Both the temperatures and Kenai Peninsula athletes were sizzling Friday and Saturday at the Division I and II state track and field meet at Dimond High School.
The peninsula took home 11 titles at the meet, with champions going back to six different schools.
This senior group lost a sophomore season to the pandemic and had a stop-and-start junior year due to the pandemic, but found a way to finish strong. With three relay crowns included in the mix, 13 seniors won titles, including 11 stepping atop the podium for the first time. In all, 14 peninsula athletes topped a results list at state for the first time.
The titles ranged from expected, to redemption, to a shocking performance, to learned how to do the event on YouTube a few weeks ago.
The Division I team titles went to the Chugiak girls and Wasilla boys, with the Soldotna girls taking fifth and the Soldotna boys taking sixth.
The Division II team titles went to the Anchorage Christian girls and Grace Christian boys. For the girls, Kenai was third, Seward was fourth, Homer was fifth and Nikiski was ninth. For the boys, Homer was second, Kenai was third, Seward was ninth, Nikolaevsk was 11th, and Cook Inlet Academy and Nikiski were tied for 17th.
Here’s a look at each of the titles:
Kenai boys 400- and 800-meter relays
The team of James Sparks, Tyler Hippchen, Jacob Begich and Reagan Graves got some redemption after coming into state last year ranked first in the 400-meter relay only to finish fourth on a rainy day.
The four teamed up to run 46.26 seconds in the Division II 400 relay to top the 46.69 of runner-up Valdez, then finish the 800 relay in 1:36.50 to top the 1:37.68 of Homer. Sparks, Hippchen and Begich are seniors, while Graves is a junior. All won state titles for the first time.
“To come back this year knowing and trusting in each other’s abilities to be able to get that first place in two relays is very, very special,” Begich said. “It means a lot going out in the last race like this.”
While Kenai was a favorite to win the 400-meter relay all season long, Graves said the four didn’t put together an 800-meter relay until early in the week.
“We had so much chemistry that honestly, I didn’t think we would lose,” Sparks said. “We’ve been doing this for two years now.”
Hippchen said the group was not about to let the weather affect things again.
“It was a battle against the weather,” he said. “It’s so hot today. So I think the name of the game was staying cool. We stayed cool physically. And we stayed cool up in our heads and just performed.”
Soldotna girls 3,200 relay
Relay success can sometimes seemingly come out of nowhere, even though coaches have been planning it the entire season. That was the case for SoHi coach Phil Leck and the team of Ellie Burns, Annie Burns, Jordan Ruffner and Jordan Strausbaugh.
At the Region 3/Division I meet, Leck was going for as many points as possible, with the Stars winning the region title. He put Megan Whittom and Kaidence Shaeffer with Ellie Burns and Ruffner and the group won and qualified for state at 10:40.82.
Saturday, Leck shuffled Strausbaugh and Annie Burns into the relay and the group ran together for the first time all year and won at 10:00.42, with Juneau-Douglas Yadda.at Kale second at 10:06.96.
It was the first state title for everybody on the team. Ellie Burns, Strausbaugh and Ruffner are seniors, while Annie Burns is a freshman.
“It was a really cool feeling for all of us,” Strausbaugh said. “I was definitely really happy at the end of the race.”
That race began a taxing day for Strausbaugh. She finished third in the 1,600 with a PR, second in the 800 with a PR and helped the 1,600 relay to fourth.
In the 800, Strausbaugh took the lead on Chugiak’s Addison Capozzi on the backstretch, but Capozzi kicked late to a 2:19.85, while Strausbaugh was at 2:20.19.
“I should have waited a little longer,” Strausbaugh said of taking the lead. “It’s hard to keep the top spot when you don’t know where the girls are behind you. I thought I was way ahead but she was gaining on me.”
Dylan Dahlgren, discus
The Soldotna senior was the heavy favorite coming into the Friday Division I event. He threw 160—9 to win, while Lathrop’s Keegan Laughlin was second at 142—9.
Dahlgren said he opened up at 159. With nobody approaching that, he spent his next throws trying to better his PR and school record of 162—11.
Dahlgren also had the top mark in the shot put coming into the meet. Saturday, he put up a 52—9, just short of his PR of 53—10. In the finals, though, Eric Kolomeychuk of Wasilla threw 53—4.5 to relegate Dahlgren to second. Kolomeychuk’s previous best this season was 50—2.5.
“It was a bomb for him,” Dahlgren said.
