Connecting You With AK Athletes Outside the 907

The Alaska Sports Blog is sponsored by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and provides daily updates on local athletes outside the state. The blog was created in 2009 to fill a void of media coverage once Alaskans left the 907 area code. Former Anchorage Daily News sports editor and Alaska Press Club award winner Van Williams has been with the blog since the beginning and written more than 3,000 stories on over 500 Alaska athletes.

Follow us on Twitter @AKsportshall and Facebook.

Click here to read more about Van Williams and the Alaska Sports Blog.

July 20, 2017

Mario Chalmers basketball

Mario Chalmers

After missing the entire NBA season with an Achilles injury, Anchorage’s Mario Chalmers is finally healthy and ready to return to the NBA.

The 31-year-old Alaska Sports Hall of Fame inductee has signed a one-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, the same team he was with when he injured his right Achilles tendon in March 2016.

Chalmers, of Bartlett High fame, joined Memphis in November 2015 after a trade with the Miami Heat, the franchise that drafted the 6-foot-2 point guard out of the University of Kansas in 2008.

He was part of two NBA championships with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. He is also the only Alaskan to win a title at the high school, college and professional level.

With Memphis, Chalmers played primarily as a backup and averaged 10.8 points and 3.8 assists in 55 games.

For his NBA career, he has averaged 9.0 points and 3.8 assists in 580 games.

July 19, 2017

Allie Ostrander track and field

Allie Ostrander

The Mountain West Conference had never named a freshman as its Female Athlete of the Year until this year.

Call it the ‘Allie Effect.’

Kenai’s Allie Ostrander has been named this season’s Mountain West Female Athlete of the Year after the redshirt freshman ran to a pair of NCAA All-American finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

In even more impressive was the fact she accomplished the fabulous feat in just over an hour – winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase and coming back to grind out a fourth-place finish in the 5,000.

She became the first freshman in more than a decade to win a national championship for the NCAA outdoor season.

Ostrander, of Kenai High fame, also won a Mountain West title in the 10,000 meters.

She holds a 4.0 GPA.

Last year she was named the Mountain West Student Athlete of the Year and spring’s Mountain West Scholar Athlete.

This year the track star competed in a variety of events ranging from the 1,500 and 5,000 to the 10,000 and steeplechase.

July 18, 2017

Trey Huckabay basketball

Trey Huckabay

Trey Huckabay of Anchorage wanted to go to college with his buddies, but rather than follow his heart he followed a different path that led him to Life Pacific College.

The Class 4A all-state basketball player recommitted to the NAIA school in San Dimas, California, after originally signing with Southwestern Oregon Community College in May alongside East High teammates Carson Washburn and Moses Miller.

“The point of going to a two-year school is to make your way to a four-year school, so my reasoning was why not go to a four-year school that is also playing seven D1s next year,” Huckabay told me. “And they’re giving me a full ride, so I couldn’t pass it up.”

His decision, however, broke up the three amigos.

“I felt bad,” Huckabay said. “My best friend Carson is going there and I didn’t want to dip out on him, but I had to. Moses was pretty mad too.”

Huckabay averaged 20 points a game as a senior and was named second team all-state at East. As a junior, at 3A Anchorage Christian, he was voted second team all-state.

The 6-foot-2 guard played his best for East in the postseason, when his team needed it most.

He pumped in a career-high 42 points in an 89-59 win over Service in the semifinals of the Cook Inlet Conference Tournament. In the first round of the state tournament he poured in 36 points in an 87-55 win over Juneau-Douglas.

“Going from 3A to 4A, there were a lot of doubters [on social media] that said I couldn’t produce at that level, so I worked my butt off all summer to try and prove them wrong. I was in the gym every day,” he said. “I just worked hard and put my mind to it that I could play at any level.”

Now he’s going to the next level.

Early in the recruiting process, Southwestern Oregon Community College the first school to make him an offer. Life Pacific was in the picture before fading. When the Warriors reappeared, he had already signed with the junior college, which eventually released him to allow him to recommit.

“I’m so thankful to SWOCC,” Huckabay said. “They were the first college to pretty much believe in me.”

July 17, 2017

Alev Ketler rugby

Alev Kelter

As one of the best rugby players in the country, Eagle River’s Alev Kelter was a natural choice to join Team USA for next month’s Women’s Rugby World Cup.

