After falling short in her quest to defend her Division II state cross-country championship last year, Homer’s Autumn Daigle took solace in the fact that Kenai Central senior Jaycie Calvert was able to secure her first state crown with an undefeated 2018 season.
Daigle’s explanation as to why she was OK with losing her title? Calvert’s expectations were higher, and she didn’t want to see the pressure break Calvert.
“I said, ‘Jaycie, this is yours!’” Daigle recounted. “And she was like, ‘OK’, and just started running faster. … I didn’t give up, but I let that one go. I didn’t want to rob the victory from her senior year.”
This year, as a senior with an undefeated streak, Daigle wanted to taste that same success.
The Homer distance ace capped off an undefeated season by winning the Division II girls state championship Saturday at the Bartlett Trails in Anchorage, her second crown in three years, cruising through the 5K course in 19 minutes, 32.3 seconds.
It’s the seventh straight year a Homer girl has graced the podium at state. Megan Pitzman took four straight top-three finishes from 2013 through 2016, and Daigle has appeared there three years in a row.
Grace Christian swept the Division II boys and girls team titles on Saturday. The Grace girls placed four in the top 10 to beat runner-up Kenai Central 42-72. Kenai, the defending team champs, put three in the top 10, led by freshman Jayna Boonstra in fourth, sophomore Leah Fallon in sixth and sophomore Logan Satathite in seventh.
Homer finished fourth in the girls team race with 93 points, while the Seward girls took fifth with 131. Seward was led by freshman Lena Jagielski in 14th, while Homer backed up Daigle’s victory with a 15th-place run by junior Brooke Miller.
The Grace boys won with 32 points, packing all five scoring runners in the top-10, while Seward took second with 81, beating ACS by five points. ACS junior Tristian Merchant blazed to victory in a time of 15:27, beating the field by 65 seconds.
The Kenai boys were fifth with 106 points. Kardinals junior Maison Dunham led the charge in third with a time of 16:41. Dunham’s previous best state finish was sixth in 2018. Seward was led by junior Max Pfeiffenberger in 12th and senior Bjorn Nilsson in 13th.
At the Division I level, the South girls and Dimond boys took home team titles. Dimond dominated the boys race with three in the top five, led by race winner Santiago Prosser. Prosser blazed the course in 15:14.4, beating runner-up Alexander Maurer of Service by 23 seconds.
Soldotna senior Bradley Walters led the peninsula in 44th with a time of 17:39.
The Division I girls race was dominated by West Valley senior Kendall Kramer, who captured her third straight state crown with a smoking time of 17:38.3, the fastest girls Bartlett course time since Allie Ostrander ran 17:06 as a senior in 2014. Kramer said she wasn’t expecting to threaten Ostrander’s course record.
“She’s a whole another breed,” Kramer said.
South nipped West Valley for the team title 57-53, stacking three runners in the top 10 and all five scoring runners in the top 17. The race was one of the fastest in recent memory as 23 girls finished below the 20-minute barrier.
Soldotna sophomore Jordan Strausbaugh led the peninsula in 30th with a time of 20:24, while Region III champion teammate Erika Arthur finished 40th in 20:41.
Haines swept the Division III boys and girls team championships in the first year of the separate division for the smallest schools. Siyel Galindo-George of Haines won the boys race in 16:59, while Nikolaevsk sophomore Justin Trail led the peninsula with a ninth-place result in 17:55.2. Nikolaevsk head coach Steve Klaich praised Trail for setting his own PR by one second.
Haines won the girls race as well with Avery Williamson getting the win in 21:08. Nikolaevsk senior Isabella Hickman finished 39th in 25:21, while senior teammate Sophia Klaich took 53rd in 26:20.
Daigle’s state title comes two years after she won her first. In 2017, Daigle used a last-second surge to outkick Seward senior Ruby Lindquist. The win came as a small shock to Daigle and the running community, which she said was different because the expectations weren’t there.
“In the back of my mind I thought I could do it, but thought it would take a lot,” she said. “This year was different because I haven’t lost a race yet. It was more pressure this year, because everyone’s watching me and expecting me to win.”
With a win streak on the line Saturday, Daigle said she approached the race with a different, more experienced mind-set. She said winning races this year forced her to experiment with a different racing style than she had to become accustomed to.
“I’m not a fan of leading races, but I had to learn how to do that this year,” she said.
In Saturday’s race, Daigle took control of the race in the first kilometer and never looked back. After mixing it up with a group of girls in the opening kilometer, Daigle made her move over Anna Prussian of Sitka as they approached the halfway mark, and took a nine-second lead at the end of 3K. Daigle said Prussian’s presence behind her kept her motivated.