The SoHi senior isn’t about to complain about one state title because he knows how hard they are to achieve.
“It’s been a dream for me since my freshman year,” he said. “Last year, I had a shot, but I performed abysmally. So to come out this year, get that first one, and know I had it, feels great.”
Rylee Ellis, long jump
After leaping 15—10.75 on April 30, the Nikiski senior had the top Division II jump in the state for the entire season.
Then she almost didn’t make state after a disastrous performance at regions meant she didn’t even make finals and had a mark of 13—5.75. That mark was just enough to get her into state, though, and the rest is history.
“We got the call on Monday saying they’re gonna let me jump because my jump was better than some that were going,” Ellis said. “I just took this week to practice and really get my mark down.
“I knew I could win state. I had the top mark all season. So it was really cool to do that.”
Ellis won at 15—9 on Friday, while Redington’s Mya Campbell was second at 15—6. Ellis also has a state relay title to her credit from last season.
She nearly added a third, finishing second in the 800 by running 2:33.94 to the 2:33.46 of Sitka’s Clare Mullin.
Caleb Evans, long jump
The Homer senior came up with something miraculous Friday when his back was against the wall.
“I scratched my first one and my second one and then for my third one I knew I had to literally do or die, I guess,” Evans said. “And then I just did.”
He came up with a leap of 19—11 to win the Division II event, quite an improvement on his previous best of 18—7. Even though he finished second at 19—2.25, Seward senior Tommy Cronin even got a kick out of the moment.
“He just popped off a big jump,” Cronin said. “I’m super stoked for him.”
Evans said getting this title as a senior makes it even more special. It’s the only long jump he won all season.
“That was my magnum opus, quite literally, because this is my senior year,” he said.
Izzy Fisk, shot put
The Homer senior doesn’t have nearly the same flair for the dramatic as fellow Mariners senior Evans. After all, Fisk on Friday waited until her second last chance in the Division II shot put to launch the PR that got her a first state title.
“I won boroughs and regions but when I went into finals I was sitting in third so I was kind of nervous that, that was where I was going to stay,” Fisk said. “On the second throw of finals, I dialed in my stuff and it kind of clicked and I got a PR by 14 inches.”
Fisk threw 33—4.25 to top the 32—0 of Kenai Central’s Denali Bernard.
Fisk finished seventh in the state as a freshman, but then the pandemic interrupted her career as a sophomore. Fisk then didn’t go out as a junior as the pandemic continued to be a factor and she had to help her mother move.
Despite all of it, she came through when it counted.
“It was just kind of, I know what I wanted,” she said. “I focused on what I wanted, and everything just kind of came together.”
Tommy Cronin, triple jump
After winning the Division II long jump and triple jump last season, the Seward senior was able to secure another triple jump crown Saturday.
Cronin had the meet won going into his last jump, so he took aim at the 2009 school record leap of 41—9.25 by Travis Price. Cronin just missed, going 41—7.75.
“It feels really good after getting second place in long jump,” Cronin said. “Super good.”
Adarra Hagelund, high jump
The Soldotna senior won a Division I title in her first year out for track.
“To be honest, if she started as a freshman she’d probably be threatening the state record,” SoHi coach Leck said of the 5—9 of Chugiak’s Emma Nelson. “She has some very raw ability.”
Both Hagelund and Dimond’s Delaney Fagerstrom had personal best jumps of 5—1, but Fagerstrom had more misses.
Hagelund, who was also fifth in the triple jump, said she never expected to be a state champion when she went out for track this year. Coming into the meet, she was just hoping to get on the podium.
“I don’t know how I did it,” she said. “It helps that I’m 6-foot.”
Justin Trail, high jump
Unbelievably, the Nikolaevsk senior did Hagelund one better. Trail won the Division II high jump Friday despite starting his track and field career at the last possible minute. He jumped 6—0 to top the 5—10 of Matt Sanders of Anchorage Christian.
“I didn’t have a whole bunch of time to practice,” Trail said. “I started exactly 10 practices before the borough meet. When I first started, it basically looked like I was just sitting over the bar.
“Then I watched a couple YouTube videos and trained in the gym. And that’s all I did.”
Trail, who also finished fifth in the long jump and triple jump at state, was impressive enough at that borough meet two weeks away from the state meet that SoHi coach Leck said Trail had the talent to win a state title. Turns out Leck was right.
“It was crazy,” Trail said. “I didn’t think I would do this. I thought there was guys that would do a lot better than I was going to do.”
