On Saturday afternoon, the Mariner varsity football team was sailing away with the homecoming game against the Houston Hawks when announcer Aaron Selbig interrupted his play-by-play comments with news from the 2012 Cross Country Running State Championships. Homer, a 3A school, took second place in the 1A, 2A and 3A girls' team competition and the boys took third.
The crowd broke out in a loud cheer.
"They did awesome. All the runners stepped up and ran their best races of the year," said Coach Bill Steyer. "Each and every one of the runners had terrific races and that's why, collectively, they performed so well."
In the 11-team girls competition, Grace Christian took first place.
"We knew that Grace for the girls would win the title. We're not as strong as they are yet, but the difference between second and third was enormous," said Steyer of the 54-point difference between Homer with 77 points and third-place Nome with 131 points. Among the Homer girls were senior Casey Farrell and freshman Sammy Draves, finishing 26th in 22:22 and 65th in 24:29, respectively.
"(Farrell) is one of our stronger runners, but she struggled this year with an injury. We knew she had the ability to do great. … She started getting healthy and clearly made the team," said Steyer. "(Draves) also improved this year. She hadn't had a whole lot of distance running experience, but we had a few key runners that were injured this year and she moved in."
Nikolaevsk, a 1A school, also sent athletes to the state championships, including Megan Hickman, who finished 40th in the field of 112 runners with a time of 24:12.
"Megan had a great run," said Nikolaevsk Coach Steve Klaich. "I was more than thrilled with Megan's performance. She relaxed and ran the type of race that we all knew she was capable of running."
In the 12-team boy's competition, Grace Christian also claimed first, with Seward in second. As with the Homer girls' team, the difference between Homer and the fourth-place team was considerable. Homer finished with 82 points and Delta Junction finished with 131 points.
"What was really impressive was that they approached the race the way we planned on it and they executed excellent strategy, and all of the guys did terrifically," said Steyer. "It was a solid third-place performance. Fourth, fifth and sixth weren't even close."
Of note was Connor McCarron's seventh-place finish in 17:33.
"He had an incredible race. He's a real tough runner," said Steyer. "All the boys had great races, but Connor's performance was outstanding."
The Nikolaevsk boys' team of six runners finished 12th of 12 teams in the 1A, 2A and 3A race.
"(They) ran well and enjoyed the challenge of the muddy course," said Klaich. "I was pleased with their efforts and appreciated the dedication that they have shown."
This is the fourth year Nikolaevsk has had a cross-country team and the third year runners Blake Klaich and Eric Mametieff have been in state competition. Blake Klaich finished 40th in 18:51 and Mametieff finished 113th of 122 runners in 21:13.
"(Klaich) ran a great race with his best finish at state," said Coach Klaich. "Freshman Greg Trail finished the year strong and had an excellent run. I was pleased with his performance."
Trail earned 60th place, crossing the finish line in 19:31.
With cross-country over for the season, Homer's multi-sport student athletes will begin focusing on winter sports, such as hockey, basketball, wrestling and skiing. The track and field season begins in March.
"Am I excited about track and field? You can imagine," said Steyer of events that now can take place on the new HHS track, which was completed Monday. "We will have the Homer Invite and we're hoping to get the regional championships. That hasn't been decided yet, but we do have arguably the best track in the state now."
The Nikolaevsk boys cross-country team will lose three seniors this year, but Klaich said "a good group of young runners are already looking to exceed this year's results and do well next season."
With the cross-country season over, Nikolaevsk runners will switch their attention to mixed-six volleyball and basketball.
"This group of student athletes has set the goal of reaching state in all three sports this season," said Coach Klaich. "One down."
Cross-Country Running Championships
Bartlett High School Trails, Anchorage, Sept. 29
Class 1-2-3A girls team results:
(1) Grace Christian, 20; (2) Homer, 77; (3) Nome, 131; (4) Seward, 145; (5) Mt. Edgecumbe, 160; (6) Sitka, 169; (7) Bethel, 173; (8) Valdez, 181; (9) Petersburg, 184; (10) Su-Valley, 221; (11) Hutchison, 228.
Individual Homer results:
(12) Aurora Waclawski, 21:15; (15) Barae Hirsch, 21:34; (24) Rebecca Seneff, 22:20; (26) Casey Farrell, 22:22; (31) Pam Jantzi, 22:30; (40) Megan Hickman, Nikolaevsk, 23:04; (62) Mattea Peters, 24:12; (65) Sammy Draves, 24:29.
Class 1-2-3A boys team results:
(1) Grace Christian, 44; (2) Seward, 56; (3) Homer, 82; (4) Delta Junction, 131; (5) Bethel, 161; (6) ACS, 164; (7) Mt. Edgecumbe, 184; (8) Sitka, 185; (9) Nome, 219; (10) Haines, 252; (11) Galena, 261; (12) Nikolaevsk, 273.
(7) Connor McCarron, 17:33; (11) Pedro Ochoa, 17:49; (19) Josh Vantrease, 18:16; (29) Jake Worsfold, 18:30; (40) Blake Klaich, Nikolaevsk, 18:51; (44) Brandon Beachy, 18:54; (60) Greg Trail, Nikolaevsk, 19:31; (79) John Walsworth, 19:54; (89) Nicetas Lasiter, Nikolaevsk, 20:10; (113) Eric Mametieff, Nikolaevsk, 21:13; (119) Jonah Fefelov, Nikolaevsk, 21:52; (121) Frank Holub, Nikolaevsk, 22:01.