Connecting You With AK Athletes Outside the 907

The Alaska Sports Blog provides daily posts on Alaska athletes doing great things at the professional, international and collegiate level outside the state. The blog was created to fill a void of coverage once Alaskans left the 907 area code. Since 2009 former Anchorage Daily News Sports Editor Van Williams has written more than 2,400 stories on over 300 Alaska athletes.

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

July 5, 2015

Hans Roelle Track and FieldThere are academic All-Americans and there are athletic All-Americans.

And then there is Hans Roelle of Anchorage.

He’s the best of both.

The Eastern Oregon University senior runner has been named 2015 Academic All-American of the Year for men’s track and cross country by the College of Sports Information Directors of American [CoSIDA].

He is the first person in school history to win the prestigious honor.

“Hans is the kind of athlete every coach dreams about coaching,” EUO coach Ben Welch of Wasilla told me. “He is one of the easiest, high quality athletes I have worked with in 27 years as a head coach. Outside of some difficulties in keeping him healthy, he was super easy to coach and in regards to keeping him healthy, the reason he stayed as healthy as he did down through the years is because he was very diligent in taking care of himself and utilizing the tools at our disposal to do so.”

Roelle, of West High fame, was a 3-time NAIA national champion as a runner and a 6-six time All-American as a student.

“Hans is a brilliant competitor and student with a tremendous work ethic,” Welch said. “To win three national titles and maintain about a 3.85 GPA with double majors of Mathematics and Computer Science is just simply outstanding. On top of that, he has behaved in an extremely exemplarily way off the track and out of the classroom.”

Roelle told the school’s website the key to his success boils down to sacrifice and time management.

“As a student athlete, it is difficult to find the time in a day to do everything you want to academically and athletically,” he said. “Being able to effectively determine whether an extra hour of sleep or an extra hour of study time is more important can make a big difference.”

The Capital One college division Academic All-American men’s cross country/track and Field teams are comprised of runners from NAIA, Canadian and two-year institutions, and are nominated, voted up on and selected by members of CoSIDA.

“The best advice I could give a student-athlete is to be smart with time management by determining the best use of any free time,” Roelle said. “This also includes finding the time for activities that allow you to keep your mind off school and athletics without compromising performance in either.”

July 4, 2015

They came. They saw. They conquered.

They barely broke a sweat.

Spaniard Kilian Jornet and his Swedish girlfriend Emelie Forsberg today rewrote the record book in the 88th running of Mount Marathon in Seward.

Both racers shattered records and made it look pretty easy. Forsberg waved to the crowd as she reached the base of the mountain and Jornet high-fived fans down the homestretch and blew kisses as he crossed the finish line.

Mount Marathon has always been Alaska’s race, a staple of Fourth of July. Nobody can remember somebody from another state winning, let alone another country.

Now that’s history.

Both winners covered the 3.1 miles up and down the 3,022-foot peak like they had a date or something.

Jornet, 27, is a six-time world champion and considered the top mountain runner in the world. Before the race, as others jostled and jockeyed for position at the starting line, he stood there shirtless and looking unassuming, arms crossed, like, ‘You guys just wait.’

After reaching the top with Outsider Rickey Gates and Alaskan Jim Shines, Jornet took off and left those guys in his dust en route to a blistering time of 41 minutes, 48 seconds.

That broke by more than a minute the old men’s record of 42:55 held by Alaskan Eric Strabel in 2013.

Forsberg’s time of 47:48 cut nearly three minutes off the previous women’s record held by the great Nancy Pease, who ran 50:30 in 1990.

Pease is Alaska’s undisputed queen of the mountain. During her reign in the 1980s and 1990s, she sometimes beat the men outright, winning Bird Ridge race outright in 1990 and sharing the Crow Pass Crossing title in 1990. She won Mount Marathon six times and was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame this year.

July 2, 2015

Geno Morgan basketball coach

Geno Morgan

Geno Morgan, who grew up in Chicago but became a man in Anchorage as a college basketball star and then championship high school coach, died in his sleep today while visiting family in his hometown. He was 49.

