With 66 individuals competing in the girls varsity cross-country competition at Saturday’s Palmer Invitational, the Mariner girls ran their way into first place in the 1, 2 and 3A competition.
On the boys side there were 89 individual runners and Homer’s varsity runners took second place overall, with Grace Christian in first place.
“They’re awesome,” said Head Coach Bill Steyer of the Mariners’ performance.
Only one minor disappointment clouded the weekend meet. The girls had signed up to run against athletes from larger schools in the 4A competition, something that has been allowed in previous years, but is no longer accommodated.
“We were kind of planning on racing against girls that would push them more,” said Steyer.
The 4A girls competition was won by Kenai’s Allie Ostrander in 16 minutes, 40 seconds. The Class 1-2-3A title went to Glennallen’s Brianna Gerlach, finishing in 18:17.2. Mariner Megan Pitzman was second, with a time of 19:52, followed closely by teammate Molly Mitchell in third place with 20:07. The remaining four Mariner runners — Aurora Waclawski, 20:18; Ziza Shemet Pitcher, 21:03; Alex Mosley, 21:03; and Lauren Evarts, 21:03 — finished in the top 12.
“They had some great runs,” said Steyer. “Molly’s getting her mojo back. Aurora had a really strong, great run, well executed and strong at the end. And, of course, the trio of Ziza, Alex and Lauren had good runs.”
The Palmer meet signaled Evarts’ first run this season on the varsity team.
“Our boys raced right where they should and did great,” said Steyer. “This is awesome this year for the boys. They’re on the hunt.”
Kaleb Korta of Galena was the first to finish in the boy’s 1-2-3A class competition, with a time of 16:51. Less than a minute later, Homer’s Jared Brant took sixth with a time of 17:42. Following closely behind were Brant’s teammates Jordan Beachy finishing 11th in 17:54, Jacob Davis finishing 18th in 18:21, Brandon Beachy finishing 19th in 18:22, Denver Waclawski finishing 24th in 18:57, Jaime Rios finishing 36th in 19:23 and Elan Carroll finishing 51st in 20:29.
“Our goal was to keep up with Grace Christian,” said Brant. “I guess (their) finish was a little better.”
Grace Christian runner Zach Young crossed the finish line in third place with a time of 17:08. His teammate Trent Fritzel finished fifth with a time of 17:40, a narrow two seconds in front of Brant.
Brant, a sophomore, began competing in cross country as an eighth grader at Homer Middle School. He estimated the longest distance he’s run is eight miles.
“There’s not too many sports that get as hard as running does,” he said. “It takes a lot of mental strength to just keep going up a hill, to push past that next guy and sprint at the end. There’s nothing quite like running hard, going as long and hard as you possibly can.”
He attributed his love of the sport to his father, who lives in Oregon.
“He raced a lot of bike races and was all about never giving up and keeping on going,” said Brant. “That’s where I got that mentality.”
Steyer said the 2014 cross-country season is proving to be “a record year, a terrific season. So far, it’s coming together.” Looking to this weekend’s competition in Seward, he added, “We won’t assume anything, though, and we’ve got three more weeks of competition before state.”
Absent from the Palmer Invitational, Seward is “kind of keeping under the radar,” said Steyer. “They have a couple of pretty fast girls. I’m aware of that. So, we’re not taking them lightly.”
Also competing at the Seward meet on Friday will be Soldotna.
“They look pretty powerful,” said Steyer. “Soldotna has four girls on that team that formed the fastest 4-by-800 track squad last year. They’re really pretty impressive. That’s what makes up the core of their cross-country team.”
Colony, Kenai, Kodiak and Nikolaevsk also are expected to compete in Seward.
Brant is hoping Grace Christian also will be in Seward.
“We beat Anchorage Christian (in Palmer) and that was a big deal for us. That was pretty cool. We just need to at least get one more Grace Christian guy,” said Brant.
Making it more personal, he added, “I need to beat that guy.”
Three Nikolaevsk runners competed in Palmer on Saturday. Jonah Fefelov ran in junior varsity. Megan Hickman finished 41st with a time of 24:45. For the boys, Greg Trail finished 26th with a time of 19:00.
“All three runners did very well,” said Head Coach Steve Klaich. “Greg had a season best time.”
Following the Seward Invitational this week, Homer holds 5-kilometer time trial Sept. 20. Region competition will be held in Kodiak on Sept. 27, with state competition in Anchorage a week later. The top four teams from the region advance to state.
Predicting possible state outcomes, Brant said he believed the Mariner XC boys varsity team can “definitely be in the top two. If we have a bad race, we’ll take third. But I believe if our freshmen can pick up their game and me, too, of course, and the boys varsity, I think we can beat Grace. It would definitely be cool to take first.”
Class 1-2-3A Results
Michael Janacek Trails, Sept. 6
Girls varsity team results: 1. Homer, 24; 2. Grace, 46; 3. Bethel, 110; 4. ACS, 119; 5. Hutchison, 122; 6. Barrow, 138; 7. Unalaska, 158; 8. Eielson, 183.
Girls varsity individual results (southern Kenai Peninsula): 2. Megan Pitzman, Homer, 19:52; 3. Molly Mitchell, Homer, 20:07; 5. Aurora Waclawski, Homer, 20:18; 10. Ziza Shemet Pitch, Homer, 21:03; 11. Alex Mosley, Homer, 21:03; 12. Lauren Evarts, Homer, 21:03; 41. Megan Hickman, Nikolaevsk, 24:45.
Boys team results: 1. Grace Christian, 36; 2. Homer, 61; 3. Galena, 102; 4. Unalaska, 109; 5. ACS, 112; 6. Barrow, 141; 7. Monroe, 209; 8. Bethel, 215; 9. Delta, 216; 10. Eielson, 216.
Boys varsity individual results (southern Kenai Peninsula): 6. Jared Brant, Homer, 17:42; 11. Jordan Beachy, Homer, 17:54; 18. Jacob Davis, Homer, 18:21; 19. Brandon Beachy, Homer, 18:22; 24. Denver Waclawski, Homer, 18:57; 26. Greg Trail, Nikolaevsk, 19:00 ; 36. Jaime Rios, Homer, 19:23; 51. Elan Carroll, Homer, 20:29; 89.