Hats off to the Homer Mariner varsity girls cross country team who just earned the 2014 123A state championship crown at competition in Anchorage on Saturday. The boys team secured a hard-earned third-place state finish.
“The girls rocked it,” said Head Coach Bill Steyer. “They had great times, great performances.”
Team Captain Molly Mitchell, a junior, said the Mariner girls’ performance on the course “was pretty indicative of our team. We all came through and had really strong races and are really focused on the team, not so much individuals.”
Sophomore Megan Pitzman, the first Mariner to cross the finish line and only a slim eight seconds behind first-place finisher Briahna Gerlach of Glennallen, credited the team’s hard work and the efforts of Head Coach Bill Steyer.
“Our whole team has been working really hard. We trained through the summer. And (Steyer) believed we could do it by looking at all the other times teams were running,” said Pitzman. “Once the season started and we were racing, as the season progressed, we knew we could do it, too.”
The Homer girls had a team score of 29, a comfortable margin ahead of Seward’s 68. In a field of 113 varsity girl runners, Pitzman had an overall second-place finish of 18:58; Mitchell had a fourth-place finish with a time of 19:14; Aurora Waclawski was in ninth with 20:34; Alex Mosley in 11th with 20:37; Lauren Evarts in 15th with 21:01; Ziza Shemet Pitcher in 19th with 21:07; and Haley Knott in 29th with 21:57.
“All seven of them had performances that we were looking for across the board. Everybody executed the perfect race,” said Steyer.
Before the team got to Saturday’s start, each one had a target finish time and knew which runners they needed to finish ahead of.
“We worked on a lot of visualization and mental preparation,” said Steyer. “All the physical training was done before last week. We just needed to think about what we needed to do and discuss it, and they were masterful in their execution.”
It’s been 14 years since the Mariner girls last won the 123A state cross-country title. Pitzman’s aunt, Jennifer, was captain of that winning team.
“Jen is an involved supporter of Megan’s athletics,” said Pitzman’s mother, Stephanie. “She’s helping her keep moving in the off-season this year by signing Meg up for her first half marathon in January.”
Reflecting on last year’s state meet, Pitzman said with runners in front of her and runners behind her, she hadn’t pushed herself as much as this year.
“This year I was running with girls next to me and it definitely improved my time,” she said.
During the first half of the race, Pitzman found herself in the company of Gerlach and Taylee Nyquest of Thorne Bay. At the end of the first lap, Pitzman and Gerlach moved to the front of the pack.
“The hardest moment was probably the last big uphill at the end of the race. Once we got over the top, that’s when (Gerlach) pulled away from me,” said Pitzman. “It seemed like the hill was never-ending.”
Nyquest crossed the finish line 11 seconds after Pitzman.
The biggest challenge for Mitchell came before the race.
“We were going in there with a pretty good shot at getting state, but all of us that morning were like, ‘But what if this happens? What if that happens?’ That was the scariest part,” she said. “But you just have to say, ‘No, we’re going to do it.’”
Mitchell wasn’t the only one affected by pre-race jitters.
“As the coach, I was nervous before the race,” said Steyer. “Everybody was expecting us to win and it’s hard to be in that position. The girls dealt with it pretty well, though. They were a little nervous, understandably, but they rose to the occasion.”
Also rising to the occasion were the Mariner boys, a team comprised of freshman and sophomores with the exception of Brandon Beachy, a senior.
“They all did exceptionally. Everybody ran best races,” said Steyer.
The Grace Christian boys team took first with 61 points, Seward was second with 63 and Homer was third with 94. Galena’s Kaleb Korta had the fastest individual time of the 129 varsity boys running, finishing in 16:35. Homer’s Jared Brant was the first Mariner boy across the finish line, in seventh place with a time of 17:20; Jordan Beachy was in 17th with 17:50; Jacob Davis in 27th with 18:14; Brandon Beachy in 32nd with 18:24; Jaime Rios in 46th with 18:45; Denver Waclawski in 51st with 18:50; and Elan Carroll in 77th with 19:30.
