The Kodiak girls cross country team races into the 2019 season with expectations of reaching the state championship meet for the first time since 2011.
And for good reason.
The Bears return five of the seven varsity runners from last year’s team. Toss in a few promising newbies to the team, and that sets the stage for what could be a drought-ending season for Kodiak.
The thought of qualifying as a team for state has fueled the runners during early-season workouts.
“I have had several girls come up to me separately and say, ‘What do you think? Do you think we can do it this year?”’ second-year Kodiak coach Ashley Mortenson said. “We have the potential. It is just a matter of executing. It is looking promising.”
The top three teams at the Region III Championships advance to the state meet. Kodiak’s last regional podium finish was in 2011. Since then, the Bears have finished outside the top three. The team was fifth last year.
Upfront for the Bears is junior Malina Fagan. She was Kodiak’s only state qualifier last season and finished 43rd at the big dance. It was her first trip to the state cross country meet.
Fagan will be challenged upfront by incoming freshman Elizabeth Parnell. Parnell made news last spring when she set three Kodiak Middle School track records (long jump, 400-meter run, and 3,200 relay).
At the Alumni Run last weekend at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, Parnell was Kodiak’s top finisher, turning in a 5-kilometer time of 23 minutes, 49 seconds.
Mortenson said Parnell tasted high school practice last spring when she trained with Kodiak’s distance crew.
“I was able to get a little preview of her skills, and she has a lot of potential,” the coach said. “It is anybody’s guess where her end-of-season PR is going to be — it might be really good.”
Mortenson doesn’t expect Fagan to give up her lead spot easy, though.
“I hope that there is some jostling for that front position,” she said.
Kodiak also returns seniors Katie Parnell — Elizabeth’s sister — and Carly Glover, and sophomores Francie Eufemio and Naomi Griffin. Eufemio placed 16th at last year’s Region III meet — a spot away from advancing to the state championships.
Mortenson, who also doubles as Kodiak’s track and field coach, was able to pull runners from the oval in senior Hallee Blair, junior Kierra Christiansen, and sophomore Marielle Mangronbang. All three will be running cross country for the first time.
Blair — a record-setting hurdler on the track — spent her first three years of high school playing volleyball during the fall. She was a full-time varsity player her sophomore and junior seasons, often leading the team in many statistical categories.
Mortenson expects Blair to crack Kodiak’s varsity lineup and is eager to see how she progresses during her first season on the trails.
“Hallee is a total rookie in cross country but an aggressive racer as we have seen on the track,” Mortenson said. “She is just trying to learn the 5K. She brings that hardworking, positive attitude that we love to have.”
The coach said the team is bubbling with energy as they prepare to open the season this Saturday against Homer at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
“Early season, with a young team and new racers, is always going to be a little unclear how the season is going to play out,” Mortenson said. “We definitely have great potential. I’m hoping that come September that we are ready to establish ourselves in the region.”
Reclaiming the Region III title was a big goal that the Kodiak boys achieved last season. This year they are setting their sights on a solid showing at the state meet.
After winning their 16th regional title in the past 17 years, Kodiak placed ninth at last year’s state meet, which was a sour ending to a remarkable postseason run.
“This year we are aiming for another region title, and we will absolutely be a competitor for it, but we are hoping to make a presence at the state meet; not necessarily pushing for a win but pushing for a high finish,” Mortenson said.
Kodiak will have to challenge for another regional title without last year’s top gun, Paul Winegeart, who is now a freshman at Dallas Baptist University. Winegeart was second at the regional meet and 26th at the state championships.
The Bears have plenty of power to replace Winegeart in seniors Braxton Gruner and Riley Birbilas, and junior Connor Marbrey.
Marbrey, a regional champion track distance runner, is Kodiak’s top returner from a year ago, placing sixth at regions and 38th at state. Gruner was the Bears’ leading runner at the Alumni Run. Unlike as a junior, Gruner did not go commercial fishing and instead spent his summer training.
“Coming off a summer of training, both hiking and running, he is fit,” Mortenson said. “As he gets his feet under him, he is going to be a presence. He is going to help challenge Connor.”
The rest of the varsity will include returners Jerrold Bolton (senior), Colt Hubert (junior) and Tristian Klier (junior). Mortenson said a group of runners would vie for the seventh varsity spot.
“From what I have seen at practice, there is a lot of potential on the guys’ side to have a very strong team,” she said. “It is just going to be a matter of how they progress.”
Kodiak has three home meets at Fort Abercrombie this season: Homer (Saturday), West Valley and Dimond (Aug. 23) and Grace Christian (Sept. 13).
West Valley senior Kendall Kramer won last year’s girls 4A state meet in 17:51.
“I hope she can come and mark a great time on our course,” Mortenson said. “It is neat to have the historical records that we do here.”
Kenai’s Allie Ostrander, an All-American at Boise State University, owns the Fort record at 17:34.
Kodiak’s unusually warm summer has made Mortenson spend more time on topics than usual.
“We don’t usually have to put such an emphasis on hydration during practices and recovering after practices,” she said. “We have kids who are struggling with the heat because they are not used to it. The more weeks this goes on, the more they are getting used to it. It just feels funny.”
Hallee Blair, Carly Glover, Katie Parnell.
Maryssa Abston, Acacia Birbilas, Kierra Christiansen, Malina Fagan, Emily Lorring.
Frances Eufemio, Naomi Griffin, Marieele Mangrobang, Esther Overbeak.
Charlotte Burke, Bella Klier, Elizabeth Parnell, Sarah Scott.
Riley Birbilas, Jerrod Bolton, Braxton Gruner, Omar Llamos.
Colt Hubert, Tristan Klier, Connor Marbrey, Jackson Roberts, Terrance Schoemwether.
David Castro, Micah Fields, Christian Harver,
Landen Choate, Zach Hecht, Tyler Holforty, Scott Powers.
Aug. 17 — Homer at Fort Abercrombie
Aug. 23 — West Valley and Dimond at Fort Abercrombie
Aug. 24 — West Valley and Dimond at Kodiak Fairgrounds
Aug. 31 — Bartlett Invitational in Anchorage
Sept. 6 — ACS Invite in Anchorage
Sept. 7 — Palmer Invite in Palmer
Sept. 13 — Grace at Fort Abercrombie
Sept. 14 — Grace at Bear Valley Golf Course
Sept. 21 — Region III Championships in Palmer
Oct. 5 — State championships in Anchorage