The sad news was announced through the Wasatch Academy in Utah, where Morgan had coached the boys basketball team since 2009.

He is survived by three children and wife Lisa. The couple had recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in front of hundreds of family and friends.

“Geno was an outstanding basketball coach, but a better friend and mentor to his players,” friend and fellow coach Rusty Osborne told me. “He had the great ability to assimilate and relate to people of all classes and cultures, and affect them all in a positive way.”

Morgan was an NAIA All-American guard at Alaska Pacific University in the late 1980s before turning to coaching. He coached high school basketball in Alaska, Hawaii and Utah and college at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

At East Anchorage, he led the T-birds to the Class 4A state championship in 2000– the school’s 15th title but first without Chuck White. At Wasatch Academy in Utah he won three state championships, with the first in 2011 being the school’s first hoops title in the school’s 136-year history.

Just last year he brought Wasatch to the Alaska Airlines Classic in Anchorage and said it felt like a homecoming.

“A huge part of who I am came from me being in Alaska. I’m quite sure of that,” Morgan told me in 2014. “Alaska is still home. I still have family there. I have a mound of friends who are still there. I think about Alaska often.”

At APU, Morgan averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a senior.

“He was the glue guy,” Osborne said. “He was the guy who did the things that made his teammates better. He understood what helped teams win, and that translated to his coaching style.

In 1995, Morgan led the Palmer Moose to a 23-win season and appearance in the state title game. He won his first state championship with East five years later. After that he joined the coaching staff at UAA and helped the Seawolves reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in his only two years on the bench.

Osborne, now the UAA head coach, was an assistant then and worked closely with Morgan.

“Despite totally different backgrounds, we became close working together at UAA, where we won two conference championships together and found out we had much more in common than we thought possible, both on and off the floor,” Osborne said.

The two friends never lost contact over the years.

“We always managed to stay in touch and I had offered to hire him on a number of occasions. I knew he would have had a positive impact on our program and Alaska basketball if I could get him to return,” Osborne said.

“Basketball brought us together in a place far from our homes, I will miss his wisdom and friendship but am thankful for the contributions he made to not only Alaska but to all those young athletes he mentored. My thoughts and prayers go out to Lisa and the kids, as well his family in Chicago.

“Miss you my friend.”

July 1, 2015

Lael Wilcox cycling

Lael Wilcox

At 2,745 miles, the Tour Divide mountain bike marathon is more about survival than anything.

Yet Anchorage’s Lael Wilcox handled it like it was just another day on her bike.

Actually the 28-year-old spent 17 days, 1 hour and 51 minutes in the saddle during a grueling race that started in Alberta, Canada, and traveled through Southwest America before ending just across the Mexico border from Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

The Tour Divide tests a rider’s strength, stamina, spirit – and Wilcox passed with flying colors.

She broke the previous women’s race record by two days.

To read a much better account of Wilcox and her extreme exploits during the two-week race check out the gypsy by trade blog, which is written by her partner Nicholas Carman. It’s a good read.

June 30, 2015

Sagan Osborne baseball

Sagan Osborne

Sagan Osborne is on the move.

The Anchorage baseball player will transfer to Dickinson State University in North Dakota.

Last season he played at Oregon’s Treasure Valley Community College, which placed fifth at the NWAC Championships.

The highlight of his season came early on against Dawson Community College when he delivered a walk-off base hit to provide a 6-5 win.

Osborne, of Dimond High fame, comes to Dickinson State capable of playing multiple outfield and infield positions as well as pitching.

He was an all-state third baseman and relief pitcher in Alaska and helped Dimond win championships in high school and Legion.

At high school he went to Utah Valley University, where he was a Great West Conference all-conference pick and preseason freshman of the year.

Osborne will have two years of eligibility at Dickinson State.

“Adding Sagan to our program is a great pickup for us,” coach Jason Watson said in a news release. “He is a tremendous athlete who gives us depth in the outfield, infield and possibly on the mound.”