The 26-year-old was one of 28 Americans named to the team that will travel to Ireland and face defending champions England, Italy and Spain in Pool C.

Kelter, of Chugiak High fame, is a powerful runner and arguably the most consistent scoring option for Team USA.

The 5-foot-6 bruiser led the Eagles Sevens in scoring last season with 79 points and she led Team USA in scoring at the Olympics.

This is only her third year of playing rugby after a college soccer and hockey career at the University of Wisconsin.

July 16, 2017

Scooter Bynum baseball

Scooter Bynum

Even at 21, he still goes by Scooter.

But you can call him All-Star.

Scooter Bynum of Fairbanks has been added to the North Division team for the 2017 Northwoods League All-Star Game Tuesday in Wausau, Wisconsin.

“I’m excited to be invited and to make my first-ever all-star game and home run derby because it’s been a goal of mine for a while,” he told me.

Bynum, of Monroe Catholic High fame, is the starting center fielder for the Bismarck Larks and the second player from his team to be selected to the all-star game. He will be the first Larks player ever to participate in the home run derby.

The 6-foot-1 slugger leads Bismarck with five home runs and 27 RBIs while batting .299 in 36 games.

Bynum doesn’t buy the theory that a dinger derby can ruin your swing.

“Only you can mentally,” he said. “I avoid mental barriers by thinking about my past and my highs and lows and always remember that the lows are gonna happen; just try to make them as short as possible.”

The former Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year provides a mix of power and patience with 21 walks and a .391 on-base percentage.

That versatility has allowed the Bizmarck manager to move Bynum all over the lineup, ranging from the leadoff spot to the cleanup position to the nine hole.

Bynum, who will be a senior at Northern Illinois University this fall, is having a blast in the Northwoods League. He still plays the game like a kid. A kid named Scooter, a man named Roderick.

“I still go by Scooter I like it and my teammates like it too,” he said. “As I get older I realize that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone except myself because I know I put the work in to be great so I just have to make it happen now.”

July 14, 2017

Jonny Homza baseball

Jonny Homza

Jonny Homza of Anchorage is hitting the ball to all fields and holding his own against professional pitching in the Arizona League for rookies.

The 18-year-old has base hits in eight of his last 10 games and is batting .275 in 16 games with the San Diego Padres organization, which drafted him in the fifth round last month.

Homza, of South High fame, has four two-hit games, including tonight and last night.

He has ripped six doubles and driven in seven runs and scored seven runs while hitting No. 2 in the order.

His strikeouts are down as well.

Defensively, Homza has played second base, third base and shortstop. He’s also been the designated hitter.

July 13, 2017

Zak Naylor soccer

Zak Naylor

Zak Naylor of Anchorage is racking up meaningful minutes for a playoff team in the United Premier Soccer League.

The Boise FC Cutthroats have posted a 13-2-1 record with the 23-year-old Alaskan playing a pivotal position of central defensive midfielder.

There, he is able to showcase his two-way talent with deft ball control and quick feet on defense.

“I’ve really been working on the defensive side of my game,” he told me. “Tackles have gotten a lot better and aggressiveness is a lot higher than it used to be playing in the middle.”

Naylor, of South High fame, has played more than 1,300 minutes in the middle of the field this season.

The former Concordia playmaker has added four goals and three assists.

“We have our first playoff game coming up on Saturday at home,” Naylor said. “If we win that we go to the national quarterfinals in L.A. at the end of the month.”

July 12, 2017

Willy Homza baseball

Willy Homza

Being an everyday player agrees with Anchorage’s Willy Homza.

Homza is ripping the ball with the Rockville Rock Hounds and ranks tenth in the California Collegiate League with a .388 batting average in 20 games.

“Summer ball is a great place to gain confidence because you play every day and you don’t have time to dwell on past at-bats,” he told me. “I started off feeling good and I’ve worked on a few approach adjustments to try and get some more power and it’s working so far.”

Homza, of South High fame, went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs in a 9-8 win over the Healdsburg Prune Packers.

The 6-foot-1 infielder just wrapped up his sophomore season at Brown University.

“My coach placed me in this league because it guaranteed me lots of playing time,” he said.

Homza has flourished in the lineup. He played in 37 games at Brown and hit .205 with a home run and eight RBIs.

