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Chugiak dynasty charges to third consecutive D1 title; A’Lante Owens-Player, jumpers lift Bartlett to first state title in 12 years

by | May 28, 2024 | Cover Story, Prep Spotlight, Running, Track and Field

Chugiak’s Jihsana Williams crosses the finish line in the 4×100 relay at the state meet. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Name any track and field event and the Chugiak Mustangs are guaranteed to score.

From the sprints to the hurdles to the throws and the distance, the Mustangs collected seven titles en route to their third consecutive team title at the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Track & Field State Championships.

Led by freshman Jihsana Williams and junior Alliyah Fields, the duo combined for four individual titles, sweeping the sprints and middle-distance events, while contributing to three relay titles.

Williams led the charge in the sprints, capping undefeated seasons in the 100 and 200 against in-state competition, clocking 12.33 and 25.81 seconds in the finals respectively. The phenom freshman raced like a veteran in her inaugural state meet, winning her events by a combined 1.21 seconds. She also anchored the winning 4×100 relay and runner-up 4×200 relay, finishing with 3 gold and 1 silver medal.

After all she’s achieved, Williams is proud of her success but knows there’s still room to grow.

“It means a lot already getting my name out there,” said Williams. “I’m a freshman so I still got time to improve.”

Teammate Alliyah Fields took care of business in the middle-distance events, conquering the arduous 400/800 double, both of which also had prelims a day prior. Fields felt unstoppable in the 400, pulling away from the field as the lone finisher under the 60-second barrier, clocking 57.93 seconds to dip under the 30-year-old school record. Teammate Petra Knox added a third-place showing, while Ryleigh Earvin finished sixth.

Chugiak’s Alliyah Fields sprints toward the finish line in the 400 at the state meet. Photo by Pete Pounds

“I was like ‘just keep pushing’ the whole time,” said Fields. “I looked at the clock because I got too excited, I thought I got 58 — I got 57. It was awesome.”

A mere 77 minutes passed after Fields crossed the line in 400 before she was back on the track for the two-lap event.

Competitors jostled for position in the early stages of the 800 before Colony’s Ella Hopkins took the lead with 300 meters to go, pulling away from the loaded field and nearly earning her first state title. Fields edged the multi-time state medalist in 2:22.24, followed by teammate Ryleigh Earvin (2:22.88), while Hopkins settled for third (2:23.28).

“I took off as usual and then I got kind of kicked in the back, almost got spiked but I didn’t let that hurt me,” said Fields. “I was in lane 2 throughout the race and the last 200 came in and I knew I had it in me and I just kicked it in.”

The Mustangs put four athletes in the top five in the 800, with Petra Knox and Hannah Shaha finishing in fourth and fifth.

After placing runner-up in the 3,200 one year ago, Juneau-Douglas’ Etta Eller was on a mission to upgrade to gold.

The senior filed behind the leaders for a majority of the race, while teammate Ida Meyer eventually took the lead. Eller unleashed a lethal kick to surge past Meyer in the final lap to collect her first state title in 11:09.22, a personal best by 11 seconds. Meyer placed runner-up (11:12.79) to earn her highest state finish.

Juneau Douglas’ Ida Meyer (301) and Etta Eller (294) lead the 3,200 at the state meet. Photo by Pete Pounds

In the 1,600, Eller showcased a similar strategy, running a tactically-sound, yet quick race. Eagle River’s Ashlyn Paynter led most of the four-lap race and made a fast break from the field with a lap to go. Eller kept her eye on Paynter and narrowly edged the freshman at the line to clock another personal best in 5:11.93, winning by a mere 0.05 seconds — a margin significantly smaller than the separation between the top two finishers in the 100-meter dash.

Similar to Jihsana Williams, fellow freshman Nevaeh Watkins made her state debut one to remember.