June 28, 2015

Jordan Clark track and field

Jordan Clarke

After winning four NCAA championships at Arizona State University, shot putter Jordan Clarke of Anchorage turned professional in 2014 hoping to join a crowded field of world-class Americans.

Make room because he’s in the club.

Clarke, 24, today earned a bronze medal at the USATF Championships in Eugene, Oregon, with a personal-best throw of 70 feet, 6.25 inches to win a berth to the IAAF World Championships for the first time.

He will join Janay DeLoach of Fairbanks in August in Beijing, China, to give Alaska two participants at track’s biggest stage next to the Olympics.

Clarke, of Bartlett High fame, surpassed the revered 70-foot mark for the second straight competition. He did it two weeks ago in winning a silver medal in a Diamond League meet in New York.

His previous PR was 71-1.5 – so this throw was five inches better. That kind of spike is crazy.

The 6-foot-4 Alaskan believed his training, technique and tapering would put him in position to challenge his PR at the national championships.

But then to do it on his final attempt with the weight of a Worlds berth on his shoulders really demonstrates Clarke’s big-meet prowess. This guy just doesn’t wilt under the pressure of a major meet.

June 27, 2015

Janay DeLoach track

Janay DeLoach

Janay DeLoach can go left and she can go right.

And now she’s going to the IAAF World Championships.

The world-class long jumper from Fairbanks secured a spot on Team USA and will head to Beijing, China, in August after placing third today at the USATF Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

She jumped 22 feet, 9.75 inches to win her flight and finish behind only former world champions Brittney Reece and Tianna Bartoletta in a field of 18 women.

DeLoach, of Eielson High fame, owns a silver medal from Worlds and a bronze from the Olympics in her career, yet today’s result was perhaps the most impressive if you consider she abandoned her traditional takeoff of jumping off her left foot this year and now jumps with her right foot.

“I’m real happy with it, mostly because it’s been a pretty rough last couple of years with the injuries, the surgeries, switching legs altogether and trying to get my balance of going off the other side,” she told me. “I don’t really know of anyone else who has done it and switched legs.”

She’s as close to an ambidextrous long jumper as there is in track and field.

“I can honestly say I’m almost a 7-meter jumper on both legs,” she said, proudly.

DeLoach didn’t plan to switch jumping legs until she broke her left ankle two years ago. She had two surgeries and spent a ton of time training and rehabbing but the injury never fully healed and this year she made the commitment to jump solely off her right foot.

“Rest in peace left leg,” she said with a laugh.

Switching jumping legs is no joke, though. Track is her life and her profession.

“I wasn’t going to do it unless I really believed I could do it,” DeLoach said.

The transition wasn’t always pretty, or fun.

“I had so much self-doubt at the beginning of the year,” she said. “In all honesty you have your good days and you have your bad days, but it’s the bad days where you have to push through and keep your head up no matter what, even if you feel like ‘What’s the point?’ because I’ve realized at the end of the day I had it in me to still jump far with my right leg. I did what I had to do to get here and it’s all been worth it.”

June 26, 2015

Paige Blackburn track and field

Paige Blackburn

As a member of the United States Air Force Academy, it’s fitting that Paige Blackburn of Soldotna would excel at making the javelin fly.

The 25-year-old First Lieutenant will compete in the women’s javelin tonight at the USATF Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

She is one of three Alaskans to compete this weekend. Janay DeLoach Soukup of Fairbanks is in Saturday’s long jump and Anchorage’s Jordan Clarke is in Sunday’s shot put.

Earlier this year Blackburn was accepted into the World Class Athletes Program and moved to Florida, where she could train exclusively for major competitions around the world.

In addition to the javelin, Blackburn is strong in the discus.

The 2008 Soldotna High grad in April won a discus competition at the Florida Relays. She won the gold on her sixth and final attempt.

Blackburn is a veteran in the javelin, having competed at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. She was 22nd that year. She won the Mountain West Conference title in the javelin at Air Force.

The top three finishers at the USATF Championships can punch their ticket to the World Championships in China in August.

