A tight race saw both Kodiak’s Micah Fields and Palmer’s Fischer Adams vying for first place in the Division I Boys Region III Cross Country Championship race Saturday at Bear Valley Golf Course.
Fields ended up in second place behind Adams by mere heartbeats after leading for much of the race facing sharp, cold 35 and 40 mph winds. Both had a time of 17 minutes, 24 seconds on a 5-kilometer course. Adams, who finished one spot ahead of Fields at the George Plumley Invite earlier this season, snagged Palmer’s first individual regional win since Jake Parisien won at Bear Valley in 2005.
“I think all of Kodiak was really focused on winning regions, but because of that and the windy conditions we didn’t think much about our pacing capabilities,” Fields said. “It was a slow race all round the course.”
Kodiak Island hosted the regional race and five Division I boys and girls teams, including Palmer, Colony, Kodiak, Soldotna and Wasilla, for the first time since 2014. Overall, Kodiak finished second with 45 points behind Colony, which got 40 points. The Knights won for the first time since 1998, snapping the Bears’ two-year streak atop the podium.
Both Colony, Kodiak and third-place Palmer advance to the state championship meet Oct. 9 in Anchorage.
The course at Bear Valley normally presents an easier field than the one at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, with rolling hills and soft ground for spikes, Fields said.
“But those winds gusting up to 40 miles was really brutal,” Fields said. “The race had a lot of speeding up and slowing down because of that wind and the rolling hills.”
The first half of the race saw a tight cluster of runners, as Fields held his pace just ahead of Adams.
Then both boys broke ahead by 12 seconds, leaving behind Colony’s Tobias Buchanan.
“Micah was only willing to go so slow,” Kodiak coach Ashley Mortenson said. “The pace went out pretty conservatively in that first kilometer, and though Micah wasn’t hoping to lead, he was only willing to go so slow.”
The previous two regional winning times at Bear Valley were faster, with Kodiak’s Levi Thomet turning a 16:03 in 2014 and Parisien claiming the 2005 race in 16:39. Adams’ and Fields’ times rank ninth and 10th all-time at Bear Valley.
“The pace was going so slow that I felt the need to take it out and try to break some people, but I think I took the brunt of the wind for most of the course,” Fields said. “At a certain point, I get really frustrated with the race if people aren’t willing to tap in and use their full energy. I decided I’m not going to run a slow race, I’m going to run a good race.”
Fields said he was disappointed with his time but going to state would be a “redemption race” for him. Because there was no regional race last season, this was Fields’ first at the varsity level. He was the Bears’ eighth runner when the team won in 2019.
“Our team is looking forward to state and I think we want to prove ourselves,” Fields said. “We have a young team and we’re itching to do that.”
“Micah ran a tough race and it was a duel to the finish,” Mortenson said.
Mortenson said the weather offered a level playing field for all the teams.
“That’s the beauty of cross country, because unlike track and field, you’re aiming for a place, not for a time,” Mortenson said. “Every athlete is doing their best.”
Sophomore Maxwell Robinson placed sixth in 17:49.
“It was a hard race, really windy,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t fun running in this wind. It really messed up the pace.”
Despite the tough conditions, Robinson, also a member of the KHS swimming team, said he’s improved a lot over the season.
Kodiak sophomore Eliaz Litzow finished 10th in 18:29 and his freshman colleague Joseph Hathaway was a second behind in 11th. Sophomore Nicholas Hecht came placed 16th at 18:46. Senior David Castro came in 19th in 18:53 and sophomore Bengt Anderson 20th in 18:55.
Mortenson said the focus now will be on the state championships. Kodiak placed seventh in 2019. Castro is the only member of the 2019 state-qualifying squad left.
“We will be bringing a boys team to state, Micah will be a contender for a top position,” the coach said. “Max had an excellent race and has been improving dramatically over the course of this season and we are excited to see how he will do. We are just looking forward to next week.”
Kodiak freshman Ayla Baker led the pack of 33 runners in the opening seconds of the Division I girls race, but soon fell behind. But by crossing the finish line in fifth place in 21:21, she helped secure Kodiak its second consecutive trip to the state meet.
“I was so happy because the whole team made it,” Baker said.
Kodiak’s girls team finished second with 66 points, behind two-time champion Colony, which had 32 points. The Bears ran at the 2019 state meet following a third-place finish at regions. Before that, the last time the girls team went to state was 2011.
In front of Baker across the finish line was Palmer senior Katey Houser with a time of 20:27, Colony freshman Ella Hopkins (20:39), and Soldontna seniors Jordan Strausbaugh (21:15) and Jordan Ruffner (21:29). Houser won the 2018 regional race.