Watkins’ winning clearance of 5 feet, 4 inches in the high tied her personal best and joint-program record with two former Dimond standouts, marking the highest jump by a Lynx in 39 years. The freshman took top honors in the 100 hurdles, clocking 15.56 seconds, in addition to running a leg on the winning 4×200 relay. Watkins added a runner-up in the 300 hurdles to collect four medals — 3 gold, 1 silver.

Teammate Sarah Dittman capped an undefeated season in the long jump, defending her state title with a winning jump of 17 feet, 7.25 inches. The junior also ran a leg on the winning 4×200 relay, placed runner-up in the 200 and ran a leg on the 4×400 relay.

South Anchorage’s Makaylen King was victorious in the 300 hurdles, earning her first state title after stopping the clock at 47.28 seconds. The senior shaved nearly one second from her previous time to take the title, leading three girls under 48 seconds. King also placed runner-up in the 100 hurdles, long jump and triple jump.

Dimond’s Nevaeh Watkins and South’s Makaylen King compete in the 100-meter hurdles at the state meet. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Eagle River’s Gabrielle Okorodudu closed out her junior season undefeated in the triple jump. The Wolves standout defended her title with a leap of 36 feet, 4.75 inches in the prelims to break her previous school record.

In just her first season of track and field, West Anchorage’s Nevaeh Toleafoa competed like a pro at the state meet. The senior swept the throwing events, winning the shot put (41-9) by over seven feet and the discus (112-9) by over one foot. Toleafoa’s mark in the shot put ranks No. 7 all-time among known performers in Alaska prep history.

As for Chugiak, other top-8 scorers included Hannah Shaha (1,600 & 3,200), Ellen Kruchoski (100 hurdles), Emily Moore (300 hurdles), Samantha Jensen (300 hurdles, long jump & triple jump), Loseli Ofiu (shot put), Shayvon Williams (discus), Hannah Bodkin (high jump) and Finley Moffett (long jump).

With 133 points, the Mustangs ran away with the team title, while South Anchorage edged Dimond to place runner-up with 77 points. Chugiak’s girls team title is the ninth in program history (’90, ’92-’94, ’16-’17, ’22-’24).

On the boys side, Bartlett’s A’Lante Owens-Player and his jumping entourage led the Golden Bears to their first team title in 12 years.

Owens-Player completed undefeated seasons in both long jump and triple jump as the defending champion. With a mark of 46 feet, 1 inch, the senior earned his third consecutive title in the triple jump, while teammate Tyler Drake placed runner-up. Owens-Player leapt 22 feet, 5.75 inches in the long jump to achieve his second consecutive title, while teammate Drake took third and Marquez Nevitte and Jai Jordan rounded out the top-8.

Bartlett’s A’Lante Owens-Player triple jumps at the state meet. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

The Golden Bears collected a whopping 37 points — nearly half of their total score — in the horizontal jumps, alone.

Teammate Deuce Alailefaleula became Bartlett’s third individual champion of the meet, winning the shot put with a throw of 50 feet, 10.50 inches. The sophomore also competed in the discus, while the Golden Bears collected points in the hurdles, sprints, and relays.

In the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, it was all Eagle River’s AJ Szewczyk.

The senior and defending champion in both events showed grit, narrowly edging Bartlett’s Tyler Drake in the 110 hurdles by 0.06 seconds with a time of 15.07. Szewczyk defended his title in the 300 hurdles to become a three-time champion, winning in 40.02 seconds, while also placing third in the 200.

“My strategy was just to ‘do what I can do’ and honestly I was really relaxed — not to say I wasn’t nervous — but I feel like I did a really good job of just staying relaxed and calm and collected,” said Szewczyk. “This year was a whole lot of challenges, but ultimately I pulled through and I’m happy with it.”

Eagle River’s AJ Szewczyk battles Bartlett’s Tyler Drake in the 110-meter hurdles at the state meet. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report.

While a stumble coming out of the blocks initially slowed Ketchikan’s Jason Lorig, the defending champion in the 100-meter dash couldn’t be stopped, speeding to victory in 11.06 seconds.