June 24, 2015

Brad Oleson basketball

Brad Oleson

It wasn’t meant to be for Barcelona and Brad Oleson of North Pole this year in the Spanish League Finals.

Arch rival Real Madrid swept the best-of-5 series capped by a 90-85 win in Game 3 tonight in Barcelona.

Oleson, of UAF fame, had 10 points and 4 assists in his most productive game of the series.

The teams finished 1-2 in the regular season and have alternated winning La Liga titles in each of the last four years.

The 6-foot-3 veteran guard averaged 6 points on 42 percent shooting in 34 games this season.

He was a starter most of the year and named to the Euroleague All-Defensive First Team this season, showing that he’s still got the moxie to come back for his 12th season as a pro.

He has amassed more than 5,000 career points and won four championships – two in Spain’s first division, one in Spain’s second division and his first as a rookie with Dodge City in the USBL.

June 23, 2015

Conor Spink BaseballLife is pretty unpredictable as a relief pitcher in baseball.

Take Eagle River’s Conor Spink for example.

The left hander earned six winning decisions in 105 previous professional games stretching four years with the Lincoln Saltdogs.

Then he won two games in 10 days.

The 27-year-old has appeared in 15 games this season and has a 2-3 record and 4.80 ERA.

He has pitched a clean sheet nine times.

Spink, of Eagle River fame, has struck out 107 career batters in the American Association independent league.

He is one of only seven Alaskans to pitch in more than 100 pro games.

June 22, 2015

CHrh-Q3UEAAXI9uTwins Ariela and Aaliyah Lewis of Anchorage got the shock of their life when their parents planned a surprise trip to the Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The one-game trip got even better after they watched Team USA beat Nigeria 1-0 and took a selfie with soccer icon Mia Hamm in the box seats at the game.

Actually, they did more than just take a photo. They had met Hamm last year and she remembered the sisters, so they talked for a bit.

“We worked a camp with her last summer and coincidentally she had seats in the box behind us, so when she came over we asked if she recognized us and remembered us, the twins from Alaska, so that was great,” Aaliyah told me. “She’s such a kind person and an inspiration. Of course, I’m just glad she took the time to talk with us and ask about our season and about Alaska and how the club was doing.”

Hamm is as big a soccer star as there is in the women’s game, yet she still seeks connections with younger players like the Lewis sisters, who will be juniors this fall at Alabama State University.

“Meeting Mia Hamm was quite the blessing, even the second time around,” Ariela told me. “She has been my idol since I was in elementary school. The fact that she remembered us and wanted to engage in a conversation was even more heart stopping and showing how amazing of a person she really is.”

The Lewis sisters are stars themselves – in 2013 they were the top scoring sister act in NCAA D1 women’s soccer with a combined 82 points on 33 goals and 16 assists.

Both players are coming off injuries; Ariela had surgery 10 months ago; Aaliyah seven months ago. Both are training hard to get back to full strength for 2015 and going to the World Cup was a nice reward for all their hard work with rehab.

“We drove up to Vancouver from Washington and right from the border, it was getting exciting,” Ariela said. “We saw all these cars waiting to get into Canada like us, wearing their U.S. gear and screaming out their windows so we already predicted it would be a lively atmosphere – and it was.

“People waiting to get in or waiting for the game to start would start a cheer or the wave and soon enough had an entire section of people joining in. The energy of everyone just transferred from person to person. It was so fun and exciting.”

Like most kids the Lewis twins grew up dreaming of one day playing in the World Cup. It’s one thing to watch the games on TV. It’s another to actually be there in person.

“It was so inspirational, I felt like I fell in love with the game all over again, as if I was reminded why I love the game,” Aaliyah said. “The best part was experiencing all the people in paint and colors of red, white and blue, cheering on the girls. It was exhilarating being a part of great energy.”

June 20, 2015
Jesse Cherry running

Cherry winning Oakland Marathon in March

Chugiak’s Jesse Cherry is going back to the Olympic Trials in the marathon.

