Thomet, Ostrander set wicked pace to rule state cross country

bbragg@adn.comOctober 5, 2013 

— With individual wonders like Kodiak's Levi Thomet and Kenai's Allie Ostrander and team juggernauts like Grace Christian defending their titles at the state cross country championships, recycling was a big theme Saturday at Bartlett High.

And cycling produced a bit of a sub-plot.

On a picture-perfect autumn day, Thomet repeated as the Class 4A boys champion, Ostrander repeated as the Class 4A girls champion and Grace Christian swept the Class 1-2-3A team titles for the sixth year in a row, with the boys winning a record eighth straight championship.

Thank goodness for Tom Corbin. The former Service High coach was the lead bicyclist for a couple of the races, the guy who rides ahead of the runners to make sure the trail is clear, and his presence helped keep this from being a stop-me-if-you've-heard-this-before story.

At a meet where Thomet and Ostrander crushed the competition, Corbin helped illustrate Thomet's dominance. Halfway through the 5-kilometer boys race, while going up a hill, Thomet -- who had already blew past the competition -- flew past the bicycling Corbin.

"I almost ran into the back of him," Thomet said.

No one could remember a runner passing the cyclist at previous state championships.

"I think that's a first," said Kodiak coach Marcus Dunbar, who should know. Kodiak boys have won six of the last eight individual state championships, and Dunbar himself ran cross country for Bartlett in the 1980s.

Corbin, 66, who has been part of the cross country scene in Alaska forever, noted with a laugh that he's undergone 13 orthopedic and three heart procedures in recent years -- translation: he's no young stud. But that doesn't diminish Thomet's mastery of Bartlett's hilly course.

"He caught me so damn fast, and he looked so relaxed," Corbin said. "He had so much power."

Worried he wasn't pedaling fast enough, Corbin turned to look for the rest of the runners. None were in sight.

"He's in a league by himself. He's like (Don) Clary or (Doug) Herron," Corbin said, dropping two of Alaska's most famous running names. "That kid is amazing."

Amazing works as an apt description for much of what happened Saturday:

• Thomet, a junior, finished in 15 minutes, 10.8 seconds to forge a 55-second victory over Chugiak's Ty Jordan.

• Ostrander, a junior, finished in 17:49.5 for a 68-second win over Wasilla's Alex Mathis.

• Briahna Gerlach, a freshman from Glennallen, edged defending champion Taylee Nyquest of Thorne Bay by six seconds in the Class 1-2-3A girls race, the only close individual race of the day. Gerlach clocked 18:34.3; Nyquest 18:40.5.

• Daniel Serventi, a senior, became the third boy from Grace Christian in six years to capture an individual Class 1-2-3A title, winning in 16:20.4 to help the Grizzlies continue their dominance of Alaska's small-schools competition.

Class 4A boys

Led by a 5-6 finish from Max Donaldson and Erich Hoefler, the West Valley boys repeated as the team champions as expected.

Not as expected: West High's second-place finish.

"This is the first time ever to get a trophy at state for (boys)," West coach Ruth Barndt said. "They all pulled it together."

The Eagles landed four runners in the top 20, led by Lance Larkin in seventh place, to easily claim second place with 81 points ahead of Kodiak and Kenai, who both scored 122.

But the story of the race was Thomet -- "Thomet the Comet," as the announcer called him.

He shaved 15 seconds off his personal best and enjoyed the biggest margin of victory in recent memory in a 4A boys race. At the 2008 state meet in Palmer, Kodiak's Trevor Dunbar -- who now runs for Oregon -- recorded a 48-second victory in a time of 15:07.8.

Thomet said Trevor helped coached the team early this season before returning to Eugene for his senior year.

"He pushed us," Thomet said.

Mostly, though, Thomet pushes himself. With few high school runners in Alaska able to match his pace, the clock and his own desire are his motivators.