But with Rockville his average has nearly doubled.

“My approach stays the same in general,” he said. “We use wood [bats] at Brown for the fall and winter, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment for the summer, which is nice.”

Defensively, his arm feels great in the California sun and he’s played all over the infield.

“I’ve been bouncing around the infield between third and second with a few appearances at short. I also DH occasionally so I can stay on the lineup,” he said.

July 11, 2017

Corey Cogdell-Unrein trap shooting

Corey Cogdell-Unrein

When it comes to shooting a trap under pressure, there’s nobody better than Eagle River’s Corey Cogdell-Unrein.

The 30-year-old shotgun shooter won in walkoff fashion after she hit the 50th and final target to claim third place at the USA Shooting National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It was at least the fourth time she’s medaled in a major competition after hitting her final target, including twice in the Olympics.

This result qualified Cogdell-Unrein for the world championships – her seventh-career berth.

This one was special, though, because she has endured an exhausting technique change.

“Today felt like a glimpse of light at the end of a long tunnel I have been traveling down the last six months since making the switch from shooting with one eye to two,” Cogdell-Unrein told USA Shooting.

“This has been the hardest and most drastic change I have made in my shooting career by far to date. I know I have a long way to go still until I am satisfied with where I am at but shooting 24/25 in the first half of the final today gave me that reassurance that I am on the right track and that the changes I have made will make me a better athlete in the long run.”

July 10, 2017

Kayley Swinton basketball

Kayley Swinton

After spending the last year away from the game, Kayley Swinton of Haines is giving basketball another shot.

The 5-foot-11 forward has signed with Oregon Institute of Technology, which was convenient because was already enrolled at the NAIA school and just completed her freshman year.

Swinton was discovered during an open gym – like literally, she was the only person in the gym when Oregon Tech coach Scott Meredith saw her shooting the ball.

“I watched two shots and knew she had played somewhere,” Meredith told the school’s website. “I invited her to an open gym where I watched her play. It was obvious she had been coached and I liked what I saw in her game. Soon after I offered her a spot on our roster and she accepted.

“She became our fifth and final recruit of the year. It’s a great story.”

Swinton followed her older brother Tyler to Oregon Tech because of the quality of its medical programs. Tyler played golf for the school.

Their mother Sarah is a former Haines basketball star from the 1980s and was inducted into the Alaska Schools Activities Association Hall of Fame.

Swinton was a two-time all-state selection in high school. As a senior she averaged 18 points a game and served as team captain.

“Kayley has unlimited potential,” Meredith said. “Her fundamental skill level is high, especially considering she sat out a year. She has a beautiful jump shot with a high release point. She quickly gelled with our returning players and is a great addition to our team. I’m excited to see what she will be able to do once she gets in basketball shape again.”

July 9, 2017

Ruthy Hebard basketball

Ruthy Hebard

No matter how Hollywood her life gets, Ruthy Hebard of Fairbanks remains grounded because of how she was raised.

She works hard, stays positive and never assumes that just because she had success on the basketball court yesterday it’s destined to happen again.

So, she keeps grinding like it never happened.

“All this is making me better and part of the process,” Hebard told me. “I am really happy about where I am but I know I cannot take a break or feel satisfied because there are a lot of basketball goals and personal goals I have left, so I will always keep working like someone is in front of me.”

That philosophy has panned out quite nicely for the 6-foot-4 forward, who is currently in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with USA Basketball in preparation for the FIBA U19 World Cup in Italy at the end of the month.

Hebard, of West Valley High fame, is back from the 2016 U18 National Team that won a gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championships in Chile.

“Previous USA experience has helped me just feel way more comfortable on and off the court. I have the same coaches as last year so that is good to me I love all three of the coaches and I trust them,” she said.

Hebard used last year’s success with the national team to catapult her to a phenomenal freshman season at the University of Oregon, where she was a catalyst on a 23-win team as an All-Pac-12 performer that averaged 14.9 points on .588 shooting to go along with 8.5 rebounds and 49 steals.

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Hebard single-handedly sealed Oregon’s 71-70 win over Temple after scoring the winning basket in the final seconds and then swatting away a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.

Being in the national spotlight didn’t change the way she looked at the world. It only made her appreciate where she came from more.

Hebard returned to Fairbanks after classes ended in June and recharged her batteries before another busy basketball season.

