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Story Last modified at 10:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Get in there and run
Indoor track and field season off to the races

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:Sports

Eagle River's Clarence Summers nears the finish line during the boys 800 meter run at The Dome in Anchorage on March 19. The meet marked the unofficial start to the indoor track and field season, which gets underway for real on March 25 at indoor sports facility, which is located off of Raspberry Road.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Track and field doesn't exactly lend itself to confined spaces. But in Alaska, that's just the way things go.

"We have an indoor track, but it's pretty small when you try to get 30 kids running up there at the same time," said Eagle River coach Matt Turner.

Athletes have been making do with limited space while they wait for spring's thaw by working out on small indoor running tracks, doing lots of stretching and trying to avoid the biggest pitfall of indoor workouts, shin splints.

"We've really been trying to combat that," Turner said. "We do all kinds of stretching before and after for shins."

Area athletes finally got to stretch their legs on a full-length, rubberized running track on March 18 and 19 when the first (albeit unofficial) high school meet of the season was held at The Dome in Anchorage. Although the meet was more of a glorified practice session than actual competition, Chugiak senior Andrea Foster said it was still nice to get out and compete against athletes from other schools.

"It's the start of the season, so you know where you are and know what you need to work on," said Foster, who finished eighth in the girls' 800 meter run even though she was battling a sinus infection.

The Mustangs sent a large contingent of runners and jumpers to the meet, which featured just seven events over two days at the south Anchorage sports facility. Interim head coach Scott Roleff said Chugiak had about 70 athletes turn out for the team this year – a jump of about 40 percent from last season. He said much of the spike is due to a sizable group of football players who were convinced by coach Duncan Shackelford – who also coaches the shot and discus throwers – to go out for the team.

"He's pushing them pretty hard to come out and stay in shape," Roleff said.

Roleff's interim tag is due to the fact that the Mustangs haven't been able to find anyone who wants to take the head job. If a head coach isn't found soon, he said the coaching staff will likely divvy up duties between several assistants.

"If they don't find anybody we're just going to split things up," he said.

Roleff said he expects the Mustangs to have a solid squad this season. The team has a number of returning runners and jumpers with state meet experience, including sophomore sprinter Mackenzie Matthis, sophomore distance runner Sam Hartke, and junior sprinter/jumper Alex Collins. Matthis won the girls' 200 at the Scramble and Collins won the triple jump to give the Mustangs their only two wins at the competition.

On the boys' side, Roleff said seniors Ben Perrell and Ben Morse should be solid in the middle distances, while Tim Sorensen is an up-and-coming distance runner who could be a threat to make some waves. Sorensen was fourth in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the Scramble, and Perrell turned in a third in the triple jump.

Other top performances turned in by the Mustangs at the meet included a third-place showing from Kristy Howard in the girls' discus and Dane Prince, who finished third in the boys 200.

Coaches said it's far too early to gauge potential success from the meet, in which many athletes participated in unfamiliar events.

"This is a chance for them to try something they may have never tried before," Roleff said.

Eagle River didn't have any individual champions at the meet, but the Wolves did get a second-place finish from senior John Olowabi in the 200. Turner said Olowabi, who finished fourth in the 400 at state last season, is the team's top returning athlete.

"He's a kid that could have went to state in five events," Turner said.

In addition to Olowabi, the Wolves also have sophomore distance runner Brandon King, who finished fifth in the 1,600 at the Scramble and earned a state berth at that distance as a freshman, and Clarence Summers, a senior who excels in sprints and the jumping events. In the weight department, senior Austin Thompson could be a threat for a top finish at state. In his first action of the season, Thompson earned third in the discus at the Scramble.

On the girls' side, Turner said the team is young but likely to be deeper than in years past.

"We'll actually have enough this year to put some relay teams together," said Turner, whose past squads have been short on sprinters and middle-distance runners.

This year, the Wolves will have the likes of returning sprinter sophomore Alyssa Randall and freshman Anel Miranda-Smith to rely on in the shorter distances.

In the longer races, Turner said to keep an eye on Evy Hail, a sophomore who also runs cross country and newcomer Kelly Ireland, a sophomore who transferred from Oregon.

The track and field season gets going for real this weekend, when athletes will return to The Dome for "The Mini" meet, which will feature athletes from more than 15 schools across Alaska. The event begins at 3 p.m. on March 25 and continues at 7 a.m. on March 26.

Contact Matt Tunseth at matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com or 694-2727.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.