The 28-year-old today ran a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes, 34 seconds at the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, to meet the B standard and earn an automatic berth for the second time.

“You can find me at the Olympic Marathon Trials in LA on 2/13/2016,” Cherry wrote on Facebook.

He also qualified for the Trials in 2012.

Cherry is one of just six Alaskans to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. The others are Chris Clark and Kristi [Klinnert] Waythomas, David Morris, Kris Mueller and Will Kimball.

Cherry, of Chugiak High fame, won the Oakland Marathon in March in 2:25:14 – his first race in three years.


Here are PRs for the top 10 Alaska marathoners:

David Morris 2:09:32 1999
Jesse Cherry 2:16:31 2012
Rick Wilhelm 2:17:00 1991
Kris Mueller 2:19:26 1986
Matt Adams 2:20:27 2014
Will Kimball 2:21:28 1999
Micheal Wisniewski 2:22:29 2009
Bob Murphy 2:22:47 1983
Andy Ferguson 2:23:33 1986
Paul Ruston 2:23:56 1995

June 18, 2015

Sara Hamberger

Sara Hamberger

Most teenage runners have an entire high school career to make an impression with a college.

Cordova’s Sara Hamberger got three races.

Her final race came at the ASAA track and field state championships, where she needed to run the mile in 5 minutes and 8 seconds or less to meet the standard set by coaches at Utah State University.

After winning the mile in her first two races she placed third at state, but she ran 5:07. So she didn’t get the state title but she did earn a college scholarship.

In doing so Hamberger is believed to be just the second athlete from Cordova to compete at the NCAA D1 level.

This whole thing started last summer when Cordova coach and Sara’s dad, Jeff, a Utah State alum, called a friend on the school’s coaching staff and suggested he recruit his daughter.

Hamberger finished in the top 10 at state cross country in each of her final three years, including fourth in 2013. Still, the Utah State coaches wanted her to run track.

“Even though she had put tog together some good times in cross country, times are difficult to compare because courses are so different,” Jeff told me. “You never know what’s a good time or a bad time. The tracks is much more consistent.”

Even though Cordova doesn’t really have a team, she traveled to Anchorage for a meet against 4A teams and won the mile and placed second in the two mile. She did the same thing at regions and came to state and finished third in the mile and second in the two mile.

Hamberger has already signed her letter of intent and will become the third person from her family to attend Utah State. She will run cross country and track for the college.

June 17, 2015

Brian Way baseball

Brian Way

They say getting the final out is the hardest, but Brian Way of Sitka is making it look easy.

The 19-year-old is 3-for-3 in save situations for the Bellingham Bells of the West Coast League.

The 6-foot-7 right hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in 5 innings and the Bells are 4-0 on days he pitches.

Including his freshman season at Edmonds CC, Way’s team is 17-2 when he pitches.

June 16, 2015

Jakob Arnold baseball

Jakob Arnold

Kodiak baseball player Jakob Arnold had a checklist when it came to finding the perfect college.

He wanted to be near family, but get out of Alaska.

He wanted to play for a competitive program.

And he wanted to pitch in warm weather.

Arnold, 18, got all three wishes at Flagler College, an NCAA D2 school in St. Augustine, Florida.

“It seemed like the perfect fit,” he told me.

The Kodiak pitching ace was one of the top arms in Alaska high school baseball this season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound right hander threw a no-hitter against Houston and went all 7 innings in four of six starts.

His only loss of the season came at the state tournament against eventual champion Chugiak.

Arnold, of Kodiak High fame, carved up batters with a 0.92 ERA in 30.2 innings. His 41-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio is lights out.

He was named first team all-conference and second team all-state this year as a senior.

“It’ll be awesome to face some really good hitters at a higher level,” Arnold said. “I think the competition will make me a lot better.”

Arnold found out about Flagler through his older brother and he sent the coach a video with some of his highlights. He sent out probably 15 to 20 videos, he said, and received interest from a handful of schools. A couple even offered him a spot.

