A mighty streak will be on the line this weekend when peninsula high school ski teams head up to the Matanuska-Susitna valleys to race in the Region III championship meet.
Overall, a central peninsula team has won a region title in each of the last 17 seasons, going back to 2000. The Stars claimed either a boys or girls team crown each year from 2000 to 2014, and the streak was broken in 2015, when Kenai Central swept the team titles.
The Kenai girls and the Soldotna boys are out to maintain their current dominance. The Kardinals girls are the two-time defending Region III champions, while the SoHi boys won last year for the first time in three years, giving them a string of five titles in the last nine years.
Last year, the Kenai girls won the team title by nearly 10 minutes over runner-up Colony, but Kards head coach Brad Nyquist isn’t taking a three-peat for granted.
“There’s more competition this year,” Nyquist said. “Palmer’s got some really good skiers, and Colony’s got a good group. … It’s hard to say, we haven’t seen Colony since early December.”
In fact, it has been since the statewide Lynx Loppett races on Dec. 9 and 10 that the peninsula teams have raced against the Colony Knights, who are one of the faster teams in the region. That weekend, Kenai only raced two varsity girls skiers, but both finished behind Colony’s top two girls skiers.
Last year’s boys race featured a much tighter battle. The SoHi boys had to battle down to the final varsity racer and came out ahead of second-place Colony by less than two minutes.
Koby Vinson and Jeremy Kupferschmid were both part of last year’s SoHi contingent, and both finished top-10 both days at the region meet. Soldotna head coach Isaac Erhardt said he believes his boys team is deep enough to win a second region title.
“Our team is looking strong, and we have pretty solid four in the mix that can always do good things,” Erhardt said. “If one of them is having a rough race, the others can pick up the pace.”
Erhardt said the teams to beat are Colony and Grace Christian.
The Region III meet will be held today and tomorrow at the Government Peak ski trails in Wasilla. The weekend begins today with an interval-start classic race and ends Saturday with a mass start Chevron-style freestyle event. The Chevron-style refers to the way the field lines up in the starting chute, in the V-shape style that features the faster racers up front. The field will be ordered by the results from Friday’s race.
Kenai junior Riana Boonstra took the girls individual Region III victory last year with a first and second place between the two days, and is fresh off a Kenai Peninsula Borough ski title last weekend on her home Tsalteshi ski trails. Boonstra finished third at regions her freshman year, behind winner Sadie Fox of Soldotna, who now skis for the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Nyquist said if the Kenai girls are to three-peat, they will not only need big days from Boonstra, but also from teammates Katie Cooper, Maria Salzetti, Ithaca Bergholtz, freshman Anya Danielson and Dareena Doyle.
“(Boonstra) has been pushed a little by Ruby (Lindquist) from Seward, which has been good,” Nyquist said. “She was nip and tuck with her at the Seward race a few weeks ago.
“Riana has learned to ski out front, and that’s important, to keep increasing the lead and not hang back.”
Seward’s Lindquist has come onto the ski scene this year to challenge Boonstra for the top spot in the region, and Seward coach Luke Rosier said Ruby, along with sister Sadie, have helped carry the Seward ski team to greater heights this season.
“You can’t really substitute a lifetime of skiing, and they have that under their belts,” Rosier said.
Of course, Lindquist will have to show up to challenge Boonstra for the region title this weekend. Rosier was busy waxing skis Thursday evening, but said that after Thursday’s school day was canceled due to 26 inches of snowfall since Wednesday morning, the Seward ski team may not even get a chance to make it to the ski meet.
Rosier said if classes are canceled Friday, the school district likely would not allow the team to travel to the meet.
“We haven’t been able to ski much this week with the warmer temperatures anyways, so they are well-rested,” Rosier said.
Assuming the Seahawks make an appearance, Lindquist will be one to watch.
“Ruby’s the fastest skier on the team, bar none,” Rosier said. “The boys will occasionally post a faster interval time than her, but she’s leading the team.’”
Following three days of above-freezing temperatures this week, the forecast is predicting partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-20s in Wasilla, so the conditions are expected to be spectacular.
“My crystal ball says it’s going to be awesome weather,” said an optimistic Nyquist.
While Kenai is favored to take the girls title, the Soldotna girls are looking for individual glory, Erhardt said. Kellie Arthur led the way last week at the borough meet with a ninth-place finish, but Erhardt said she has been fighting off a cold this week. Arthur will be joined by Stars teammates Cameron Blackwell, Hannah Delker, Selby Hill, Eve Downing and Molly Erickson, who will be returning after suffering a shoulder injury.
The Homer girls will bring Katie Holmes, Autumn Daigle, Mia Alexson, Elly Syth, Daisy Kettle and Katie Davis to the region meet, and coach Alan Parks said he is looking forward to a competitive meet for all of them.
“They’re strong, they’re doing good,” Parks said. “I’m hoping we’ll have some in the top-10, but I just don’t know how it’ll shake out, we have such a small team.”
On the boys side, Trent Fritzel of Grace Christian returns to attempt a defense of his individual Region III championship, but SoHi’s Vinson and Kenai’s Karl Danielson figure to contend with Fritzel, along with Colony’s Tracen Knopp.
At the Lynx Loppett in December, Knopp was the top region skier with a fourth-place finish, while Fritzel was 10th, Danielson was 17th and Vinson was 24th.
“I think he’s beat each of the other top guys from the region once this year, so if he puts it together, he can do it,” Erhardt said about Vinson.
Vinson will be joined by Jeremy Kupferschmid, Addison Downing and Josh Shuler, all of whom are capable of top-10 finishes. The Stars varsity will be filled out by Jack Harris, Joseph Dammeyer and Jode Sparks.
Danielson will be joined by senior teammates Eric Kempf and Patrick Michels, as well as Trevor Debnam, Billy Morrow and freshman Josh Foster.
“Our boys group is skiing really well together,” Nyquist said.
The Homer boys were led by Jacob Davis, Hoxie Parks, Denver Waclawski and Eric Super last week at the borough meet, and coach Parks said that quartet will be joined by Caleb Rauch, Ben Kettle and Tad Sholzt this weekend.
“We’re prepared, we’re healthy, and we’ll do our best and ski and come home,” Parks said.