For three weeks, she hung out with family and friends at her family’s cabin and got in some Alaska-style workouts.

“Mostly every day I went on hikes with friends, swimming, tubing and jet-skiing a few times,” she said. “As long as I am outside with my best friends and family I am happy.”

That was then. This is now.

Hebard is back in basketball mode in Colorado Springs, where she is training with the U19 World Cup Team with the mindset to win another medal for her country.

“I am glad to be back and practicing with this team. We have a great amount of experience on this team and I am glad to be part of it,” she said. “We are all getting to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Along with playing 100 percent, this team is full of competitors and girls who push each other.”

July 7, 2017

Kelsey Griffin basketball

Kelsey Griffin

Eagle River’s Kelsey Griffin will get her first taste of action with the Australian Opals later this month at the Asia Cup in India.

The 30-year-old basketball star recently wrapped up her first training camp with the Australian national team as the Opals prepare to compete in the Asian Zone.

They will face South Korea, the Philippines and Japan in pool play starting July 23.

Griffin, of Chugiak High fame, became a naturalized citizen in 2015.

The former WNBA player and NCAA All-American has flourished in her five seasons with the Bendigo Spirit in Australia.

She led Bendigo to WNBL championships in 2013 and 2014 and was the MVP of the Spirit in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

In 114 career games, she has averaged 15.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

The 6-foot-2 forward was in contention for a spot on the Australian Olympic team in 2016 until she was cut on the eve of the Rio Games.

Now she’s back.

“Kelsey is a very versatile player and has a high basketball IQ,” coach Sandy Brondello told the Australian Olympic Committee website.

July 6, 2017

Janay DeLoach track and field

Janay DeLoach

Janay DeLoach of Fairbanks is a world-class long jumper, yet she manages to remain relevant in the 100-meter hurdles.

Going fast will do that.

The 31-year-old Alaska Sports Hall of Famer posted a personal-best time of 12.83 seconds at the TrackTown Summer Series in New York, New York.

DeLoach finished second to New York native Queen Harrison in the elite eight-woman field.

DeLoach, of Eielson High fame, also clocked a 12.83 at the national championships last month in California.

She is better known for the long jump, having won Olympic bronze and world championship silver in her career as well being sponsored by Nike.

July 5, 2017

Jake Heun Mixed Martial Arts

Jake Heun

Professional mixed-martial arts fighter Jake Heun of Palmer has a take-all-comers attitude.

He’ll take on anybody, anywhere. Even a different country.

The Honey Bear is headed to South Korea to take on Mu Bae Choi, aka, the Heavy Tank of Busan, a decorated wrestler and one of his country’s first MMA fighters. It all goes down Aug. 12.

“I am excited to fight a Korean legend on his home turf,” Heun tweeted.

Heun, of Palmer High fame, has a 10-6 pro record and is coming off a loss at World Series of Fighting 34 on New Year’s Eve.

He’s known for going all out and not leaving anything in the hands of the judges. He’s also got an extensive training background in Tiger Muay Thai.

Choi [12-6] is a big puncher with knockout power and a veteran of the PRIDE series. But he hasn’t fought since 2015.

July 3, 2017

Jonny Homza baseball

Jonny Homza

Anchorage’s Jonny Homza is starting to barrel up the baseball in the Arizona rookie league.

The 18-year-old ripped doubles in back-to-back games for his first and second extra-base hits of his budding career in the professional ranks.

Homza, of South High fame, was a fifth-round MLB draft pick of the San Diego Padres in June. His first stop is with the Arizona Padres.

He is batting .227 in eight games with four RBIs and two runs scored. He’s been hitting No. 2 in the order.

But his offense is only half the story.

Homza has held his own defensively in spite of being moved around the diamond and being placed him at two positions – third base and catcher – he didn’t really play in high school.

The two-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year grew up playing primarily middle infield in high school and American Legion but did see time at third and catcher with the Alaska Baseball Academy, so it’s not like the move came out of left field.

Catching is probably the most demanding position on the field and players can take a pounding physically. They don’t call the equipment ‘tools of ignorance’ for nothing.

So far, though, Homza has handled the transition pretty well.

He’s played four games at catcher, earning one start. He has one assist and zero errors, although he’s given up four passed balls. He’s allowed four stolen bases without throwing out anybody in 14 innings behind the plate, which isn’t bad given how the whole league knows he’s new to the position.