“I didn’t even know she existed,” Daigle said about learning of her competition. “Then my coach gave me a page of all the (top) times and names this morning, and I’m like, ‘Who is that?’”
Daigle also completed the state comeback after an interrupted season of races and practices. The Swan Lake Fire between Sterling and Cooper Landing canceled several meets, including the annual Tsalteshi Invite in August, and Daigle said the team dealt with over two weeks of indoor practices due to the smoke and unhealthy air.
“I definitely felt that today,” she said. “Up the hills, I was dying.”
Behind Daigle, the Kenai girls were celebrating a successful group effort. Boonstra’s debut in fourth place highlighted a big day for the Kardinals, who finished second in the team rankings. Boonstra, 14, said her highest goal was to place top 5, so fourth was a bonus.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Boonstra said. “I definitely didn’t expect it. It’s been a great season.”
Boonstra said her strong family history — her parents both were some of the nation’s top Nordic skiers and older sister Riana is a former Division I runner-up — helped inspire her.
“I don’t feel pressure at all,” Boonstra said. “All my family members definitely set a good example for me. I have someone (Riana) to look up to.”
Fallon followed up an eighth-place result in 2018 with a sixth on Saturday, and said she exceeded her own expectations, which included beating teammate Logan Satathite. Fallon said it was the first time she finished ahead of Satathite.
“I started to pull away on the last downhill,” Fallon said. “And I started kicking it in sooner. I couldn’t feel my legs.”
First-year head coach Bailey Beeson said the Kardinals left everything on the course, which is what she needed as a coach.
“I gave the girls some names and some teams to chase after, and they listened,” Beeson said. “This is the most tired I’ve seen them, so it worked.”
DUNHAM LEADS D2 BOYS
Dunham’s third-place result comes after finishes of sixth and 11th his first two years at state. Kenai’s other scoring runners were sophomore teammate Joe Hamilton in 14th (17:23), freshman Ky Calvert in 26th (18:31), sophomore Luke Cross in 33rd (18:42) and sophomore Tyler Hippchen in 42nd (19:21).
Dunham blazed the course Saturday with a different look, too. The junior ran with his hair dyed red and strung up in multiple braids, which he attributed to the girls on the team. Dunham said he needed some sort of motivation to keep up with the rain-slicked trail.
“Conditions were really bad,” he said. “The course was really mud. It wasn’t that bad, I just stumbled every once in a while.”
While trying to keep up with Merchant was a lost cause, Dunham said Sitka’s Dominic Baciocco provided a good rabbit to chase.
“I was trying to get second,” Dunham said. “(Baciocco) started off ahead of me and I couldn’t make it up. He always had 20 or 30 meters on me.”
SOHI GIRLS MIX IT UP
Strausbaugh led the Stars in the Division I girls race, one week after finishing third at the Region III meet behind teammate Erika Arthur, who won the region meet. Strausbaugh said she was surprised to be running ahead of her friend from the beginning.
“She’s very fast,” Strausbaugh said. “During practices we both run together and push each other. And especially during the race.”
Strausbaugh and Arthur were followed across the line by senior Ryann Cannava in 60th (21:29), sophomore Ellie Burns in 67th (21:54) and sophomore Jordan Ruffner in 69th (22:06).
Strausbaugh finished 16th at state last year as a freshman, but said the slick trails made it difficult to run aggressively.
“I tried pushing it up the hills,” she said. “But I think my problems was I wasn’t pushing it on the downhills or straights.”
The SoHi girls finished seventh out of 10 teams at the Division I level. Stars head coach Ted McKenney said the competition Saturday was among the fiercest he has ever seen.
“A good time for our runners today put us in the 30s in place,” McKenney said. “Our girl runs 16th (last year) and she runs faster this year and finishes 15 places back. The competition is just really tough, coupled with half a season of broken meets and practices.”
WALTERS LEADS D1 BOYS
In the Division I boys race, Walters capped his high school cross-country career with a tough race, after a time of 17:08 put him in 23rd last year.
Saturday, Walters echoed the sentiments of all peninsula teams in that the state race was difficult to peak for after the extended wildfire season.
“Probably just a combination of how the season was going with smoke and bizarre temperatures,” he said. “We missed a lot of hard practices. I tried to go harder but it was a bad race.
“It just feels when I try to go harder, I just can’t. My body stops me.”
Walters was followed across the line by senior teammate Lance Chilton in 74th (18:41), Kaden Matson in 76th (18:47), junior Anchor Musgrave in 78th (18:57), junior Zachary Burns in 79th (18:57) and sophomore Quinn Cox in 80th (18:57).
McKenney attributed the season of smoke and wildfire for setting up a tough challenge for the Stars.