“Being in Kodiak, it’s really hard to get out and show people so it’s all do-it-yourself basically,” he said. “If you want play it’s on you to do all the work.”

Flagler invited him to an open tryout, where Arnold did enough to earn a roster spot and partial scholarship.

“I had a ton of adrenaline and it made me throw harder than I’ve ever thrown,” he said. “Being nervous honestly helped a lot.”

He normally throws his fastball in the 83 mph range. In Florida he hit 87 on the radar gun a couple times.

“They liked my size and velocity but said I need to work on secondary pitches,” Arnold said. “As I get there they are going to see if I am ready as a freshman or if I need to redshirt my first year.”

June 15, 2015

Matt Carle
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane make up a dream 1-2 punch for the Chicago Blackhawks.

But Anchorage’s Matt Carle probably sees them in his nightmares.

The Blackhawks denied the 30-year-old defenseman for a second time from having his name added to sport’s most famous trophy after Chicago beat Tampa Bay 2-0 tonight in Game 6 to clinch the 2015 Stanley Cup.

Carle, of Hobey Baker fame, also lost to the Blackhawks in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Tonight was Carle’s 113th career NHL playoff game.

He has played 660 regular season games with 43-230—273 career totals.

Brad Oleson basketball

Brad Oleson

Even at 32, veteran guard Brad Oleson can still play defense.

The North Pole star was named to the Euroleague All-Defensive First Team this season and is still called on to guard the opposing team’s top perimeter player.

His defense is a big reason Barcelona is back in the Spanish League’s ACB Finals this season and why Oleson is playing for his fifth championship since turning pro in 2005.

Barcelona beat Unicaja 77-74 in the decisive Game 5 of the Spanish playoff semifinal series to reach the ACB Finals against Real Madrid for the second straight year.

Game 1 is Friday.

Last year Barcelona won the championship to give Oleson his fourth career title.

He won his first La Liga title in 2010 with Caja Laboral. In 2007, he won a Spanish League second division title with Rosalia. In his rookie season he won a USBL championship with Dodge City.

June 14, 2015

Lorrie Clifford rugby

Lorrie Clifford

Lorrie Clifford and Alev Kelter of Eagle River helped make history today in Cary, North Carolina.

And it wasn’t even close.

The starting players for the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens rugby team were on the field for an 88-0 rout of Mexico in the championship game of the North America Caribbean regional tournament that secured the Americans a place at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil.

This is the first time rugby sevens will be part of the Olympics and two Alaskans will be part of the historic event.

The U.S. team dominated the NACRA Championships with a 6-0 record and set a team record for largest margin of victory.

Alev Kelter rugby and soccer

Alev Kelter

Clifford and Kelter both graduated from Chugiak High School in 2009. They played flag football together before going off to play college sports.

At Western Oregon University, Clifford played basketball.

Kelter, meanwhile, was a two-sport star in hockey and soccer at the University of Wisconsin.

Now they are playing rugby for the national team and headed to the Olympics.

June 13, 2015

Jordan Clarke Track and FieldJordan Clarke of Anchorage has been terrific the last two weeks with back-to-back Diamond League silver medals and a season-best throw today in New York.

Thing is, though, he hasn’t even reached his ceiling.

Clarke believes his best is yet to come and the 24-year-old former four-time NCAA champion hopes to pop the big one in two weeks at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I’m feeling really good,” he told me. “Starting to get into good shape and excited to peak fully for USAs and try and make the Worlds teams.”

Clarke, of Bartlett High fame, turned in a season-best performance at the adidas Grand Prix with a throw of 70 feet, 0.25 inches to finish second on the world stage for the second straight week.

“Training has just been going really well,” he said. “I’ve been working on the same plan with my coach now the last several years and my technique of the throw is starting to really come along and click rhythmically and timing wise.

“I’ve improved my strength but the biggest asset is the improvement on my throw technique. I’m really excited to see what I can do in a couple weeks when I am fully tapered.”

At the USATF Championships, Clarke will compete for a spot on the IAAF World Championships team in Beijing, China, at the end of August. He will also look to better his PR of 70-1.5.