He’s started two of four games at third base. He’s been a designated hitter twice.

July 2, 2017

Caleb Holley football

Caleb Holley

Anchorage’s Caleb Holley hauled in the first touchdown catch in the new home for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The second-year wide receiver caught an 18-yard scoring strike in the first quarter of a 43-40 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Week 2 Canadian Football League game was played in front of a sellout crowd of 33,350 at the unveiling of Mosaic Stadium.

Holley, of East High fame, finished with five catches for 74 yards and a TD.

July 1, 2017

Jalil Abdul-Bassit basketball

Jalil Abdul-Bassit

The strategy for the Toowoomba Mountaineers is simple: Get the ball to Jalil Abdul-Bassit.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Anchorage is a scoring machine and a real bright spot on the last-place team in the Queensland Basketball League in Australia.

Abdul-Bassit, of East High fame, pumped in a career-high 43 points for his second 40-point performance in just 10 games.

His team is 1-9.

“I’m starting to get use to the type of play out here,” Abdul-Bassit told me. “But all in all I’m just trying my hardest to win us some games.”

The former University of Oregon standout sank 13-of-19 field goals and 14-of-18 free throws in a 108-99 loss to USC Rip City. He was 3-of-5 on 3-pointers.

Abdul-Bassit is now averaging 26.6 points per game and ranks second in the QBL, trailing only the 28-point average of Torrey Craig of the Gold Coast Rollers.

The last time he hit the 40-point plateau, Abdul-Bassit canned six 3s en route to 41 points against Townsville.

June 29, 2017

Justice Aufaga football

Justice Augafa

He played both sides of the football in high school and junior college, but Anchorage’s Justice Augafa will have to focus on defense when he gets to the University of Hawaii.

The hard-hitting 5-foot-11, 205-pounder out of Los Angeles Harbor College in California signed with the NCAA D1 FBS school of the Mountain West Conference and will have two years of eligibility.

“I was recruited as a hybrid safety. A safety that can help with run support, blitz efficiently and help in pass coverage. A two-birds-with-one-stone position,” he told me. “I’ll also be on kick return. But I will definitely be in my coach’s ear about seeing playing time on the offensive side of the ball.”

Augafa, of South High fame, played all over the field for LA Harbor. He scored touchdowns on offense and defense. He played quarterback, defensive back and running back. He returned kickoffs.

The utility man was named first team All-Central League in the Southern California Football Association.

He credited the LA Harbor coaches for preparing him for the next level and teaching him how to effectively prepare for game day.

“Scouting reports, hours of film and pure execution during practice were many factors that I know I’m going to see at the University of Hawaii,” Augafa said.

Still, he warned others that the JC route isn’t for everyone.

“It’s an all our nothing, day-in and day-out grind and struggle,” he said.

His hard work wasn’t for naught. Augafa was recruited by San Diego State, Washington State and TCU before he settled on Hawaii. He instantly connected with the Hawaii coaches and felt like the program was going the right direction under Nick Rolovich, who is in his second season as head coach.

“The coaching staff is looking to bring me in to start right away. With that being said, I’m without a doubt going to have to show up and immediately put in work to prove to the staff and the team that I’m here to play ball,” Augafa said. “But one thing that helps a program excel is competition. So even if I do show up a starter there’ll be another guy competing for my spot.”

In Alaska, Augafa was the state’s offensive player of the year in 2014 in addition to being an all-state safety. He accumulated 1,360 yards on the ground and scored 20 touchdowns. He also had five TDs on special teams.

In California, he was a ball-hawking defensive back that hit like a linebacker and ran like a wide receiver. His 40 time is 4.5 seconds.

In just seven games he recorded 29 tackles, a sack, five pass breakups, a fumble recovery and two interceptions. He scored two touchdowns on defense, one a recovered fumble and another on a 42-yard pick six.

On offense, Augafa racked up 402 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He shined as a wildcat quarterback, where he could display his skills as a powerful runner between the tackles.

“One thing that helped a lot with my game were the talks my father and I would have growing up,” Augafa said. “He related playing defense to being a heat seeking missile and he would always say ‘See ball, get ball.’ It was that was simple.”

