The prep cross-country ski season will see the beginning of the end this weekend as the Region III Nordic Ski Championships kick off today at the Lookout Mountain Nordic trails in Homer.
Today’s races feature a five-kilometer individual start for both the boys and girls varsity fields using the classic technique, while Saturday’s races will be a mass-start freestyle event, with the girls skiing five kilometers and the boys 7.5 kilometers.
If last week’s borough championships in Homer are any indication, the competition will be close. On the boys side, four of the top-10 finishers were from Kenai Central, three were from Soldotna (including overall winner Dillon Jensen), and three were from Homer. Four of the top-10 girls finishers were from Homer, while Soldotna (including winner Sadie Fox) and Kenai saw two apiece.
In the boys race, the top 10 finishers were less than four minutes apart, and in the girls race, positions 3 through 10 were only separated by 2 minutes, 14 seconds.
Homer, Kenai and Soldotna are expected to once again to be in the mix at the region championships, but with schools like Colony, Palmer, Grace Christian and Wasilla thrown in the mix, things could get even more interesting.
“It’s always good to have those guys competing,” said Homer coach Eric Groth. “They’ve been down here for the Homer Invite, we’ve went up to Colony for their invite, we’ve seen these guys, but on our home course these guys are starting to feel it.”
Skyview coach Kent Peterson said Colony and Grace are two teams to look out for.
“Typically, it seems a lot of the schools have a few good skiers, and in order to win it comes down to that fourth skier,” Peterson said.
This winter has also produced a lot of inconsistent weather, which has put the teams on edge as they have had to find the right wax setups, especially for classic races.
“We’re hoping it’ll be cool enough for a decent classic race on Friday, but Saturday should be fast,” said Kenai Central coach Brad Nyquist. “But who knows what could happen at Lookout Mountain.”
“The big thing is when the temperature gets around freezing,” Peterson said. “Homer can always be a little crazy with the weather, and when it gets around 32 degrees, it gets pretty intense when it comes to a classic race. It’s challenging.”
Groth said the Lookout Mountain trails — which he describes as technical — have managed to stay skiable in recent days, so the competition can breathe easy, for now.
“It was an absolute blizzard yesterday with blowing snow, and I think it’s supposed to cool down a little for the classic course,” Groth said. “It’s at 32 and snowing now, but if it cools to about 20 to 25 we’ll be good for classic skiing.”
In the girls race at the borough championships, the Homer Mariners took a 2-3-4 finish, which helped to snag the team title over Soldotna. A young team consisting of freshman Barae Hirsch, junior Cassidy Soistman and sophomore Aspen Daigle have combined to create a deep roster for Homer, along with Tisha Lovett and Rachel Ellert.
“This girls team is young, and they’re just fit people,” Groth said. “They have a good time, and the competition comes from that.”
The Homer boys feature a lineup of senior Brian Rowe, who finished third last week, Jake Worsfold and Ghen Sasakura.
“I feel like we’re peaking at the right time, because we had a breakthrough performance at boroughs,” Groth said. “We have a chance to compete. It’ll be fun to compete with Grace and the other schools.”
While the Homer girls took the borough team title, Soldotna ended up with the individual victories in both the boys and girls races. Fox won the girls race and Jensen the boys.
Hannah Pothast joins Fox as possible contending skiers in the girls race for SoHi. Taylor Gilmore, Dani McCormick and Olivia Hutchings also bring talent to the Stars.
On the boys side, Jensen has had his share of success this season, but has been followed closely by teammates Colton Diehl, Luke and Levi Michael, and Tanner Best.
The Kenai Kardinals have boasted a talented lineup of varsity skiers this year, led by Travis Cooper on the boys side. Cooper has been close a number of times this year to winning a race, and finished second to Jensen last week at boroughs, trailing by 11 seconds.
“He’s been closing the gap on the front guys, it’s been a goal of his to close the gap,” Nyquist said. “It’s getting to the end of the season, so it’s interesting to see what he can do.”
Jordan Theisen, Joe Bressler, James Butler and Fox Michaud also have complemented Cooper well this season, leading up to the team title the Kards won at the boroughs championship last week.
Kirsten Nyquist, the highest-finishing Kenai girls skier last week in fifth, is joined by Lindsay Floyd, Mikaela Salzetti and Alex Bergholtz.
“I think the boys and girls are steadily improving, the boys won the last four races, which is making them feel pretty good right now, but they know the other teams are improving,” coach Nyquist said. “It’s going to be a good show between Kenai, SoHi and Colony. You never know if another team is going to show up on the boys side, so our kids are pretty excited to be in the hunt.”
“(The team title) is kind of up in the air, whoever wants it.”
The Skyview Panthers have been led this year by Mika Morton on the girls side, and not too far back has been Casey Neill. Morton finished 10th last week.
“We’re still getting healthy, Mika had a 10th last week and we’re hoping to get her in the top 10,” coach Peterson said. “We’re also still recovering from sickness, but Casey’s got some potential too, so we could turn some things out at the end of the season.”
The Skyview boys have found most of their success with Brenner Musgrave, Sky Schlung and Sterling Stasak this season.
“The guys are good classic skiers,” Peterson said. “There’s a good chance for them to do well on Friday.”
For the Seward Seahawks, the only skiers that will be competing on the varsity level at regions are Lindsay Kromrey for the girls and Miles Knotek for the boys. Kromrey tallied a ninth-place finish last week.
Seward coach Mark Swanson said there are only nine skiers making the trip.
“We don’t have a full team varsity, but we have Miles, and Lindsay is really our big news there, she started a year and a half ago,” Swanson said. “She’s quite an athlete.”
Swanson credited a snow dump two weeks ago that allowed Seward to get some late training in.
“Seward’s got some great snow, and we have fun as a team,” Swanson said. “We’ve even been ice skating on the lakes. The competition is important but it’s secondary to fun.”