Two days after a disappointing showing at the Region III Cross Country Championships, Kodiak’s boys had a we-can-still-do-this-type moment.
It was exactly what the boys needed after getting upset by Colony on their home course.
What was it that flushed the bad taste out of their system? A 1,600-meter time trial at Joe Floyd Track and Field where a dozen supporters showed up to cheer them on.
Their times proved that their legs have plenty left in them to carry Kodiak into Saturday’s Division I State Championship meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. The Division I boys race is at 12:45 p.m.
Most of the runners topped their track times from five months ago.
“It was the perfect counter moment to how we felt at regions, which was a slow race, disappointing times and not the places we were hoping for,” Kodiak coach Ashley Mortenson said. “To show up on Monday and say, ‘remember, you are actually really fit right now.”’
Mortenson also reminded the boys that the goal was never how they performed on Oct. 2 but rather how they ran on Oct. 9.
“It was good to know that we still have a good strong team,” Kodiak sophomore Elias Litzow said.
Unlike most seasons where there are clear favorites to challenge for the team title, Mortenson said six schools have solid teams, led by directional schools West Valley and West Anchorage.
The Bears are one of those six schools in the mix and are hoping to improve on their 2019 state finish of seventh place — senior David Castro is the only member of that team left on the roster.
“There are a lot of good teams out there, and we have a lot of potential,” Mortenson said.
Playing in Kodiak’s favor is that its runners have spent the past month running on slow courses or in bad weather conditions like it was at regions. The 5-kilometer course at Bartlett is a fast track.
“It really is hard to know exactly how we are going to stack up on Saturday just because our times are not indicative of our fitness,” Mortenson said.
Leading Kodiak into the state meet is senior Micah Fields, who was edged out by Palmer’s Fischer Adams for the Region III individual crown. But, just like the entire boys team, Fields is ready to rebound from last week’s race.
“He was really hoping to uphold the tradition of a Kodiak individual winner. It was a pretty challenging race, and I commend Fischer. He drafted like it was his job, and Micah ended up the windbreaker,” Mortenson said.
West Valley’s Daniel Abramowicz has established himself as the top contender in Saturday’s race, but don’t count Fields out in his first state cross country race.
“He is a great leader and helps us with the race strategy,” Litzow said. “He helps us all go faster during practice.”
After finishing, it’s guaranteed that Fields will be cheering on his teammates — Max Robinson, Liztow, Joseph Hathaway, Castro, Bengt Anderson and Miles Grimes.
“I think everyone is going to PR by a lot,” Litzow said.
The feelings of the Kodiak girls after the Region III race were the exact opposite of the guys.
The girls ran their best races of the season to punch their second consecutive trip to the state meet with a surprising runner-up finish.
“It was unbelievable,” Kodiak sophomore Hannah McCarthy said. “I was so excited. I realized that we had all come so far — I’m just so excited that we get to experience state. For some of us it is our first time and we get to do it together as a team and as a family.”
Getting to the state meet in a rebuilding season is enormous growth for the program. Senior Naomi Griffin is the only member left from the 2019 team that finished 10th at the state meet.
The senior has been an instrumental leader of a young team that has two freshmen and three sophomores.
“Throughout the season, she wanted us to go so badly — she was an anchor and the biggest supporter for our team,” McCarthy said.
Mortenson concurred with McCarthy.
“The main contribution she has made has really been looking forward to state, which is extremely valuable,” the coach said.
The small roster of nine runners factored into the team’s improvement throughout the season. Freshman Oceana Brockman has knocked four minutes off her first 5K time of the season. Her finish at regions helped Kodiak secure a second-place finish and is a big reason why Ayla Baker, Cassidy Foster, Abigail Harver, Sara Scott, McCarthy and Griffin will have one more opportunity to race together. The Division I girls race is at 2:15 p.m.
“There is one group, and they all wanted to be a part of this larger goal of having everybody there (at state),” Mortenson said. “That is something all the girls can take pride in as they move towards state — everyone really wanted this to happen.”
FINISHING THE SEASON
After being limited to only on-island time trials in 2020 because of the pandemic, Mortenson feels blessed to have gotten through the 2021 season without any major hiccups. Every meet on the schedule happened.
Her athletes feel even more fortunate.
“I am so thankful,” McCarthy said. “Last year was so crazy. We never got to travel and never got to experience off-island meets. It is different this year. We have met so many new people and have made so many new friends.”
State Cross Country
at Bartlett High School
10 a.m. — Division III boys
10:45 a.m. — Division III girls
Noon — Division II boys
12:45 p.m. — Division I boys
1:30 p.m. — Division II girls
2:15 p.m. — Division I girls