The 6-foot-4 Alaskan has always possessed the raw power of a polar bear, but today he is finally full strength after recovering from a torn tendon in his right index finger that limited his training for most of 2014.

When healthy, he has shown the capability to challenge the best in the world.

“The power development has been there for a while,” Clarke said. “I have gotten more explosive and faster in the ring. But nervous system is still not firing full go because of heavy weight-room work, so once I rest more and work on more plyometric and speed training the next two weeks without getting sore, the big throw is very close to happening.

“It’ll be more prone to coming out when the body fires on all cylinders. It’s easier to execute correct movements and feels faster once you peak.”

June 11, 2015

Cayle Byers WrestlingChugiak’s Cayle Byers will return to the World Team Trials this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, for the second consecutive year.

This time he’s competing for a spot on Team USA.

The former NCAA All-American out of Oklahoma State University will compete in the 213-pound bracket after finishing fifth at this year’s US Open to qualify for the Trials.

Byers, of Chugiak High fame, won his weight class earlier this year at the Dave Schultz Memorial Invitational at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Last year, he advanced to the semifinals at 197 and finished with two wins and two losses. In that tournament, he lost 6-5 to NCAA champion Dustin Kilgore. But then in January he beat Kilgore 12-8.

June 10, 2015

Conor Spink BaseballA relief pitcher’s worth can be determined by how often he’s summoned from the bullpen.

The Lincoln Saltdogs must think a lot of Eagle River’s Conor Spink.

The American Association independent pro team has turned to the left-handed relief pitcher in 10 of 19 games this season.

This is Spink’s fourth year with the Saltdogs.

The 27-year-old has entered games in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. He’s got one and pitched as many as 3.1 innings.

His versatility is why Lincoln keeps calling him from the bullpen.

Spink, of Chugiak High fame, is one of just seven Alaskans to appear in 100 career games at the pro level.

He has a 3.69 ERA in 104 games with 100 strikeouts in 127 innings.

June 9, 2015

Lorrie Cliford rugby

Lorrie Cliford

The USA Women’s Eagles Sevens rugby team narrowly missed a shot at grabbing an automatic Olympic qualifying berth last time out.

So they head to North Carolina this weekend in search of a second chance, and this time they will bring a second Alaskan.

Eagle River’s Lorrie Clifford is back with the national team and fellow 2009 Chugiak High graduate Alev Kelter for the NACRA Sevens Championships as the Americans fight for Rio 2016 Olympic berth.

“I am excited to be traveling and get a chance to represent our country and get to play games again with the team,” Clifford told me. “It’s going to be amazing and it’s such a special opportunity to do it on our own soil.”

Kelter is coming off her most impressive showing with the Eagles Sevens at last month’s IRB Sevens World Series finale in Amsterdam.

The former University of Wisconsin soccer and hockey player scored in a couple different ways, including in a 15-14 loss to England in game that awarded the winner an Olympic berth.
Alev Kelter Rugby and Soccer
Kelter has amassed 4 tries and 3 conversations as rookie.

Clifford has also scored for the Eagles Sevens in her rookie season, but she missed last month’s tournament in Amsterdam because USA coach Ric Suggitt opted to take different players.
“Coach believed those players would succeed and I believe in his choices and have full confidence in the players that went,” Clifford said. “We have a lot of athletes giving everything they have, which means we won’t always get invited to the dances.”

Clifford, a former basketball player at Western Oregon University, is grateful she can help the Americans punch their ticket to the Olympics.

“We have a very hard-working team going and each player is willing to push themselves as far as they can go to get the job done and get us qualified for 2016,” Clifford said. “Rugby is all about playing for the person next to you; always being there and always having one another’s backs.”

Team USA hits the field Saturday for pool play games against Jamaica, Barbados and the Cayman Islands. The tournament wraps up Sunday.

“It’s a huge tournament and each player has all the motivation they need,” Clifford said. “We know we can’t underestimate anyone. Sevens is too fast to let up for even a second. It takes everything you have.”