"He knows there's more than being the top guy in the region or the state," Marcus Dunbar said. "Levi's got the desire to be better than Trevor was, just like Trevor wanted to be better than the guys down (in the Lower 48)."

Thomet's desire is such that he spends the summer running on a treadmill at the family fish camp in western Kodiak. The only trails are deer and bear trails, said his dad Kip, "and he doesn't like to run on the bear trails." So instead he works out on a treadmill powered by a generator.

"He plugs in a movie and goes," mom Leigh Thomet said.

Class 4A girls

Ostrander rules the junior girls race at Seward's famous Mount Marathon race, so you'd think the hills on the Bartlett course would be no problem.

Think again, she said after her victory.

"Those hills, they just killed me," she said. "... Mount Marathon, sure it helps me build those uphill muscles, but I wasn't out there thinking, 'You do Mount Marathon!' I was thinking, 'I hope there's a downhill after this.' ''

Ostrander's 65-second victory was one of the biggest in history. Back in 1986, Kodiak's Kristi (Klinnert) Waythomas of Kodiak won by 78 seconds.

Ostrander's lead was so enormous after the first few hundred meters that not many girls saw her again. Like Thomet, Ostrander said she finds motivation from within when racing solo.

"I think about all the people who would kill to have this opportunity," she said, "and I think, if I'm going to be here, I'm gonna make sure I go my hardest all the time."

In the team competition, the West girls ended Wasilla's three-year reign by getting personal bests from just about everybody. All five of their scorers finished in less than 20 minutes, including two -- Maggie York and Barae Hirsch -- who had never done so before.

"That's what we kept saying -- 'five under 20, five under 20,' " Hirsch said.

Kayle Blackmore's sixth-place finish and Maddy Boutet's 10th-place finish led the Eagles, who are worth keeping an eye on. The team included one senior, one junior, two sophomores and three freshmen.

"Which means we're only going to get faster," Hirsch said.

Class 1-2-3A

Grace Christian's jerseys say "Run for joy." Grace Christian's runners say they run for the glory of God. Either way, it all adds up to one crowded trophy case.

Grace's boys beat the Dimond boys' record of seven straight team titles, recorded from 1973-79, by holding off a determined Anchorage Christian squad that made the Grizzlies work hard for No. 8.

Led by Serventi's victory in 16:20.4, the Grace boys had five boys in the top 13 to score 35 points. ACS, led by Austin Monzon's sprint finish for second place, placed four in the top 10 and finished with 42 points.

"Our No. 1 goal all year was to stop Grace from their eighth title in a row," said Monzon, who beat Galena's Kaleb Kora by eight-tenths of a second to claim second place in 16:36.9, surging ahead in the final meters.

But Grace was unstoppable, again. Ryan Cox, the team's first-year coach, is a 2008 Grace graduate who helped put the long string of success in perspective.

"Eight years -- that's high school and college," said Cox, a member of two of those champinships teams. "I went to college for five years and I came back and it's still going on? Unbelieveable."

The girls have a nice thing going too. No. 6 came straight out of a coach's fantasy -- Grace's top five runners finished all in a row, with Kayla Rowe leading the way in seventh place, followed by Harmony Wayner, Cheyenne Applegate, Jodi Davis and Elle Arnold.

"To be a part of this legacy -- just a small part -- it's an honor to compete with these ladies and these guys," Rowe said. "The hard days are really hard and the easy days are really fun."

The easy days, she said, consists of slow, easy runs. The hard days are known as Wednesday 1,000s, when the Grizzlies go to Stork Park -- where it's always muddy, Rowe said -- and do a series of 1,000-meter runs, separated by 90 seconds of rest.

The pack of Grace girls trailed a stirring duel for the 1-2-3A girls title between Gerlach and Nyquest.

Gerlach said she made the winning move on the final hill, a big climb a kilometer from the finish line.

"I knew I had to just go all out," she said. "I didn't want to, but I knew I had to."

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.


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