Augafa is eager to test his gridiron skills against fellow D1 athletes from all over the country because he badly wants to prove that Alaskans can play football with the big boys, even if we hail from a small state.

“Everywhere I went I made sure people knew I was from Alaska,” he said proudly. “I try to find ways to help players get out of Alaska to continue their education and careers as football players. I’ve talked to the coaching staff at the University of Hawaii about recruiting Alaska and they were already ahead of me. They plan on sending coaches up there to recruit that area soon.”

June 28, 2017

A pair of Alaskans claimed the highly competitive Jim Bridger Trail Run on June 24 in Bozeman, Montana.

Silas Talbot, of Service High fame, pulled away in the men’s division with a late downhill surge while Anchorage’s Kikkan Randall raced to a first-place tie with fellow U.S. Ski Team member Liz Stephen. The 10-mile event in the foothills of the Bridger Mountains featured 2,000 feet of vertical gain.

Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen

A wedding for two elite Nordic skiers later that day in Bozeman greatly enhanced the quality of the field, which included five Olympians plus some Olympic hopefuls.

After sharing the race workload, Randall and Stephen ultimately decided to finish together in 1 hour, 26 minutes and 58 seconds.

They planned to follow up with more exercise that evening.

“We’ll all be in the same boat when our legs start to fall apart on the dance floor tonight,” Randall told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “We’ll all be doing the same funny jiggle.”

Anna Dalton, a standout road racer formerly of Anchorage and now living in Bozeman, placed seventh in 1:29:39. In 2016, her time would have won the women’s race by three minutes.

Talbot, 24, a former All-American skier at Dartmouth College, moved to Bozeman a year ago to join the Bridger Ski Foundation Nordic team.

Silas Talbot

Among 292 finishers, Talbot crossed first in 1:13:59, outlasting Patrick Caldwell of the U.S. Ski Team by 54 seconds.

“The competition today was super high and I was super stoked when I realized … there were going to be so many fast people here,” Talbot told the Chronicle.

Jeff Ellis, Randall’s husband, placed 22nd among men in 1:30:14

– By Matias Saari, Alaska Sports Blog contributor

June 27, 2017

Scooter Bynum baseball

Scooter Bynum

He doesn’t take off days or at-bats, which is why Scooter Bynum of Fairbanks is one of the hottest hitters in the Northwoods League.

The centerfielder has played in each of the last seven days for the Bismarck Larks and leads his team with a .385 batting average, .551 on-base and .615 slugging percentage over that time.

Bynum, of Monroe Catholic High fame, mixed a blend of power and patience on the week with two home runs and six base on balls.

The left-handed batter out of Northern Illinois University is hitting .264 in the wood-bat league with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 19 games.

Thanks to his red-hot week, Bynum raised his average 68 points. It all started with a 4-for-5 performance against St. Cloud and continued against Mankato, La Crosse and Willmar.

June 26, 2017

Paige Blackburn track

Paige Blackburn

Former U.S. Air Force Academy track and field standout Paige Blackburn of Soldotna posted two individual victories at the Headquarters Allied Air Command Championships in Germany.

Her two victories helped the Air Force alumni women compile 61 points to claim the team title over Poland, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Blackburn, of Soldotna High fame, won the discus with a mark of 172 feet, 4 inches and the javelin at 164-2.

Her discus throw was two feet shy of her effort at last year’s Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Last year, Blackburn was named the Air Force Female Athlete of the Year for track and field.

In college, she was a three-time Academic All-American and the 2012 Mountain West Conference Field Athlete of the Year.

Blackburn holds the Academy indoor record in the weight throw and her name is etched all over the school’s record book. She ranks No. 2 all-time in the shot out, javelin and discus and holds a couple class records as a freshman and senior.

The 27-year-old continues her track and field career thanks to the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, which is designed to allow elite athletes the opportunity to train and compete in national events to make the Olympics

Blackburn is considering a run at the 2020 Games.

June 25, 2017

Jonny Homza baseball

Jonny Homza

The temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, was 111 degrees at game time, but Jonny Homza of Anchorage wasn’t sweating it.

Not even the pressure of his professional debut could get the 18-year-old baseball star hot under the collar.

Known for his ice-cold, clutch performances as an amateur, Homza began his pro career with the same success as he finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs in his first game with the Arizona League Padres in rookie ball.

