The smoke was mildly annoying. The hills were anything but.
The cross-country season on the Kenai Peninsula kicked off Monday with the Nikiski Class Races at the abruptly hilly Nikiski Community Trails at Nikiski High School.
The expansion of the Swan Lake Fire over the weekend filtered some smoke through the air, but none of the athletes said the air affected their race.
The fire did keep Seward’s cross-country team from attending the race, and also prevented numerous athletes who had been traveling over the weekend from returning to the central Kenai Peninsula.
Soldotna, Homer, Kenai Central and Nikiski were able to attend. Soldotna took the freshmen-sophomore girls title, the junior-senior boys title and the junior-senior girls title. The Kardinals won the freshman-sophomore boys title.
The individual race winners all snatched victory at the Class Races for the first time. Soldotna senior Bradley Walters won the boys junior-senior race, Soldotna junior Erika Arthur won the girls junior-senior race, Kenai sophomore Joe Hamilton won the freshman-sophomore boys race and Kenai sophomore Logan Satathite won the freshman-sophomore girls race.
Both Walters and Arthur were signed up for the Mount Marathon junior race on July 4 in Seward. That race was canceled due to smoke from the same Swan Lake Fire, but Walters and Arthur were among a group that decided to run the race anyway.
“The smoke didn’t bother me at Mount Marathon, and it also didn’t bother me today,” Walters said.
Walters cruised to victory with the fastest time of the day at 17 minutes, 53 seconds, while senior teammate Lance Chilton, who also ran the Mount Marathon junior bandit race, was second at 19:02.
With a heavy work schedule, Walters dialed back his training a bit this summer, but he said his speed is still about where it was coming into the season last year. He said he feels a bit fresher heading into the season, and hopes that leads to more improvement.
“It’s nice to win a race,” Walters said. “It’s probably the only one I’ll win all year. I’m happy with it.”
Arthur said the smoke Monday was pretty awful, but said Mount Marathon was a lot worse. She won in 23:38 in a junior-senior race where seven of the eight runners were from Soldotna. Soldotna senior Cameron Blackwell was next at 24:28.
Since track season, Arthur has been nursing a hip injury. This summer, she was training hard under a program written for her by Allie Ostrander, a 2015 Kenai Central graduate who went on to a decorated career at Boise State and now is a professional runner.
But three weeks ago, Arthur had an MRI taken of the hip and discovered a stress fracture. She took two weeks off and only did some light running the past week, with Monday a big test day for the hip. Arthur was excited that the hip felt good enough to run Saturday at the Tsalteshi Invite.
“I was working hard today,” she said. “My teammates definitely pushed me. We’ll be pushing each other all season.”
Hamilton ran 18:54 to best the 19:22 of runner-up Nathan Haakenson, a Kenai sophomore. Ostrander, who ran a 17:31 in the Class Races as a senior, also wrote out a summer training plan for Hamilton.
“She worked out a weekly training plan and I’ve been doing it all summer,” Hamilton said. “Practicing with the team and coaches also helped.”
From following Ostrander’s plan, he learned that cross-country is not just about speed. He said an endurance base also is important.
“It’s crazy,” he said of having his training plan written by a three-time winner of the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA outdoor meet. “I’m so grateful for that.”
The Kenai boys team was not at full strength because some key runners did not have enough practices and others were stuck on the wrong side of Cooper Landing. Hamilton said they’ll be good when they all get together.
“I think our boys team has a chance at winning state,” he said. “We have a lot of really fast boys. A lot of them trained hard this summer and a few of them did the Allie O. thing.”
The Kenai girls did win state last season but lost a few key runners off that squad. Satathite said the Kards still have a lot of talent. She won at 22:28, while Soldotna sophomore Jordan Strausbaugh was next at 23:04.
“This year, our team is still strong enough to compete in state,” Satathite said. “I hope we all have the mind-set to train hard, but how we will do is still up in the air.”
Last year as a freshman, Satathite was sixth in the freshman-sophomore girls race.
“It was all new to me,” she said. “I didn’t train as much this summer, but I trained enough. We started practice earlier this year and that helped.”
Nikiski Class Races
Monday at Nikiski High School
Freshmen/sophomore girls — 1. Logan Satathite, Kenai, 22 minutes, 28 seconds; 2. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 23:04; 3. Summer Foster, Ken, 24:41; 4. Ellie Burns, Sol, 26:15; 5. Jordan Ruffner, Sol, 27:12; 6. Rhys Cannava, Sol, 27:57; 7. Carson Dement, Sol, 28:00; 8. Kaidence Schaeffer, Sol, 28:52; 9. Mariah McGuire, Hom, 29:14; 10. Haylee Overson, Hom, 29:18; 11. Leah Evans, Hom, 29:55; 12. Gabriella Tews, Ken, 30:15; 13. Emmy Reese, Sol, 33:20.
Team champ: Soldotna.
Freshmen/sophomore boys — 1. Joe Hamilton, Ken, 18:54; 2. Nathan Haakenson, Ken, 19:22; 3. Maleda Denbrock, Sol, 19:50; 4. Quinn Cox, Sol, 20:32; 5. Avery Willets, Sol, 20:41; 6. Ky Calvert, Ken, 20:59; 7. Zekari Schwartz, Sol, 21:02; 8. Devin Wise, Hom, 21:26; 9. Owen Pitzman, Hom, 21:36; 10. Seamus McDonough, Hom, 21:43; 11. Tytus Gilbert, Sol, 21:48; 12. Trenton Boots, Sol, 22:37; 13. Johann Carranza, Ken, 22:59; 14. Saiyan Baker, Sol, 24:07; 15. Carter Cannava, Sol, 24:08; 16. Ben Boersma, Ken, 26:02; 17. Andrew Cox, Sol, 27:12; 18. Justin Hansen, Sol, 27:19; 19. Caleb Evans, Hom, 27:36; 20. Ryan Crapps, Ken, 30:12; 21. Carter Kincaid, Sol, 33:26; 22. Ethan Hogue, Sol, 33:36; 23. Nico Walker, Ken, 38:13.
Team champ: Kenai.
Junior/senior girls — 1. Erika Arthur, Sol, 23:38; 2. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 24:28; 3. Ryann Cannava, Sol, 24:29; 4. Isabella Dammeyer, Sol, 25:21; 5. Katie Delker, Sol, 25:57; 6. Kara Super, Hom, 27:11; 7. Abby Radeck, Sol, 28:15; 8. Ree’Lynn Lisenby, Sol, 34:34.
Team champ: Soldotna.
Junior/senior boys — 1. Bradley Walters, Sol, 17:53; 2. Lance Chilton, Sol, 19:02; 3. Anchor Musgrave, Sol, 19:45; 4. Tucker Mueller, Ken, 20:16; 5. Jack Harris, Sol, 20:50; 6. Sean Babitt, Sol, 20:51; 7. Josh Foster, Ken, 21:53; 8. Wyatt Dement, Sol, 23:32; 9. Bryan McCollum, Nik, 24:01; 10. Matthew Grybowski, Ken, 25:45; 11. Gavin Brennan, Sol, 26:50; 12. Boden Quiner, Nik, 27:33; 13. Dylan Hogue, Sol, 27:56.