Absent from the last two state track and field championships, surprise and finish-line drama distinguished the 3,200-meter races on the first day of competition Friday at Dimond Alumni Field.
The races produced some unexpected results races on a hot and sunny afternoon.
"Total surprise," Eagle River junior Peyton Young said after her victory in the Class 4A girls race.
None of the runners who entered the meet with the fastest qualifying times captured state championships.
Three-time Class 1-2-3A boys champion Kaleb Korta of Galena was outsprinted down the stretch by teammate Jacob Moos.
Two-time Class 1-2-3A girls champion Briahna Gerlach of Glennallen lagged far behind winner Elizabeth Balsan of Anchorage Christian.
Top-seeded Emma Sees of Chugiak, who beat seventh-seeded Young by 16 seconds a week earlier to win the Cook Inlet Conference title, finished a distant seventh in the Class 4A girls race.
Top-seeded Derek Steele of South was unable to respond when fourth-seeded Keith Osowski of Kodiak made his winning move on the final lap of the Class 4A boys race.
The outcomes were a big change from the previous two seasons, when record-setters Allie Ostrander of Soldotna and Levi Thomet of Kodiak dominated the 4A races and Gerlach and Korta comfortably collected titles in the 1-2-3A races.
The race of the day was between teammates Korta and Moos.
The two took turns at the front of a lead pack of four to five runners for the first seven laps.
In the final lap, the pair shifted into a new gear to drop their pursuers.
In the final 20 to 30 meters, Moos unleashed a blazing finishing kick to overtake Korta, who struggled to stay on his feet as he attempted to catch up in the final few meters.
Moos won in 9 minutes, 40.4 seconds, less than a second ahead of Korta (9:41.13).
It was a classic case of the learner becoming the master.
Said Moos, a sophomore: "He's been my mentor the last three years, and to finally get the win was really awesome."
Said Korta, a senior: "I've been training him for this moment. I figured it'd happen sometime."
The teammates said they agreed before the race to take turns leading for the first six laps.
"We said after six (laps), all bets are off," Moos said. "We helped each other the first six and then it was a two-lap race."
"After the sixth lap," Korta said, "we're not really teammates any more."
Because their school has no track oval, Moos and Korta train on gravel roads and a short loop at the Galena airport. A knee injury sidelined Korta until early May, and neither runner competed until the region championships last week.
"It's me and him against the world," Korta said. "This is only our second meet. Our seeds times were (from) our first race of the season."
Mutual respect abounds between the two, who appear to have a genuine friendship.
Korta was the first runner to applaud when Moos took a short victory jog while carrying an Alaska flag, and he made sure Moos was part of a postrace interview. As for Moos, he credited Korta for making him a fast runner and for sweetening his victory.
"Dueling it out with my best friend, it was just special," Moos said.
Many of the 3,200-meter boys runners had the initials "JJB" written on their shoulders, a tribute to Monroe Catholic runner Joseph Balko. Last week at the region meet in Fairbanks, Balko collapsed at the finish line of the 3,200 meters and died a day later.
"We're trying to recognize him," Class 4A champion Osowski said. "I'm definitely humbled. I wanted that championship for him and my coach."
Osowski used a blistering, 62-second final lap to beat Steele.
"The whole season I pictured Derek right in front of me and kicking it in the final lap," he said.
With his win, Osowski became the latest of many state champion coached by Marcus Dunbar, one of Alaska's greatest distance runners and one of its finest track coaches.
Under Dunbar, Kodiak has claimed 27 state titles in the boys distance events – the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and 3,200 relay race.
The biggest surprise of the day was Young's victory in the Class 4A girls race.
Her goal coming in? "Hopefully I could place in the top 10," she said.
Young said she was surprised when race began at a slow pace, "so I speeded up," she said. Once she established a lead, things got stressful.
"I didn't want the others to catch me," she said. "It's scary, because you don't know how fast they're going, so that was nerve-wracking."
In the Class 3A girls race, nerves got the best of Gerlach, a junior who won her region race in 11:06, a time faster than any of the boys at that meet.
Friday she finished second in 11:30, 19 seconds behind Balsan.
"I puked up all my breakfast," Gerlach said. "Just nervous. Just a lot of fast people."
Balsan, a senior, passed Gerlach and took control in the fourth lap of the eight-lap race.
"I could tell she was getting pretty tired because she was slowing down," Balsan said. "That's not normal for her."
Balsan's time of 11:11.69 came within a second of her season-best.
Before the distance runners took center stage Friday, Wasilla junior Ceil Dunleavy delivered the day's only state record.
Dunleavy broke the girls high jump record by half an inch with a jump of 5 feet, 6.5 inches. The old mark was set in 1983 by Soldotna's Renae Pickarsky.