“(Brant) had an outstanding run,” said Steyer. “That’s a real good time for a sophomore. He just has a lot of natural talent and I’m hoping to see some exceptional things out of him in the future.”
Steyer noted that Jordan Beachy has continued to be a top-placing freshman runner during the season and Davis’s hard work has made him a top third- or fourth-place team finisher.
“He has all the tools to be a great runner,” said Steyer.
While this year’s boys team is mostly new, the girls team is weighted with a core of juniors that have a history of running together year round. Their championship “was a good demonstration of how hard the girls have been working. Their dedication and time over the past three years is proof of what they can become,” said Steyer.
He sees the same possibility for the boys.
“I’m super excited about their potential in the future,” said Steyer. “I firmly believe these boys can be at the same level real soon if they continue to be dedicated. It might have to be in the off-season and they know that. That’s what it takes.”
With the championship title secured on Saturday, Mitchell’s plans for Sunday were to catch up on homework and “probably do some napping.” Pitzman also was spending the day getting some rest. Steyer was already talking about the 2015 cross-country season.
“We’ve got some guys on JV that have the potential to move up and some freshmen coming out of middle school next year,” he said.
Nikolaevsk hasn’t had enough cross-country runners to make a full team, but Head Coach Steve Klaich and his three runners have consistently competed in meets. In Saturday’s race, Greg Trail’s finish time put him in 31st place with a time of 18:23, while his teammate, Jonah Fefelov, crossed the finish line less than two minutes later in 98th with a time of 20:17. Having been plagued with shin splints throughout the season, Megan Hickman finished 79th in the state meet with a time of 24.18.
“The Nikolaevsk runners, three juniors, had very solid showings at the state cross-country meet,” said Head Coach Steve Klaich. “I am very pleased with their effort and the results from the ASAA state cross-country meet. Greg Trail had an especially good run.”
With the cross-country season at an end, Nikolaevsk now moves on to mixed six coed volleyball for high school students. Middle school students begin their basketball season.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.
2014 ASAA State XC Championships
123A Varsity Girls and Boys
Oct. 4 – Anchorage
Teams (girls): 1. Homer, 29; 2. Seward, 68; 3. Grace Christian, 108; 4. ACS, 126; 5. Mt. Edgecumbe, 143; 6. Petersburg, 158; 7. Wrangell, 188; 8. Barrow, 206; 9. Hutchison, 219; 10. Bethel, 229; 11. Unalaska, 285; 12. Eielson, 304.
Individuals (girls, southern Kenai Peninsula): 2. Megan Pitzman, Homer, 18:58; 4. Molly Mitchell, Homer, 19:14; 9. Aurora Waclawski, Homer, 20:34; 11. Alex Mosley, Homer, 20:37; 15. Lauren Evarts, Homer, 21:01; 19. Aziza Shemet Pitcher, Homer, 21:07; 29. Haley Knott, Homer, 21:57; 79. Megan Hickman, Nikolaevsk, 24:18.
Teams (boys): 1. Grace Christian, 61; 2. Seward, 63; 3. Homer, 94; 4. Galena, 105; 5. Sitka, 121; 6. ACS, 134; 7. Unalaska, 165; 8. Nome, 196; 9. Petersburg, 238; 10. Monroe, 287; 11. Chevak, 291; 12. Craig, 329; 13. Effie Kokrine (Fairbanks), 398.
Individuals (boys, southern Kenai Peninsula): 7. Jared Brant, Homer, 17:20; 17. Jordan Beachy, Homer, 17:50; 27. Jacob Davis, Homer, 18:14; 31. Greg Trail, Nikolaevsk, 18:23; 32. Brandon Beachy, Homer, 18:24; 46. Jaime Rios, Homer, 18:45; 51. Denver Waclawski, Homer, 18:50; 77. Elan Carroll, Homer, 19:30; 98. Jonah Fefelov, Nikolaevsk, 20:17.