“I’m still proud of them for fighting and working hard,” he said. “Everyone else is ready and we’re just not peaking yet. We need another four weeks.”
Team scores — 1. Grace Christian, 42; 2. Kenai Central, 72; 3. Monroe, 83; 4. Homer, 93; 5. Seward, 131; 6. Sitka, 153; 7. Galena, 173; 8. Kotzebue, 181; 9. Mt. Edgecumbe, 190.
Individual results (top 10) — 1. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 19:32; 2. Anna Prussian, Sit, 19:50; 3. Elise Metzger, Gra, 19:57; 4. Jayna Boonstra, Ken, 20:07; 5. Katie Bast, Mon, 20:33; 6. Leah Fallon, Ken, 20:45; 7. Logan Satathite, Ken, 20:48; 8. Rebekah Annett, Gra, 20:48; 9. Megan Nelson, Gra, 20:58; 10. Sophia Coverdell, Gra, 20:59.
Other peninsula — 14. Lena Jagielski, Sew, 21:26; 15. Brooke Miller, Hom, 21:30; 17. Eryn Field, Hom, 21:41; 24. Hana Cooney, Sew, 22:31; 27. Mikaela Hall, Ken, 22:55; 29. Kara Super, Hom, 23:00; 31. Lucy Hankins, Sew, 23:13; 32. Gabriella Tews, Ken, 23:17; 35. Maranatha Brueckner, Sew, 23:28; 38. Maddox Berg, Hom, 23:40; 39. Aly Guernsey, Sew, 23:42; 46. Gracie Gummer, Hom, 24:32; 47. Leah Dunn, Hom, 24:33;
Team scores — 1. Grace Christian, 32; 2. Seward, 81; 3. ACS, 86; 4. Sitka, 94; 5. Kenai Central, 106; 6. Hutchison, 161; 7. Valdez, 190; 8. Bethel, 195.
Individual results (top 10) — 1. Tristian Merchant, ACS, 15:27; 2. Dominic Baciocco, Sit, 16:32; 3. Maison Dunham, Ken, 16:41; 4. Seth Kniegge, Gra, 16:43; 5. Vincent Coverdell, Gra, 16:59; 6. Paul Kopp, Gra, 17:00; 7. Asa Demmert, Sit, 17:00; 8. David Sliwinski, Gra, 17:01; 9. Cole Fritzel, Gra, 17:03; 10. Kaleb Smith, ACS, 17:05.
Other peninsula — 12. Max Pfeiffenberger, Sew, 17:17; 13. Bjorn Nilsson, Sew, 17:23; 14. Joe Hamilton, Ken, 17:23; 18. Trey Ingalls, Sew, 17:43; 19. Jaden Van Dyke, Sew, 17:54; 22. Samuel Koster, Sew, 18:19; 24. Levi DeBoard, Sew, 18:24; 26. Ky Calvert, Ken, 18:31; 33. Luke Cross, Ken, 18:42; 42. Tyler Hippchen, Ken, 19:21; 44. Tucker Mueller, Ken, 19:33; 49. Clay Petersen, Sew, 19:39; 58. Josh Foster, Ken, 20:04.
Team scores — 1. Haines, 35; 2. Sockeye Co-Op, 55; 3. Petersburg, 62; 4. Wrangell, 70; 5. Effie Kokrine, 140.
Individual results (top 10) — 1. Avery Williamson, Hai, 21:08; 2. Brynna Gerlach, Gle, 21:24; 3. Grace Long, Hai, 21:25; 4. Maia Cowan, Pet, 21:28; 5. Liana Carney, Wra, 21:39; 6. Jade Balansag, Wra, 21:49; 7. Malea Voran, Soc, 21:50; 8. Allah Wardell, Soc, 21:51; 9. Avari Getchell, Hai, 21:52; 10. Kendra Coonrad, Pet, 22:01.
Other peninsula — 39. Isabelle Hickman, Nik, 25:21; 53. Sophia Klaich, Nik, 26:20.
Team scores — 1. Haines, 41; 2. Petersburg, 50; 3. Unalaska, 62; 4. Sockeye Co-Op, 98; 5. Thorne Bay, 111; 6. Cordova, 143.
Individual results (top 10) — 1. Siyel Galindo-George, Hai, 16:59; 2. Isaac Titus, SB, 17:15; 3. Coleson Voran, Soc, 17:29; 4. Kael Gerlach, Gle, 17:37; 5. Daniel Wardell, Soc, 17:44; 6. Amos Sage, Nap, 17:46; 7. Demetry Hoseth, Dil, 17:52; 8. Andrew Stringfellow, Nen, 17:52; 9. Justin Trail, Nik, 17:55; 10. Uriah Lucas, Pet, 18:00.