"I had my eye on PRing," she said. "When you try and try to beat a record, it can be really disappointing. But when you're trying to beat yourself, there's a lot more satisfaction."
Dunleavy's personal record before Friday was 5-6. When she cleared that height, Wasilla coach John Paramo suggested that she ask for the bar to be raised half an inch instead of a full inch.
"Just to get (the record) out of the way," Paramo said.
Dunleavy missed all three attempts at 5-7, but she and her coach felt encouraged by the efforts.
"She was there. She just clipped it," Paramo said.
The day produced no double winners, but Chugiak's Emma Nelson turned in two runnerup performances, in the high jump and triple jump.
Colony celebrated two Class 4A champions — triple jumper Brandon Nicholson and discus thrower Kristina Tennesen.
And Anchorage Christian placed three athletes on the top of the Class 1-2-3A podium – Balsan, high jumper Lane Kaltenbach and discus thrower Amir Williams.
The Lions could have more champions to cheer on Saturday.
Tanner Ealum, ACS's lightning-fast senior, was the top qualifier in three events, posting times that blew away her Class 1-2-3A competitors.
Her 12.41 in the 100 was more than half a second faster than any other 1-2-3A runners, her 25.06 in the 200 was two seconds faster and her 55.50 in the 400 was seven seconds faster.
All of those times surpassed the best preliminary times in the Class 4A races.
"The 400 today, I went all out," Ealum said. "Tomorrow I don't plan on going as hard."
Ealum will run seven races during the two-day meet, and part of her mission Friday was to conserve energy and not get overheated.
"That means stay in the shade and ice for my neck," she said. "I want to make sure I get enough water and more ice."
ASAA/First National Bank
State track and field championships
Class 1-2-3A boys
3,200 – 1) Jacob Moos, Galena, 9:40.4; 2) Kaleb Korta, Galena, 9:41.13; 3) Hunter Kratz, Seward, 9:48.72; 4) Blake Bennett, ACS, 9:53.78; 5) Colin Baciocco, Sitka, 10:02.7; 6) Zach Young, Grace Christian, 10:14.68; 7) Zach Hamberger, Cordova, 10:16.73; 8) Jack Matherly, Hutchison, 10:18.61.
Shot put – 1) Luke Johnson, Nikiski, 46-7.5; 2) Matthew Tua-au, Gustavus, 42-10.5; 3) Matthew Green, 42-8.5; 4) Frederick Onochie, ACS, 41-00.75; 5) Dakota Hupp, Nikiski, 40-9; 6) Alex Binder, Grace Christian, 40-9; 7) Logan Juhl, Tri-Valley, 40-6.75; 8) John Koenaman, Houston, 40-6.
High jump – 1) Lane Kaltenbach, ACS, 5-10; 2) Braden Nieder, Grace Christian, 5-8; 3) Brogan Nieder, Grace Christian, 5-8; 4) Jonah Coats, Valdez, 5-8; 5) Joel Carroll, Homer, 5-6; 6) Bogdan Kravets, Delta, 5-6; 7) tie, Brandon Tulcey, Sitka, and Alan McCay, Petersburg, 5-6.
Triple jump – 1) Antonio Griffith, Eielson, 42-10.5; 2) Uri Simmers, ACS, 42-2; 3) Brogan Nieder, Grace Christian, 41-0.5; 4) Braden Nieder, Grace Christian, 39-8.75; 5) Vitaliy Kurilchenko, Delta, 38-10.25; 6) Aaron McCollum, Nikiski, 38-0.25; 7) Michael Lucas, Holy Rosary, 37-11; 8) William Parks, ACS, 37-10.25.
Class 1-2-3A girls
3,200 – 1) Elizabeth Balsan, ACS, 11:11.69; 2) Briahna Gerlach, Glennallen, 11:30.72; 3) Ruby Lindquist, Seward, 11:34.10; 4) Grace Gannon, Grace Christian, 11:50.68; 5) Mazzy Jackson, Grace Christian, 12:10.70; 6) Audrey Rosencrans, Homer, 12:14.73; 7) Allison VanPelt, Houston, 12:16.51; 8) Alex Moseley, Homer, 12:32.98.
Discus – 1) Amir Williams, ACS, 111-4; 2) Kimberly Quincy, Houston, 93-7; 3) Hailey Holland, Redington, 90-10; 4) Elisa Larson, Petersburg, 90-7; 5) Destinee Cowart, Haines, 89-3; 6) Bailey Stuart, Haines, 87-8; 7) Tessa Schindler, 86-2; 8) Maya Pelayo, Monroe, 83-5.