Trail was a starter on the Ninilchik boys basketball team that went undefeated this season. The Wolverines played at the Class 2A level, but swept all peninsula competition, including 4A Soldotna.
Trail was not the only great athlete on the team, with 5-foot-8 Landon Colburn able to throw down dunks during a game. Trail said he would have loved to see some of his teammates try track, particularly Colburn, but they were all doing their own thing.
“It would have been crazy to see, especially long jump,” Trail said of Colburn. “I think he would have soared for that one.”
Greg Fallon, 800
It’s no mistake Fallon is the last athlete mentioned on this list. The Kenai sophomore was the last peninsula athlete to win a state title Saturday, and he waited until the last 50 meters to pass Homer junior Seamus McDonough for the win.
Fallon stopped the clock with a PR of 2:01.42, while McDonough had a PR of 2:01.50.
Going into the region meet last week, Fallon’s best 800 was 2:07.67. He dropped to 2:03.16 at regions before another big drop Saturday.
“I was just going for top three, to be honest,” Fallon said. “It was my last race of the season, so I put it all out.”
He said his first state title has left him wanting to break 2 minutes in the 800, and improve at 400 and 1,600. He will have a rival in McDonough, who also was third in the 1,600, second in the 3,200 and second in the 1,600 relay.
Fallon had not defeated McDonough in the 800 going into the meet.
“I didn’t know if I could catch him, but I knew I’d be mad if I didn’t try,” Fallon said. “So I tried everything I could, and it happened.”
Division I and II state track and field meet
at Dimond High School on Friday, Saturday
Division I team scores
Girls — 1. Chugiak, 71; 2. South, 66.5; 3. Juneau, 51; 4. West Valley, 46; 5. Soldotna, 45; 6. East, 44; 7. Thunder Mountain, 38; 8. Palmer, 36; 9. Dimond, 28; 10. Lathrop, 27; 11. West, 26; 12. Wasilla, 25; 13. Colony, 24; 14. Ketchikan, 20; 15. Eagle River, 12; 16 (tie). Bartlett, Service, 9.
Boys — 1. Wasilla, 82; 2. West Valley, 69; 3. Dimond, 59; 4. Chugiak, 51; 5. South, 40; 6. Soldotna, 39; 7. Lathrop, 38; 8. Eagle River, 33; 9. Bartlett, 30; 10. East, 27; 11. Service, 24; 12. Colony, 23; 13. Kodiak, 16; 14. West, 14; 15. Palmer, 11; 16. Thunder Mountain, 10; 17. Juneau, 8; 18. Ketchikan, 4.
Division II team scores
Girls — 1. Anchorage Christian, 113; 2. Sitka, 75; 3. Kenai, 53; 4. Seward, 46; 5. Homer, 43; 6. Valdez, 32.5; 7. Su Valley, 31; 8. Haines, 30.5; 9. Nikiski, 28; 10. Monroe Catholic, 27; 11. Redington, 23; 12. Tri-Valley, 16; 13. Grace, 15; 14. Eielson, 13.5; 15 (tie). Houston, Hutchison, 10; 17. Glennallen, 4; 18. Bethel, 1.
Boys — 1. Grace Christian, 113; 2. Homer, 79; 3. Kenai, 64; 4. Anchorage Christian, 60; 5. Valdez, 57; 6. Redington, 30; 7. Haines, 25; 8. Sitka, 23; 9. Seward, 21; 10. Eielson, 18; 11 (tie). Houston, Nikolaevsk, 16; 13. Petersburg, 14; 14. Su Valley, 13; 15 (tie). Hutchison, Monroe Catholic, 10; 17 (tie). Cook Inlet Academy, Nikiski, 3; 19 (tie). Bethel, Delta Junction, 1.
Kenai Peninsula athletes in top 6 at state
Cook Inlet Academy — 5. Grizzly Beard, discus, 130—10.