Batting No. 2 in the lineup and slotted in at designated hitter, the 6-foot, 185-pounder delivered a two-run single for his first hit in just his second at-bat.

Homza, of South High fame, later added a run-scoring single in the 10-9 loss to the Arizona White Sox.

He also struck out three times, including his first at-bat against teen phenom pitcher Edinxon Arias, who is already in his third year as a pro at just 19.

Homza, a two-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year, has seen his life drastically change in the last month – in which he went from graduating high school to being drafted in the fifth round of the San Diego Padres to reportedly signing for $250,000.

A star shortstop and pitcher as a high school player, Homza was drafted by Padres to play catcher, a position he did play sparingly in the past.

It’s probably going to take him some time to adjust to his new position, but his bat is always there, which is why Homza found himself at the top of the lineup on opening night.

June 24, 2017

Alev Ketler rugby

Alev Kelter

Eagle River’s Alev Kelter saw significant playing time in all three rugby games for the USA women’s Eagles as they clinched a spot in the quarterfinals at a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The Americans beat Ireland and Japan before falling to reigning Olympic silver medalist New Zealand in a 19-14 loss in Saturday’s third and final game in pool play.

Kelter, of Chugiak High fame, accounted for 29 percent of Team USA’s scoring on the day with 17 of 59 points.

The 26-year-old Olympian came off the bench to score 12 points in a 33-5 win over Japan on two tries and a conversion.

The 5-foot-6 Alaska bruiser plays with a physical style that makes her a natural on the rugby pitch. Her background in hockey, soccer and flag football only helps.

She also scored a try against New Zealand as the Eagles went toe-to-toe with one of the best sevens squad in the world.

Kelter and the Eagles will take on defending Olympic gold medalist Australia in Sunday’s quarterfinals.

June 23, 2017

Tevita Fehoko football

Tevita Fehoko

His football skills got the attention of coaches at Kansas State University, but it was how Tevita Fehoko of Anchorage performed in the classroom that landed him a scholarship offer.

Committing to academic achievement made all the difference for the 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive lineman out of City College of San Francisco.

Fehoko, of West High fame, signed with Kansas State of the power five Big 12 Conference and will have two years of eligibility.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he told me. “One of the Kansas State coaches warned me how hard they work and that the experience I’m about to come in to will be different, but I’m ready for it.”

That’s because he worked harder for this opportunity than anything else in his life. Forced to really apply himself in school, Fehoko responded with resolve and delivered an honor-roll performance.

“Basically, knowing that you are borderline and if you don’t do it you won’t get your D1 scholarship opportunity. That basically kicked in,” he said. “In high school, I was in the same situation and I told myself I wasn’t going to do it again.”

Message received.

Fehoko changed his study habits, intensified his focus and asserted his will on the books like he does with blockers on the football field.

“I used up all the resources. I stayed late at the library, used the computers at the student center,” he said. “On weekends, I would review stuff and touch up on a few things.”

The extra work paid huge dividends has he finished the semester with a 3.3 grade-point average to raise his cumulative GPA to 2.8.

“That’s, like, my highest GPA ever,” he said. “It was crazy.”

Fehoko was rewarded with a chance to play in the Big 12. He picked K-State over Middle Tennessee, Colorado State and Hawaii.

The defensive lineman is beast at the line of scrimmage, where he gets off blocks with terrific technique and swallows up ballcarriers with pure power.

In 17 career games at City College of San Francisco, he collected 32 tackles, two sacks and blocked field goal. He could make an immediate impact on run defense.

“They want me to come there and play right away and compete,” Fehoko said. “It feels great. This process was long, but it worked out in the end. I just need to keep with it and stay focused.”

June 22, 2017

Caleb Holley football

Caleb Holley

Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Caleb Holley of Anchorage hauled in a catch on 5-of-6 pass attempts in the game of the of the season in the Canadian Football League.

In the 17-16 loss to the Montreal Alouettes the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder finished with 55 yards, helping him eclipse the 700-yard receiving mark in 12 career games.

Holley, of East High fame, is the first Alaskan to play in the CFL in 20 years.

He joined the team last season and made an immediate impact with 56-655-2 totals in 11 games.

In this year’s season opener, the wideout hauled in the first four passes that came his way, highlighted by a 23-yard play.

The only ball he didn’t catch was intercepted, but he did get the tackle.