“I knew I wasn’t going to sustain that pace the whole time,” Baker said. “I tried but I knew the girls behind me were using me to pace.”
“Ayla went out with the leaders and she ran a gutsy race,” Mortenson said. “Two girls had run times two minutes faster than hers, but Ayla went out strong and hard and held on for part of the race and stuck with it for the rest of the race. It was a great finish for her.”
Mortenson said coming in second was well ahead of the projected fourth-seed placement.
“It was a close battle in the end with Palmer and Soldonta for second place,” she said. Soldonta and Palmer came in third and fourth respectively, followed by Wasilia.
Baker said she’s looking forward to the state championship and to “bonding with the whole team and just getting across that finish line when the race is finally over.”
The mood of Kodiak’s athletes at the finish line was ecstatic, tear-filled joy and hugging, said Kodiak senior and team captain Naomi Griffin.
“Crossing that finish line, the only thing I felt was pure happiness,” Griffin said. “We were all crying at the end. This team has been together since day one.”
Griffin, who has been working through a knee injury for the season, finished 12th (23:03).
“It’s been a long time since our girls team went to state, and the last time we qualified for that we came in third,” Griffin said. “We were aiming to get that third place finish in this race.”
When Griffin crossed the finish line and Mortenson said the team placed second, “it was just an overwhelming amount of happiness.”
Griffin said she’s been happy in her role to push her team this year and get them to state.
“Namoi has been great with helping our young team getting back to state, returning as a Regional III representative,” Mortenson said.
Kodiak sophomore Cassidy Foster came in 11th (21:46).
“Cassidy ran really strong and she went out with a really smart pace, and stuck with people,” Mortensen said.
Kodiak sophomore Abigail Harver finished 14th (23:17), freshman Oceana Brockman finished 23rd (24:46), while sophomore Hannah McCarthy finished 31st (26:26) and junior Sara Scott finished 32nd (26:53).
Mortenson said “it was definitely a rebuilding year for the girl’s team, but most of the region was in the same position this year.”
Grace Christian swept team honors in the Division II field. The boys placed seven runners in the top 10 to cruise to its third straight boys title with 21 points — 37 markers ahead of runner-up ACS. The girls put five runners inside the top 15 to secure their second straight title with a 15-point victory over Homer.
Grace junior David Sliwinski grabbed individual honors in the boys race with a time of 17:03 to become his school’s first champion since 2013. His time was sixth fastest at Bear Valley.
The top 6 finishers all posted faster times than the Division I winner.
Kenai’s Jayna Boonstra edged Grace’s Megan Nelson by one second to win the girls race in 20:49.
Team — 1. Colony, 40; 2. Kodiak, 45; 3. Palmer, 64; 4. Wasilla, 93; 5. Soldotna, 118.
1. Fischer Adams, Pal, 17:24; 2. Micah Fields, Kod, 17:24; 3. Tobias Buchanan, Col, 17:36; 4. Zac Cheyette, Col, 17:40; 5. Tobin Miller, Pal, 17:47; 6. Max Robinson, Kod, 17:49; 7. Jayden Rice, Col, 18:00; 8. Landon Hayes, Was, 18:05; 9. Brennan Lackey, Was, 18:22; 10. Elias Litzow, Kod, 18:29; 11. Joseph Hathaway, Kod, 18:30; 12. Caleb Hilty, Col, 18:30; 13. Ryan Owens, Pal, 18:31; 14. Coby Marvin, Col, 18:32; 15. Stephen Hafen, Col, 18:41; 16. Nicholas Hecht, Kod, 18:46; 17. Ziven Witzcak, Pal, 18:51; 18. Jonathan Gordon, Sol, 18:53; 19. David Castro, Kod, 18:53; 20. Bengt Anderson, Kod, 18:55; 21. Jace Makamson, Col, 19:04; 22. Avery Willets, Sol, 19:14; 23. Chane Foss, Was, 19:14; 24. Kendall Greathouse, Was, 19:17; 25. Nathaniel Johnson, Sol, 19:34; 26. Levi Mickelson, Sol, 19:46; 27. Quinn Cox, Sol, 19:50; 28. Oles Witczak, Pal, 20:11; 29. Vance Griffin, Was, 20:14; 30. Logan Magee, Was, 20:15; 31. Andrew Cox, Sol, 20:24; 32. Kimball Wadsworth, Was, 20:24; 33. Trenton Boots, Sol, 20:24; 34. Carson Deans, Pal, 20:53; 35. Jacob Venema, Pal, 21:12.
