After a week of practicing in relentless rain and whipping wind, Kodiak High’s cross country team capped the most unusual season in pristine conditions on Saturday at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
The sun poked through the trees and the aroma of fall was in the air — perfect weather for the Kodiak Region III Championship.
“The weather was fabulous and the atmosphere was great — it felt like regions,” Kodiak cross country coach Ashley Mortenson said. “It felt like an official meet today ... The smell of rotting leaves is the smell of cross country.”
Kodiak ran alone on its 5-kilometer home course as school district COVID-19 travel restrictions kept the Bears from attending the Region III South Division race in Soldotna.
And as Kodiak has done all season, it made the most of the situation.
Former coach Marcus Dunbar announced, runners were split into two teams — blue and gold — and an awards ceremony was held after the race.
“There was a lot of excitement on the team,” Mortenson said. “It was nice that we knew so many days in advance that we weren’t going to have competition.”
The race wins went to junior Micah Fields and sophomore Kailani Gilbert. Both runners set personal-best times at The Fort — Fields turned a time of 17 minutes, 34.7 seconds and Gilbert finished in 22.30.8.
After finishing third in last year’s Region III junior varsity race, Fields was motivated to enter this season in shape, so, for the first time in his career, he ran at his family’s fishing site at Harvester Island on the west coast of Kodiak. He said he logged at least three miles a day, training during breaks and often enduring midnight hill workouts after slogging through hours of work.
“When I was running most of the time I just had their (coaches) voices in my head saying train more than last summer, we have a good team coming this year,” said Fields, who finished 1:20 ahead of runner-up Christian Harver.
Without competition from other regional runners, Fields raced against the clock this entire season. He owes part of his success this season to former Kodiak star and Ashley’s husband Curtis Mortensonm, who paced him at every event. Mortenson ran the first 4K of Saturday’s race.
“That last K was all up to me, and I did my best,” said Fields, who chopped nearly 16 seconds off his personal-best Abercrombie time. ‘It was nice to see the time reflect that.”
If this had been a regular season, Fields would have challenged for a Region III title. But it wasn’t, and three regional races in three different places happened on Saturday.
Soldotna’s Nathanael Johnson won on the Kenai Peninsula with a time of 17:37.10, while Wasilla’s Landon Hayes won in the Mat-Su Valley with a time of 16:47.39. Both of the other races were held on faster courses.
“Based on my times on this course, comparatively to the region, I would have had a good shot for region champ this year,” Fields said. “But luckily I am a junior, and I will be here next year and hope to have the opportunity to do that next year.”
And Fields could win again on his home turf as Kodiak will host the 2021 Region III Championships at Bear Valley Golf Course.
Gilbert and junior Naomi Griffin have battled all season, and it was the underclassman who came out ahead on Saturday by 28.2 seconds.
“I didn’t expect to get her,” Gilbert said. “We were right next to each other and she always goes ahead of me on the uphills and I lengthened my strides on the downhills.
“On the last uphill, I stayed up with her, and that is how I knew I was going to actually finish before her.”
With only on-island competition this season, Griffin was thankful Gilbert returned to Kodiak after spending a year in Idaho.
“We work with each other,” Griffin said. “There is not really much competition between us. I think it is just more like being partners in the sport.”
Gilbert’s family returned to the island this summer and decided to stay here instead of going back to Idaho because of the pandemic.
Because of that, Gilbert joined the Kodiak team in late-August, almost four weeks after the beginning of the season.
As a freshman, Gilbert said she finished as Lakeland High School’s top runner. However, she noted Lakeland’s running scene doesn’t compare to Kodiak.
“This is a team sport. Everybody wants to join, and it is more enthusiastic,” Gilbert said.
Fields, Harver, Gilbert and Griffin would have earned berths to this weekend’s 4A state championship meet, but instead will settle for competing in KMXT’s Run the Rock.
According to Mortenson, the runners will not be traveling to the state meet because of the rise of COVID-19 cases in Kodiak and Anchorage.
“Obviously, that is really disappointing to us as coaches and to the athletes who would be participating, but at the same time, we are very supportive of making choices for the safety of our athletes,” Mortenson said.
1. Micah Fields, 17 minutes, 34.7 seconds; 2. Christian Harver, 19:04.4; 3. David Castro, 19:13.2; 4. Nicholas Hecht, 19:27.4; 5. Elias Litzow, 19:35.2; 6. Jacob Sarnowski, 19:44.7; 7. Tyler Holforty, 19:46.2; 8. Jerron Bruce, 19:55.5; 9. Isaiah Panthin, 20:09.4; 10. Max Robinson, 20:20.8; 11. Elmar Barroga, 20:27.4; 12. Bengt Anderson, 20:28.0; 13. Jackson Roberts, 20:42.5; 14. Simon Grimes, 21:59.8; 15. Aidan Buschbacher, 22:03.9; 16. Benjamin Powers, 22:17.4; 17. Makoto Seto, 22:25.2; 18. Theron Glover, 24:14.4; 19. Noah Schrof, 24:49.2; 20. Richmon Ingognito, 25:20.6; 21. Tristan Creelman, 26:40.1.
1. Kailani Gilbert, 22:30.8; 2. Naomi Griffin, 22:58.6; 3. Cassidy Foster, 23:42.0; 4. Hannah Asbury, 25:03.0; 5. Abigail Harver, 25:42.9; 6. Leah Winegeart, 26:18.5; 7. Allison Smith, 27:08.0; 8. Alyssa Prevatt, 27:55.6; 9. Hannah McCarthy, 28:19.4; 10. Elizabeth Parnell, 29:05.9; 11. Esther Overbeek, 29:15.2; 12. Sara Scott, 31:15.8; 13. Emily Lorring, 35:19.2.