Cross-country skiers may be some of the world’s best athletes, but three straight days of competition will take it’s toll on anyone.
That’s the challenge prep skiers face this weekend at the ASAA Nordic Skiing State Championships at Kincaid Park in Anchorage.
The first two days of racing — today and Friday — are individual races. The boys will ski 7.5 kilometers and the girls 5 kilometers in Thursday’s interval-start classic technique events, and on Friday, the courses will be even longer. The girls will ski 7.5K and the boys will go 10K in a mass start using the freestyle technique.
The championships end on Saturday with the popular relay events. Girls will start first in a 4-by-3K relay that features the first two racers skiing classic legs, and the final two skiing freestyle legs. The boys race will be the same, except the distances will be bumped up to 5K for each leg.
Three days of competition can really wear out an athlete, and coaches know that the week of practice prior to the meet will be crucial.
“We’ve rested a lot this week, we’re going to go preview the course (Wednesday) and wax skis,” Homer coach Eric Groth said. “But rest is important. It’s been a long season.”
One of high school’s longest sports seasons — 3.5 months — can burn skiers out when they need to be at their fastest, so a lot of the hard training comes before the season even begins, such as August and September. By the time the racing hits, skiers still work hard in practice during the week, but when it comes time to peak at the state championships, keeping up the energy levels is very important.
“Everyone’s eating, sleeping, and we’re making sure there’s fun in there,” said Seward coach Mark Swanson. “We take competition seriously, but afterwards we take time to have fun. It takes all the pressure off, so there’s not a lot of tension.”
Swanson said his girls team has an unofficial side bet with the Wasilla girls team, which he says is pretty evenly matched with Seward. Whichever team comes out ahead at this weekend’s races will enjoy cookies bought by the losing team.
“We’re throwing down the gauntlet,” Swanson said.
Aubrey Smith, a Wasilla coach, is a former Seward resident and athlete, and Swanson said the competition keeps up the effort levels.
“We know Aubrey, and she’s pretty competitive, so this will be fun,” he said.
The following is a preview of each Peninsula team:
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The boys team finished second to Soldotna at last week’s Region III competition, and will be out for more at the state competition.
Bolstered by Travis Cooper’s second- and third-place finishes on Friday and Saturday, respectively, Kenai was able to achieve that position. But, at the state level, it will take more than just one guy to place well. Joe Bressler, Jordan Theisen and Fox Michaud have all been factors in numerous races this season alongside Cooper, and if the team can all have peak performances, coach Brad Nyquist said they can be the top Peninsula team.
That’s our goal for this weekend,” Nyquist said. “Some kids have set lofty goals of finishing in the top five (as a team), and I think the best we’ve done is sixth place. It’s an exciting time to have the kids be the number one Peninsula school.”
Nyquist said in order for that to happen, it will come to the team’s third- and fourth-ranked skiers. Olen Danielson and Jake Gilman will round out the Kenai boys squad.
“Fox had a really good race last week after being sick, and Olen Danielson was in a music festival in Oregon, and he is a strong classic skier,” Nyquist said. “That is where we struggled last week, and Jordan can close the gap on some of those other guys too.”
Makaela Salzetti was Kenai’s top finisher on the girls side last weekend with an 11th-place finish in Saturday’s mass start freestyle race, and will be joined by teammates Kirsten Nyquist, Beverly Schindler, Lindsey Floyd, Annbjoerg Bakken and Maddeline Michaud.
“At regions, they skied really well and everyone improved, but so did all the teams,” coach Nyquist said. “They’re still young and this is a great experience for them to have.”
Luke Michael was the only winning skier last week at regions, taking the top time in Friday’s interval start classic race, and that helped the boys team to the region title. The SoHi girls finished fourth in the team rankings, but were less than two minutes behind runner-up Colony.
Colton Diehl and Levi Michael, Luke’s younger brother, also snagged top-10 finishes at regions. Tanner Best, Joe Rife and Jong Kim rounded out the SoHi boys team last week, and will need to be on their guard if they wish to hold off the Kenai boys at state.
Sadie Fox put together two fast races last week en route to top-five finishes on both days, and was followed by teammates Hannah Pothast, Dani McCormick, Taylor Gilmore, Olivia Hutchings and Xochi Harbison.
First-year Homer coach Eric Groth said he hopes the year will end on a good note, and was pleased with the races his team put out at the region competition.
“We’re all looking forward to state and everybody’s excited,” Groth said. “I thought that they all skied good races and we’re pretty happy with the results.”
The Homer girls finished third as a team last week, less than a minute behind Colony, and were led led by freshman Barae Hirsch, who raced to a sixth-place finish in Friday’s classic race and a fifth place in Saturday’s skate event.
Hirsch’s teammate Cassidy Soistman finished eighth on Friday but bowed out on Saturday due to asthmatic breathing issues.
This weekend at Kincaid, the Homer girls’ lineup will feature Hirsch, Soistman, Aspen Daigle, Rachel Ellert, Tisha Lovett and Lydia Arndt.
The Homer boys got a fifth-place team finish last weekend, highlighted by Ghen Sasakura’s ninth place and Brian Rowe’s 10th place Saturday.
Along with Sasakura and Rowe, Jake Worsfold, Josh Vantrease, Jakob Krisintu and Ryan Navrot will fill out the varsity boys squad for Homer.
There will be no ill blood from anybody this weekend, as Skyview coach Kent Peterson echoed the other coach’s sentiments and said that his team is excited for the opportunity to race this weekend.
“At this point of the season, we have what we have, and I think the kids will have their best races,” Peterson said.
The girls varsity lineup will consist of Mika Morton — who finished 14th in last Friday’s race — Casey Neill, Brittany Hollers and Mieka Chythlook.
The boys state-bound squad will be Kyle Austin, Sky Schlung, Brenner Musgrave, Sterling Stasak and Jeremiah Hudson.
Coach Mark Swanson said he was quite happy with Seward’s results last weekend at the region meet.
“I’m really interested to see what Lindsay (Kromrey) can do,” Swanson said. “And Miles (Knotek) had the race of his life last weekend, he was screaming down the trails.
“We’re going to have a blast, it’s exciting. Everyone at state always gets ramped up.”
Laura Dyer and Brooke Estes will be joining Kromrey on the girls state team, and Jerry Swanson, Nick Zweifel and Dylan Gillespie will be the makeup of the boys squad, along with Knotek.