Homer — 6, Elijah Gordon, Hom, 55.10; 2, Seamus McDonough, 800, 2:01.50; 3, Seamus McDonough, 1,600, 4:27.20; 2, Seamus McDonough, 3,200, 9:39.34; 3. Aiden Brost, 110 hurdles, 17.35; 5. Caleb Evans, 110 hurdles, 17.84; 2, boys 1,600 relay, 3:40.66; 5, 1,600 relay, 9:37.32; 3. Ryan Carroll, high jump, 5—8; 1, Caleb Evans, long jump, 19—11; 5, Alana Prescott, 200, 28.60; 3, Gracie Miotke, 100 hurdles, 17.81; 2, girls 400 relay, 53.96; 2, girls 800 relay, 1:56.50; 4, girls 1,600 relay, 4:38.77; 1, Izzy Fisk, shot put, 33—4.25; 6, Auden Cress, discus, 91—4; 6, Lance Parkinson, unified 100, 37.75; 5, Lance Parkinson, unified shot put, 12—.5; 5, Elijah Gordon, unified partner shot put, 28—7.25; 6, Aiden Brost, unified partner shot put, 23—11.5; 4. Albert Freeman, unified long jump, 8—6; 1, Caleb Evans, unified partner high jump, 18—5; 4, Stella Dye, unified 100, 24.34; 5, McKenna Black, unified partner 100, 17.02; 4, Stella Dye, unified shot put, 9—11.75; 1, Izzy Fisk, unified partner shot put, 28–11.5; 4, Stella Dye, unified long jump, 3–1.25; 1, Brightly Thoning, unified partner long jump, 13—10.75.
Kenai Central — 2, Jacob Begich, 100, 11.75; 2, Jacob Begich, 200, 23.84; 1, Greg Fallon, 800, 2:01.42; 5. Matthew Krol, 300 hurdles, 46.21; 1, boys 400 relay (Jacob Begich, James Sparks, Tyler Hippchen, Reagan Graves), 46.26; 1, boys 800 relay (Jacob Begich, James Sparks, Tyler Hippchen, Reagan Graves), 1:36.50; 6. boys 1,600 relay, 3:46.81; 4, 3,200 relay, 9:37.32; 4. John Wright, discus, 137—0; 4, Tyler Hippchen, long jump, 19—.25; 3, Malena Grieme, 100, 13.58; 4, girls 400 relay, 55.36; 6, girls 1,600 relay, 4:40.37; 2, girls 3,200 relay, 10:33.84; 2, Denali Bernard, shot put, 32—0; 3, Emma Beck, shot put, 31—9.5; 5, Emma Beck, discus, 93—8; 3, Malena Grieme, long jump, 15—3.25; 4. Emilee Wilson, long jump, 15—.25; 5. Malerie Nunn, triple jump, 30—7.25; 6. Emilee Wilson, triple jump, 30—4.
Nikiski — 6. Braeden Porter, shot put, 36—7.25; 3, Savanna Stock, 400, 1:03.76; 2, Rylee Ellis, 800, 2:33.94; 4, girls 800 relay, 1:58.40; 1, Rylee Ellis, long jump, 15—9.
Nikolaevsk — 1. Justin Trail, high jump, 6—0; 5, Justin Trail, long jump, 18—9; 5. Justin Trail, triple jump, 38—4.
Seward — 5, Tommy Cronin, high jump, 5—8; 2, Tommy Cronin, long jump, 19—2.25; 1, Tommy Cronin, triple jump, 41—7.75; 5, Shelby Sieminski, 800, 2:38.46; 2, Hailey Ingalls, 1,600, 5:35.24; 2, Hailey Ingalls, 3,200, 12:03.60; 5, girls 1,600 relay, 4:39.02; 3, girls 3,200 relay, 10:45.83; 4, Hailey Anderson, shot put, 30—10.5; 3. Hailey Anderson, discus, 96—6; 2, Robin Cronin, triple jump, 33—3.75.
Soldotna — 6, Nate Johnson, 400, 52.97; 4. Nate Johnson, 800, 2:02.23; 4, Wayne Mellon, 17.30; 4, boys 800 relay, 1:33.88; 4, 1,600 relay, 3:35.69; 2, Dylan Dahlgren, shot put, 52—9; 6, Kevin Steger, shot put, 45—3.75; 1, Dylan Dahlgren, discus, 160—9; 2, Jordan Strausbaugh, 800, 2:20.19; 3, Jordan Strausbaugh, 1,600, 5:18.93; 6, Anaulie Sedivy, 300 hurdles, 51.02; 4, girls 1,600 relay, 4:17.60; 1, girls 3,200 relay (Jordan Ruffner, Annie Burns, Ellie Burns, Jordan Strausbaugh), 10:00.42; 1, Adarra Hagelund, high jump, 5—1; 6, Katelyn Morrison, high jump, 4—10; 5, Adarra Hagelund, triple jump, 33—2.