Kodiak’s track and field team has hit the century mark — as in 100 athletes.
The Bears have a team of 100 for the 2011 campaign, the biggest turnout since coach Marcus Dunbar has been at the helm.
The veteran coach loves seeing the growth of the program, but it does come with pains.
On most road trips — Kodiak begins the season with three off-island meets — the Bears can only take around 23 athletes. That means 77 kids are stuck on the Rock.
“We have three times as many kids at home than we can take on the trip,” Dunbar said. “That is a challenge to keep those kids motivated and working and developing.”
The challenge of trimming the roster starts today when Kodiak kicks its season off at the Big C Relays at the Anchorage Sports Dome.
“Kids know that it is a tough cut to make the traveling team,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar wasn’t exactly sure why so many students are coming out for track.
“A lot of kids had a good experience in track last year so kids have been talking about it,” he said. “I haven’t done anything new for recruiting. We just have a good class of freshmen and sophomores that didn’t do it last year.”
Among the 100 are nine athletes who already have an advantage over most. The group of Jaymi Bethea, Samantha Oliver, Nathan Deer, Cole Christiansen, Jordan Fogle, Derrek Deal, James Osowski, Riley McFarlin and Gage Cubbedge spent their spring break running in meets on the West Coast. They also visited former Kodiak track stars in Cory Pena and Miles and Trevor Dunbar.
This is the first time Marcus Dunbar has taken a group from Kodiak on a preseason track trip.
“They went and got some experience and saw some things they haven’t seen before,” Dunbar said. “It just got us a long ways ahead of people who haven’t run any races this year. We have some under our belts and are ready to go.”
Seniors Bethea and Oliver return as Kodiak’s top two point scorers from a year ago. They will be asked to not only score points, but to mentor a team full of freshman and sophomores.
“They are already doing a nice job doing some leadership stuff — encouraging the other girls and educating them on how everything is going to work,” Dunbar said.
On the track, Bethea set Kodiak’s 800-meter record last season (2 minutes, 21.18 seconds) and placed second at state in the 1,600. She comes into this season after winning 4A girls cross country title in the fall.
Oliver is Kodiak’s record-holder in the 100 hurdles (16.47) and placed sixth in that event at state last season. She also went to state in the 100 meters and the shot put.
Kodiak has only one other girl returning who went to state last season in distance runner Sarah Ng. She was a member of the 3,200 relay squad that placed sixth.
“There is not a whole lot of experience at the state and region level, but we have a whole lot of youth ... and they are all pretty good. We don’t have numbers on them yet, but I am expecting us to have a new look this year,” Dunbar said. “We will have all our relays full and we will have people in every event.”
Dunbar said the girls have a shot to duplicate their third place region finish from a year ago.
“I see us being real strong in every event on the track,” he said. “We just have to get a few meets under our belts. We need experience, because we have a lot of inexperienced talent.”
Unlike the girls, the boys are loaded with experience, returning six state participants from last season — McFarlin, Fogle, Caleb Nymeyer, Osowski, Deer and Christansen.
However, the team lost its top two point getters from a year ago in all-arounder Karsten Schick and distance runner Dylan Anthony.
Schick won last year’s state title in the 110 and 300 hurdles, while Anthony placed second in both the 1,600 and 3,200.
“We have always had that big point getter but this year we have more parity ... it is going to be depth instead of a front-runner with a guy breaking records and winning titles,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar said the team should be strong in all running events from the 100 to the 3,200, which should bode well in Kodiak’s attempt to win its sixth straight Region III title.
“I suspect Palmer to be a team looking to challenge us, but I would think we are the favorites of just from what we returned and the newcombers that we got,” Dunbar said.
Mirror writer Derek Clarkston can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.