From a workhorse distance runner to a sprinter who loves classical music, here are 8 Alaska track and field athletes to watch this season

The Anchorage Daily News caught up with some of the best athletes from the Cook Inlet Conference track and field schools last week. The list includes a workhorse distance runner, a classical music loving sprinter, a football playing thrower and hurdler who’s been practicing for her events since the fall.

Payton Smith

Grade: Senior

School: West

Top event: 1600

Other events: 3200

What head coach Antonio Wyche said: “She is a self-driven athlete, she is a workhorse. She decides to come to the track even when we don’t have to be here. She works extremely hard, trains extremely hard, might get a little anxious before races but I think that is just a great athlete wanting to be super competitive.”

What she said: “My favorite race is the mile. I like it because it is kind of a slower pace which is nice because you’re relaxed for half of it and the last part is pretty exciting.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: “For the Win,” by Slim Dinero. “It is kind of rated R just a heads up,” Smith warned.

Olyvia Mamae

Grade: Junior

School: East

Top event: 300 hurdles

Other events: 100 meter hurdles, 100

What head coach Christina Shurtleff said: “She didn’t have the results that she wanted from state last year so she has been training since October to make up for those so she can hopefully win state in four events.”

What she said: “I’ve been training three days a week since October and now I do every day week for in-season. I started track as fun but now it is something that I want to take to the next level and am serious about.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: “I kind of try to clear my mind as much as possible,” Mamae said. “I like to think about the things I need to focus on in the race to get me over the hurdles the fastest.

Shaistin Naufahu Gaspar

Grade: Senior

School: Bartlett

Top event: Shotput, Discus

Other events: 100

What throwing coach Laura Homan said: “He is a constant thrower and is very good at what he does. He excels in discus and shotput and he is a runner.

What he said: “To me it is better than football but I still love football just as much. I try not to get too cocky but it is nice to be the top thrower in Alaska.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: Gospel and worship music

Jared Gardiner

Grade: Senior

School: Dimond

Top event: 3200

Other events: 1600, 800

What distance coach Nate Normandin said: “He has been working his tail off and is one of the kids you wouldn’t think of as being an athlete. He just works his butt off so hard that he has become a great phenomenal athlete.”

What he said: “I’ve grown to love it, especially the past few years since COVID started. It is kind of like an escape from what is going on. I’ve come to love the sport.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: “I like talking to myself in my head before a race and say ‘You got this. Go for this best time’ and it has worked for me,” Gardiner said.

AJ Szewcyk

Grade: Sophomore

School: Eagle River

Top event: 110 meter hurdles

Other events: 300 hurdles, 100

What he said: “Your final mark is the finish line but you have these barriers that are in front of you. I’m attacking those barriers. That’s my goal. My goal isn’t the finish line, my goal is the hurdles.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: Country. “Sometimes I’ll just go off and listen to country music,” Szewcyk said. “Sometimes during training we’re going to get those Disney songs in, because why not, it’s always fun.”

Zoe Chang

Grade: Senior

School: Service

Top event: 800

Other events: 400, long jump

What she said: “I couldn’t keep up in a sprint but I have pretty good fitness from doing cross country. Doing the 800, you have to be fit and you have to be fast.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: Megan Thee Stallion

Joshua Bailey

Grade: Senior

School: Chugiak

Top event: 100

Other events: 4x100, 200

What he said: “I’m just trying to get my times down as low as I can so I can attempt a sub-11 second 100 near the end of the season. That’d be something that’s really special and just to have some meet wins under my belt would be really nice.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: Classical. “Really low-key,” Bailey said. “Bach’s a good one, symphony stuff and band music.”

Indigo Hobson

Grade: Junior

School: South

Top event: 800

Other events: 400

What she said: “I like the last lap, the last 300, I really like that part of the race. I just like kicking it that last 300 and cruising to the finish line. Other races aren’t like that, it’s fast and quick.”

Favorite music for training/warm-up: Taylor Swift

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.