High jump – 1) Kassandra Howard, Valdez, 4-8; 2) Bethany Carstens, Nikiski, 4-6; 3) Sarah Lucas, Holy Rosary, 4-6; 4) tie, Kamryn Dodson, Sitka, and Alex Kirby, Sitka, 4-4; 6) tie, Haley Loper, Su Valley, and Kriziel Sarmiento, Seward, 4-4.
Triple jump – 1) Izabelle Ith, Petersburg, 38-4; 2) Sarah Lucas, Holy Rosary, 35-11.25; 3) Arianne Parrish, Nikiski, 32-11.75; 4) Sierra Tate, Hutchison, 31-11.75; 5) Victoria Saxe, Tri Valley, 31-7; 6) Annie VanderWeide, Grace Christian, 31-5.5; 7) Gloria Jacobsen, Glennallen, 31-4.5; 8) Madison Akers, Homer, 30-9.5.
Class 4A boys
3,200 — 1) Keith Osowski, Kodiak, 9:36.99; 2) Derek Steele, South, 9:42.90; 3) Michael Parnell, Kodiak, 9:45.28; 4) Jacob Walsh, Eagle River, 9:45.91; 5) Foster Birnbaum, West, 9:52.09; 6) Dakota Peterson-Thompson, Colony, 9:54.21; 7) Aaron Swedberg, Soldotna, 10:00.41; 8) Riley Howard, Service, 10:04.21.
Shot put — 1) Kordell Pillans, Kodiak, 55-07.25; 2) Jack Dickinson, Lathrop, 50-07; 3) Evan Bruso, Bartlett, 47-00.50; 4) Dalton Best, Soldotna, 46-08; 5) Nigel Pagofie, Bartlett, 46-04.75; 6) Thomas Sio, Bartlett, 46-04.5; 7) Brandon Pili, Dimond, 45-04.50; 8) Johnathan Stephens, Service, 44-11.50.
High jump — 1) Bryce Hellman, Bartlett, 6-6; 2) Brandon Joyner, West Valley, 6-4; 3) Nathaniel Fromm, Service, 6-0; 4) Andreas Carros, Kodiak, 5-10; 5) Terrell Johnson, West Valley, 5-10; 6) Keenan Orth, Kenai Central, 5-8; 7) Dallas Tellef, Bartlett, 5-8; 8) Mark Fisher, West, 5-8; 8) Donovan Eiman, Palmer, 5-8.
Triple jump — 1) Brandon Nicholson, Colony, 45-5.50; 2) Josh Jackman, Kenai Central, 42-1.50; 3) Lucas Davis, Eagle River, 41-9.50; 4) Nathaniel Fromm, Service, 40-9.50; 5) Andreas Carros, Kodiak, 40-7; 6) Donovan Eiman, Palmer, 40-3; 7) Cephas Ekuase, Dimond, 39-11.75; 8) Logan Shrader, Soldotna, 39-5.50.
Class 4A girls
3,200 — 1) Peyton Young, Eagle River, 11:42.48; 2) Zoe Bigley, Kodiak, 11:47.45; 3) Erin Wallace, Thunder Mountain, 11:47.53; 4) Jenna Difolco, West Valley, 11:47.53; 5) Maggie Meeds, South, 11:48.12; 6) Kylie Judd, Dimond, 12:00.02; 7) Emma Sees, Chugiak, 12:01.75; 8) Faith Widman, West Valley, 12:03.43.
Discus — 1) Kristina Tennesen, Colony, 116-09; 2) Emily Pieh, Soldotna, 109-05; 3) Annie Quinn, Soldotna, 109-01; 4) Ileana Casiano, West Valley, 105-04; 5) Abby Beck, Kenai Central, 103-08; 6) Richelle Walker, Kodiak, 99-09; 7) Sylvia Tuisaula, Soldotna, 97-07; 8) Ella Kupiainen, Chugiak, 94-01.
High jump — 1) Ceil Dunleavy, Wasilla, 5-6.5 (new state record; old record, 5-6, Renae Pickarsky, Soldotna, 1983); 2) Emma Nelson, Chugiak, 5-2; 3) Ann Gebauer, Service, 5-2; 4) Zoey Keene, South, 5-2; 5) Madeline Ko, Colony, 5-1; 6) Chantal Le Bon, Wasilla, 5-1, Wasilla; 7) Chase Stephens, Colony, 5-1; 8) Eva Heinrichs, West Valley, 5-0.
Triple jump — Naomi Welling, Thunder Mountain, 38-5.75; 2) Emma Nelson, Chugiak, 37-10; 3) Chase Stephens, Colony, 34-10.50; 4) Gretta Pickett, West, 34-8.50; 5) Madeline Ko, Colony, 33-7.75; 6) Lily Sessom, Colony, 32-10.50; 7) Ceil Dunleavy, Wasilla, 32-7.50; 8) Kaia Michalsen, Ketchikan, 32-5.25.