The junior’s time of 10.81 seconds in the prelims set an official state record, edging Colton Herman’s previous time of 10.86 seconds from 2019. Lorig credits his performance to consistency with block starts, strength, and training with a club team during the indoor season from January to March. Though he had hoped for a quicker time in the finals, adding his name to the record books was no easy feat.

“It feels really great, putting myself in Alaska history,” said Lorig. “Last year I was almost undefeated so it feels a lot better this year.”

After graduating multi-time state champion Matthew Rongitsch, the Colony Knights had another ace up their sleeve in Tobias Buchanan. The senior battled in the 1,600 and 3,200 before unleashing a fatal kick to pull away from the competition in both distance events in earn his first two individual state titles, after helping the Knights claim the team title last spring. Buchanan’s time of 9:28.01 in the 3,200 is a school record, while he clocked 4:25.67 in the 1,600 to nearly tie his personal best.

Arguably the most difficult event to make the finals in was the boys 800. The prelims saw seven athletes run sub-2 minutes, with 13 out of 15 athletes setting personal bests. While only the top four athletes in each heat made the final, three athletes who ran 1:58-1:59 did not advance.

West Anchorage’s Murphy Kimball had the race of his life in the prelims, leading the qualifiers with a time of 1:57.80 to slash nearly 2.5 seconds from his previous best. The senior left nothing up to chance after barely qualifying for the state championships. Kimball ran a strategic race, pulling away in the latter stages to collect his first state title in 1:57.04.

West Valley’s Curtis Beck and Juneau-Douglas’ Wilder Dillingham went head-to-head in the 400, with Dillingham coming off the curve as the early leader. Beck closed hard to match the Crimson Bear’s speed, which ended in a photo finish. Beck took top honors in 49.36 seconds — 0.02 seconds ahead of Dillingham. Coincidentally, Beck’s time ties Dillingham’s personal best from earlier in the season; both are tied for No. 6 among known performers in Alaska prep history.

West Valley’s Curtis Beck and Juneau-Douglas’ Wilder Dillingham run stride-for-stride in the 400 at the state meet. Photo by Pete Pounds

After a pair of runner-up finishes in the 100 and 400, Dillingham got out to a strong start in the 200. The senior closed hard to earn his first state title in 22.20 seconds, collecting hardware in all three sprinting events. Dillingham’s time reset his recent personal best, which had previously erased a 43-year-old school record. During the race, the Crimson Bear leaned into his knowledge and tailored his race plan specifically to the Dimond High track, which has smaller lanes than most tracks statewide.

“With this track, it’s got tighter curves, so that’s something if you’re not used to it, you got to think about,” said Dillingham. “(The plan) was ‘get out, try to stay in the middle of my lane and just go.’”

A close competition in the high jump led Service’s Phoenix Perkins to the win over defending champion Alex Emers of West Valley. Both jumpers cleared 6-3, but it was Perkins who upped the ante after clearing 6-4, setting a personal best by two inches and earning his first state title.

East Anchorage’s Pusa Lilo led the Thunderbirds to a 1-2 showing in the discus with George Lane, after unleashing a massive throw of 150 feet, 3 inches to achieve a personal best by more than five feet. Not to mention, the state title was the junior’s first win of the season.

West Anchorage won the 4×100, while Soldotna won the 4×200, Chugiak took the 4×400 and Dimond was triumphant in the 4×800 relay.

As for Bartlett, other top-8 scorers included Marquez Nevitte (100 & 200), Elijah Lemaster (400) and Sean Gainan (110 hurdles).

With 75 points, the Golden Bears captured the team title, while Chugiak placed runner-up with 61 points. Bartlett’s boys team title is the 18th in program history (’79-’86, ’89-’92, ’01, ’08-’10, ’12, ’24).

Full results here.

South’s Vebjørn Flagstad and Colony’s Tobias Buchanan lead the 1,600 at the state meet. Photo by Pete Pounds

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