The Kenai Central cross-country team got off to a quick start Monday at the season-opening Nikiski Class Races at Nikiski High School.
The Kardinals claimed victory in three of the four races, with junior Jayna Boonstra winning the junior-senior girls race, sophomore Jack Laker winning the freshmen-sophomore boys race and sophomore Emilee Wilson winning the freshmen-sophomore girls race.
There were no team scores kept at the meet that also included Homer, Soldotna and Nikiski, but Kenai showed depth in addition to having the individual winners. In the junior-senior girls race, the Kards took three of the top four spots.
The freshmen-sophomore boys race saw Kenai take four of the top five, while three of the top five runners in the junior-senior girls race wore Kenai uniforms.
Homer junior Seamus McDonough broke Kenai’s hegemony by winning the junior-senior boys race.
Boonstra, the Division II state cross-country champ from a year ago, won for the second straight time at the Nikiski Class Races, clocking 21 minutes, 14 seconds. Soldotna senior Jordan Strausbaugh took the early lead in the race, but ended up second at 22:12 on the 5K course that includes many sharp uphills and downhills
“I passed her on the second big hill,” Boonstra said. “I think hills are my strength.”
Boonstra, who finished second in her debut in the Mount Marathon girls race in July, said she feels pressure as the defending state champion, but will focus on good workouts and good recovery.
“I’ll just do the best I can,” she said.
As for her teammates, Boonstra said she’s proud of the way all pushed hard Monday, but said the big goal for the team at state is actually the academic award.
Wilson ran the third fastest girls time of the day to win the freshmen-sophomore girls race. Last year, Wilson ran 24:04 to finish sixth in the race, but dropping her time to 23:03 moved her up to the top of the field.
“I’ve been practicing a lot,” Wilson said. “Practicing those uphills really makes a difference.”
Wilson said she spent the summer running at Tsalteshi Trails and concentrating on the big hills there — Kill Bill and the uphill portions of the Bear and Goat loops.
Soldotna’s Kaytlin McAnelly was second, more than 2 minutes back of Wilson at 25:13. The freshmen-sophomore girls and boys ran together, though, so Wilson had plenty of company, finishing fourth overall.
“I was joking with the guy in front of me that I was going to catch him,” Wilson said.
Laker scored a dominant victory in the freshmen-sophomore race, running the second fastest boys time of the day at 18:57 to win at the Nikiski Class Races for the first time. Soldotna’s Jacob Strausbaugh was second in the freshmen-sophomore race at 21:06.
Although he felt he could have trained more this summer, Laker said doing all five races in the Salmon Run Series — including winning one of them — left him in good shape for Monday.
“There’s a lot of hills in this race,” he said. “It’s a tough race.”
McDonough won at the Nikiski Class Races for the second straight year by continuing to drop his time on the tough course.
As a freshman, he ran 21:43, improved to a 18:36 as a sophomore, then ran 17:53 on Monday. McDonough said he was able to log a lot of running miles in the first half of the summer, then he turned to biking in the second half of the summer as he got more busy.
“It’s a tough course,” he said, adding that he thinks the cross-country course on Ohlsen Mountain outside of Homer is even tougher. “I felt pretty fast. I just wanted to make sure there was a lot of distance between me and everybody else at the end.”
He accomplished that, with Kenai senior Tyler Hippchen coming in second at 19:20.
McDonough said his goal this year is to drop under 17 minutes in a 5K for the first time. After his performance Monday, he thinks that’s possible once he hits some easier courses.
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, the Ted McKenney XC Invitational, formerly the Tsalteshi Invitational, will be held for the first time since 2018. The 2019 event was canceled by wildfire smoke, while the 2020 event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The open girls race is at noon, the open boys race is at 12:45 p.m., the girls varsity race is at 1:30 p.m. and the boys varsity race is at 2:15 p.m.
Nikiski Class Races
Freshmen-sophomore girls race — 1. Emilee Wilson, Ken, 23 minutes, 3 seconds; 2. Kaytlin McAnelly, Sol, 25:13; 3. Emily Moss, Ken, 26:07; 4. Bea McDonough, Hom, 27:16; 5. Mya Taylor, Ken, 28:11; 6. Megan Whittom, Sol, 28:18; 7. Ariana Cannava, Sol, 28:51; 8. Avery Ciufo, Sol, 29:55; 9. Leora McCaughey, Nik, 32:34; 10. Adele Tacey, Sol, 34:02; 11. Brooke Summers, Ken, 34:47; 12. Ainsley Boss-Harmon, Hom, 43:29; 13. Katie Nye, Sol, 48:18.
Freshmen-sophomore boys race — 1. Jack Laker, Ken, 18:57; 2. Jacob Strausbaugh, Sol, 21:06; 3. Robert Carson, 22:56; 4. Elijah Cooper, 26:50; 5. Elliot Hanson, Ken, 33:29; 6. Elias Bouschor, Sol, 35:42; 7. Ollie Boersma, Ken, 36:46; 8. Eli Castro, Ken, 45:27.
Junior-senior girls race — 1. Jayna Boonstra, Ken, 21:14; 2. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 22:12; 3. Summer Foster, Ken, 24:49; 4. Leah Fallon, Ken, 25:01; 5. Eryn Field, Hom, 26:08; 6. Sonia Montague, Sol, 26:12; 7. Mariah McGuire, Hom, 28:17; 8. Ashley Dahlman, Sol, 29:12; 9. Leah Dunn, Hom, 29:32; 10. Maddox Berg, Hom, 29:38.
Junior-senior boys race — 1. Seamus McDonough, Hom, 17:53; 2. Tyler Hippchen, Ken, 19:20; 3. Lance Seneff, Hom, 19:24; 4. Jonathan Gordon, Sol, 19:33; 5. Quinn Cox, Sol, 19:35; 6. Adams Veldstra, Hom, 19:40; 7. Nathanael Johnson, Sol, 20:41; 8. Joe Hamilton, Ken, 20:52; 9. Avery Willets, Sol, 21:17; 10. Garrett Briscoe, Hom, 22:26; 11. George Wright, Ken, 22:43; 12. Andrew Cox, Sol, 24:12; 13. Trenton Boots, Sol, 24:40; 14. Lliam Boss-Harmon, Hom, 25:02; 15. Carter Kincaid, Sol, 33:37.