June 8, 2015

Brad Oleson BasketballBack-to-back blowouts have given Barcelona a commanding 2-0 lead in its best-of-5 playoff series against Unicaja in the Spanish League semifinals.

North Pole’s Brad Oleson is a starting guard for Barcelona, one of the best basketball teams in all of Europe.

The 6-foot-3 veteran collected 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 blocked shot in a 91-70 victory in Game 2.

He pumped in 12 points in Game 1 in a 91-60 win.

Real Madrid and Valencia are tied 1-1 in the other semifinal.

June 7, 2015

Brian Way baseball

Brian Way

One game, one save. At this point Brian Way of Sitka is on pace to break the West Coast League record.

Of course he won’t get a save every game, but to give him the ball in the first game of the season shows just how confident the Bellingham Bells are in their big right-hander.

Way, who just wrapped up his freshman season at Edmonds CC, danced around some early trouble before closing out a 4-3 win over Kitsap in front of a big home crowd.

“It was a great experience,” he told me. “Coming from Alaska, I’ve never pitched with more than 500 people watching and I guess 2,000 plus fans were there.

“The intensity was unbelievable I loved every second of it.”

The 6-foot-7, 270-pounder gave up back-to-back base hits to open the ninth inning, hardly the kind of first impression he wanted to make with his new club.

But he settled in, getting the next two guys to ground out before getting a strikeout to end the game.

“The first two batters I didn’t throw very good payoff pitches, I was just leaving off speed over the plate too much,” Way said. “But after those guys I calmed my nerves back down and started doing what I do, just staying down in the zone and getting ground balls. It was a blast and I can’t wait to throw again for these guys.”

At Edmonds, Way went 6-2 with a 1.76 ERA in 15 games. He had a 29-8 K-to-walks ratio in 49 innings.

June 5, 2015

Jack Sedor soccer

Jack Sedor

Anchorage’s Jack Sedor plays soccer with controlled rage. The 18-year-old forward is a powerful force you can’t ignore.

The two-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year certainly caught the attention of NCAA D1 Marshall University in West Virginia.

The Dimond High senior has signed his letter and will be eligible to play this fall.

“It’s been my goal since middle school to play at a D1 school and make an impact,” Sedor told me. “I had a couple options, but Marshall seemed like the one that would fit me best; the one where I could really make an impact as a freshman if I work hard.”

Dimond coach Barat Killian saw something special in Sedor when he was in eighth grade. Even then, he told me, Sedor carried himself like veteran and stood out among players his age.

He made an immediate impact at Dimond from the first time he touched the pitch.

“He scored the first goal,” Killian said. “It’s not too often a freshman scores the first goal in his first game.”

He ended his prep career by scoring the lone goal as Dimond beat South Anchorage in the state championship game. Now he’s headed to Conference USA, where he gives Alaska a rare D1 men’s soccer player.

Killian said Sedor was always destined to play big-time college soccer.

“Everything he has done has been purely motivated and driven by wanting to play D1 college soccer,” he said. “It was just a matter of where and when, and how he wants to do it.”

Coming from Alaska, though, it wasn’t easy for Sedor to get discovered. So he took the show on the road and made many trips to the Lower 48 for camps and tournaments.

“You really have to put yourself out there because there is no doubt we have the talent up here but I think it comes down to exposure,” he said. “The past three years I’ve been flying out to North Carolina, Oregon and California … they saw me in North Carolina.”

Sedor fell in love with soccer in the family room. That’s where he played his biggest games against his father and older brother Michael, who won Gatorade Player of the Year honors his senior year.

“We make goals out of the cabinets,” he said. “Every single piece of furniture in that family room has been broken at one point.”

It’s where he learned how to play the game and learned how to take his lumps against his brother, who is 3 years older.

“He would always make it tough, like an older brother should,” Sedor said.

Those games against his brother created his fearless, me-against-the-world mindset that defines him today.

“I’m an extremely competitive person,” he said. “I think anybody that knows me will tell you that.”