race, Kodiak prevailed with 70 points, edging Valley rival Palmer by eight and Grace Christian by 14. Kodiak only had one event win to Palmer’s three, but depth won out. Soldotna took fourth with 55 points and Kenai was fifth with 44.
Tuisuaula is a multi-sport athlete, but was forced to miss two entire sports seasons this winter — volleyball and basketball — after undergoing two knee surgeries last summer. One was a reconstruction of the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee, and the other reconstructed her left ACL.
However, Tuisuaula was determined as ever to get back to the top. She credited SoHi throwing coach Galen Brantley Jr. for working with her and instilling the confidence needed to make her return to the field.
“It’s a whole new world when your knees don’t slip,” Tuisaula said with a smile.
Tuisuaula’s big day was one of many peninsula highlights.
The girls team race featured a seesaw battle all afternoon. Homer swept the girls jumping events, while SoHi took both throwing contests. The two schools split the relays, with Homer winning the 400-meter sprint relay and SoHi taking the 1,600-meter relay.
Homer junior Kailee Veldstra was up to her winning ways again in the sprint races, winning the girls 100-meter dash and the 400-meter relay with teammates Laura Inama, Anna Godfrey and Marina Carroll. Veldstra also took fourth in the 200.
Veldstra, the reigning 100-meter state champ at the Division II level, said the large number of heat races in the 200, combined with the wind and rain, made it tough to get fully pumped for the race, while the 100 played to her strengths with a single final event.
“The 100 was a lot better because you’ve got all the fastest runners in your final,” Veldstra explained. “Plus in the 200, it was like, ‘Why rain now?’.”
The Mariners also got a big day out of freshman Laura Inama, who won the girls long jump with a leap of 15 feet, 5 inches, and was part of the winning 400-meter relay squad. Inama also took second in the girls 200 and third in the 100, completing a successful four-podium day.
“Laura is really fast,” Veldstra gushed. “I saw her coming up this year, and oh yeah, she’s fast.”
In boys competition, two peninsula products staked their claim as the ones to beat in their respective events, SoHi senior Brenner Furlong in the 400 and Kenai junior Jarett Wilson in the hurdles.
Furlong’s day wrapped up a busy weekend of racing. Furlong ran five times Saturday and twice on Friday, totaling seven exhausting races over days.
“I’m so dead,” he spouted.
Furlong won the boys 400 with a fast time of 51.57 seconds, just .24 seconds off his PR set at state last year, when he captured the title. The SoHi standout also finished second in the 200, eighth in the 100 and helped the SoHi boys to a win in the 400-meter sprint relay. Furlong teamed up with Mika Wong, Ben Booth and Logan Schrader in the relay.
The 100 and 200 races were particularly tough. Furlong had just finished up the 400 when he had to race back for the start of the 100 dash, still gasping from the 400 win.
“I was rushing up to the start line and someone asked, ‘You’re actually going to run this?’”, he said.
Later in the day, he had to battle a stiff breeze and pelting rain in the 200, when his legs were all but drained.
“He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve coached,” said Soldotna head coach Phil Leck.
Furlong also won the 200 on Friday at a quad meet held at SoHi, along with a team win in the 1,600-meter relay.
In the hurdles, Wilson announced his intent to repeat as state champions in the 300-meter race with a victory, which followed up a second-place in the 110-meter event. Since the Kardinals had not competed in a meet this spring, Saturday was Wilson’s first foray of the season.
“It was okay,” he said. “I have some catching up to do.”
Wilson lost to Wasilla’s Wyatt Helton by a scant .07 seconds in the 110 hurdles, but fended off SoHi senior Logan Schrader in the 300-meter race by .58 seconds to collect the double podium.
“I was a little sloppy,” Wilson noted. “By the end of the 110, my legs were out of form. Hopefully a good week of practice will help.”
Other peninsula winners included Seward senior Ruby Lindquist in the girls 800, SoHi sophomore Kylie Ness in the girls 100 hurdles, the SoHi girls 1,600 relay team of Drysta Crosby-Schneider, Holleigh Jaime, Brittany Taylor and Kellie Arthur, SoHi senior Emily Pieh in the girls discus, Homer freshman Anna Godfrey in the girls high jump and Homer sophomore Marina Carroll in the girls triple jump, while the boys winners included Nikiski senior Ian Johnson in the boys discus and Homer senior Joel Carroll in the boys high jump.