Team — 1. Grace, 21; 2. ACS, 58; 3. Kenai, 73; 4. Homer, 83; 5. Redington, 153.
Individual (top 15)
1. David Sliwinski, Grace, 17:03; 2. Josh Bower, ACS, 17:12; 3. Seth Lochmann, Grace, 17:13; 4. Ty Elliott, Grace, 17:16; 5. Preston Merchant, ACS, 17:18; 6. Aiden Zingone, Grace, 17:19; 7. Robbie Annett, Grace, 17:35; 8. Ben Thatcher, Grace, 17:35; 9. Gregory Fallon, Ken, 17:40; 10. Preston Wethington, Grace, 17:46; 11. Seamus McDonough, Hom, 17:57; 12. Jack Laker, Ken, 18:20; 13. Damon Weisser, Hom, 18:45; 14. Joe Hamilton, Ken, 18:47; 15. Stryder Kronberger, ACS, 18:48.
Team — 1. Kodiak, 34; 2. Grace, 41; 3. Colony, 49; 4. Wasilla, 121; 5. Palmer, 146.
3. Miles Grimes, 18:18; 4. Jacob Sarnowski, 18:31; 7. Tyler Holforty, 19:02; 9. Joseph Hathaway, 19:21; 11. Joshua Marquez, 19:28; 22. Makoto Seto, 20:19; 23. Paxson Williams, 20:20; 27. Elmar Barroga, 20:43; 28. Liam Long, 20:55; 30. Aidan Buschbacher, 21:01; 37. Jonah Stewart, 21:34; 55. Carl Anchetta, 23:01; 57. Noah Schrof, 23:24; 63. Jovahnia Marasigan, 24:20; 68. Stuart Saltonstall, 26:58; 73. Richmon Incognito, 28:04.
Team — 1. Colony, 32; 2. Kodiak, 66; 3. Soldotna, 77; 4. Palmer, 75; 5. Wasilla, 126.
1. Katey Houser, Pal, 20:27; 2. Ella Hopkins, Col, 20:39; 3. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 21:15; 4. Jordan Ruffner, Sol, 21:29; 5. Ayla Baker, Kod, 21:46; 6. Shea Alaniva, Col, 21:46; 7. Monica Bustillos, Col, 22:01; 8. Rachel Danz, Col, 22:06; 9. Abby Novak, Col, 22:10; 10. Lucy Shea, Col, 22:32; 11. Cassidy Foster, Kod, 22:46; 12. Madison Roberts, Col, 22:50; 13. Naomi Griffin, Kod, 23:03; 14. Abigail Harver, Kod, 23:17; 15. Mykennan Rinella, Pal, 23:45; 16. Monroe Swain, Pal, 24:04; 17. Gracie Martin, Was, 24:04; 18. Winter Shaw, Pal, 24:07; 19. Evelyn Bindon, Was, 24:09; 20. Kaidence Shaeffer, Sol, 24:12; 21. Kaytlin McAnelly, Sol, 24:31; 22. Avery Ciufo, Sol, 24:43; 23. Oceana Brockman, Kod, 24:46; 24. Carson Dement, Sol, 24:54; 25. Gracie Norman, Pal, 24:59; 26. Adele Tacey, Sol, 25:00; 27. Elisabeth Hennemann, Pal, 25:12; 28. Elizabeth Lee, Was, 25:17; 29. Anna Abalos, Was, 25:43; 30. Ava Moore Smyth, Pal, 26:13; 31. Hannah McCarthy, Kod, 26:26; 32. Sara Scott, Kod, 26:53; 33. Finnley O’Brien, Was, 28:25.
Team — 1. Grace, 39; 2. Homer, 54; 3. Kenai, 71; 4. ACS, 93; 5. Seward, 118; 6. Redington, 131.
Individual (top 15)
1. Jayna Boonstra, Ken, 20:49; 2. Megan Nelson, Grace, 20:50; 3. Kai Waythomas, Grace, 21:07; 4. Debbie Brower, ACS, 21:58; 5. Eryn Field, Hom, 22:09; 6. Frida Renner, Hom, 22:10; 7. Leah Fallon, Ken, 22:19; 8. Georgia Thatcher, Grace, 22:20; 9. Hailey Ingalls, Sew, 22:20; 10. Elena Badajos, Hom, 22:27; 11. Faith Mondeel, Grace, 22:37; 12. Mya Campbell, Red, 22:43; 13. Adelyn McCorison, Hom, 22:45; 14. Summer Foster, Ken, 22:50; 15. Sophia Coverdell, Grace, 22:56.
19. Allison Smith, 28:23; 20. Charlotte Burke, 28:44.