Instead of seeing their final state track and field meet go up in smoke, a couple of Class 1-2-3A athletes and one soon-to-be-history team went out with a bang Saturday at Dimond High.
On a day when concerns over air quality prompted officials to speed up proceedings rather than let thickening smoke from Kenai Peninsula wildfires force an early end to the meet, Skyview High produced an individual champion and earned four other medals in its final appearance at the state track meet.
Next school year, Skyview becomes a middle school and the majority of the high school kids who went there will enroll at nearby Soldotna High. Panthers will become Stars, and rivals will become teammates.
Wearing their purple singlets for the last time, the Panthers claimed medals in three relays and two individual events.
Micah Hillbish won the 800 meters and placed third in the 400 meters for the boys, while Hallie Landess, Heather Tolliver, Hayley Ramsell and Jessie McNamara placed second in the 400-meter relay and third in the 800 relay and 1,600 relay.
"A medal was one of our goals," said Tolliver after she and her teammates grabbed third place in the 800 relay.
"We want to go out with a bang," chimed in Landess. "So we can be, like, remembered."
A pair of Anchorage athletes made their senior years memorable by powering their teams to state championships.
Anchorage Christian's Nate Simmers won the 400 and long jump and placed second in the discus Saturday to go with his triple jump title on Friday to carry the Lions to their second straight team championship. Kayla Rowe, who was second in Friday's triple jump, won the long jump and grabbed second in both hurdle races to help Grace Christian to their fourth straight state title.
The championships continued the two schools' dominance of 1-2-3A track. In the seven years since the Alaska School Activities Association created a separate competition for small schools, ACS and Grace Christian have captured 12 of the 14 state titles awarded.
ACS boasted the meet's most dominant athletes -- Simmers and Tanner Ealum, the only three-time individual winners.
Simmers spent half the morning in a golf cart going back and forth between the long jump pit and the discus ring, which were a couple of football fields apart from each other. He wound up with a personal-best, winning jump of 21-3.25 and a second-place throw of 41-0.25.
Then he cooled his heels for a few hours until it was time to run the 400, which he won in 51.53.
"Waiting for the 400 kills me the most," he said. "It's harder than the other events, because those are actually fun.
"...I like the jumps and I like the throws. I became a thrower so I wouldn't have to run as much."
Leave the running to Ealum, a sophomore who blew past the competition in the girls 100, 200 and 400.
A 4-foot-10, 95-pound blur -- "I have a lot of muscle," she said -- Ealum put up times that would have made her a contender in the large-school races. Her 12.74 in the 100 was .04 off the winning time in the Class 4A race; her 25.36 in the 200 was the same as the winning time in 4A and her 58.50 in the 400 was .06 faster than the winning time in 4A.
"I just pretend that everybody is right by me," she said. "Your goal is to PR, and I have to envision girls around me."
Ealum and the Lions did their best to end Grace Christian's reign as state champs, but in the end the Grizzlies prevailed again. Rowe, who has ended every year of her high school career by helping the Grizzlies to a state championship, said there was something special about the most recent title.
The team was about half its usual size this season -- "Everyone went to soccer," Rowe said -- so it wasn't the powerhouse it had been in Rowe's first three years.
"In years past, it's kind of been a guaranteed win," she said. "This year we had to set goals and (put) people in events where they can get points.
"We're all in it together. It's sounds cliched, but we're all here to support each other."
Though soccer's popularity may have deplete Grace's numbers, a former soccer player provided crucial points for the Grizzlies.
Junior Ashley Logan, a goaltender for the soccer team as a freshman, won the shot put and finished third in the discus. Her winning throw in the shot put traveled 35 feet, 3.25 inches, a vast improvement from her sophomore season, when she was throwing in the 27- to 29-foot range.
Logan is already looking ahead to next season, when she wants to challenge the school record of 36-8.5. To do that, she said she'll have to do more weight training than she did this year.
"A foot is a lot," she said. "That's an eight-pound ball that you're throwing."
The 1-2-3A meet produced a bounty of double winners.
Among the girls, Briahna Gerlach won the 1,600 and 3,200 for Glennallen, and Izabelle Ith topped the 100 hurdles and the triple jump for Petersburg.
For the boys, Eielson's Anthony Griffin took the 100 and 200 titles, Seward's Tanner Berry swept the hurdle races and Galena's Kaleb Korta swept the distance races.
Gerlach was part of an impressive showing by Glennallen, which has less than 200 K-12 students but garnered four state titles at the two-day meet. Beside Gerlach's triumphs, the boys won the 1,600 relay and the girls won the 3,200 relay.
Berry's win was also a win for Moose Pass, the tiny town about 30 miles down the highway from Seward. On Friday, the girls discus title went to Laura Kromrey, who is also from Moose Pass, which only has an elementary school.
Korta, a one-man team from Galena, twice fended off serious challenges in the final half of the 1,600 to collect his second championship. On the first corner of the third lap, Homer's Pedro Ochoa tried to overtake him but Korta accelerated once Ochoa was on his shoulder. At the same spot in the fourth lap, ACS's Austin Monzon briefly pulled ahead of Korta, who shifted into a higher gear and won running away.
"I just felt like I had a lot left in the tank, and I didn't want to give up the lead to them," Korta said.
Galena doesn't have a track and the school doesn't have a track team, so Korta's family paid his way to the region and state meets -- Korta has competed in a grand total of four track meets in his life, regions and state this year and last year. But Korta said the school and the town provide plenty of moral support.
"The community is 100 percent behind me," he said. "They've supported me through this entire thing."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Team Champions Through the years
2014 Dimond Colony
2013 Kodiak Dimond
2012 Bartlett Wasilla
2011 Dimond Wasilla
2010 Bartlett Dimond
2009 Bartlett Dimond
2008 Bartlett Dimond
2007 Kodiak Bartlett
2006 East West Valley
2005 Juneau-Douglas West Valley
2004 East East
2003 Dimond East
2002 Dimond West
2001 Bartlett Lathrop
2000 Colony Bartlett
1999 Colony Bartlett
1998 Dimond East
1997 Palmer Soldotna
1996 Chugiak Soldotna
1995 Palmer East
1994 Soldotna Chugiak
1993 Lathrop Chugiak
1992 Bartlett Chugiak
1991 Bartlett Dimond
1990 Bartlett Chugiak
1989 Bartlett Bartlett
1988 Chugiak East
1987 Chugiak Bartlett
1986 Bartlett Bartlett
1985 Bartlett Bartlett
1984 Bartlett Bartlett
1983 Bartlett Bartlett
1982 Bartlett Bartlett
1981 Bartlett Bartlett
1980 Bartlett Bartlett
2014 Anch. Christian Grace Christian
2013 Anch. Christian Grace Christian
2012 Grace Christian Grace Christian
2011 Seward Grace Christian
2010 Grace Christian Anchorage Christian
2009 Seward Anchorage Christian
2008 Grace Christian Anchorage Christian
By BETH BRAGG