Merkes, Holt take Kenai Klassic titles

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2011

Skiers had reason to wax hysterically during the Kenai Klassic at the Kenai Nordic Trails on Friday.

Normally, skiers hit the trail during a race with skis on, waxed and ready to go. Normally skiers can count on finishing the race with the same set of skis.

Not so at the Klassic.

The race started when the skiers -- in groups of four at 1-minute intervals -- hit the wax zone. Here they had to apply kick wax to their skis without the aid of a waxing bench. The girls used the classic technique to cover 3.75 kilometers. The boys did 5.25 kilometers.

The skiers then had to cover the loop again using the freestyle, or skating, technique. For some, this meant toughing it out using the classic skis. For others, it meant changing skis. Still others changed boots and skis.

"We had some that just wore one of each type of ski the whole race," Kenai Central ski coach D'Anna Gibson said.

Soldotna's Maranda Merkes won the girls race with a time of 29 minutes, 6 seconds, while Skyview's Brayden Holt won by crossing the finish line at 32:35. Skyview won the boys contest, while Grace Christian was the top girls team.

The idea for the race came from Mitch Michaud, the father of Kenai skier Fox Michaud. Mitch said he remembered doing variations of this type of race when he was skiing in high school in northern Maine. Gibson said that with Besh Cup races on Saturday and today at Tsalteshi Trails, she was just looking to give the skiers a new and fun experience.

She succeeded on both counts. Skyview coach Kent Peterson said he has been part of the local ski scene for 16 years and he didn't know of any other time this type of race has been done in the area. Peterson said there have been community races that combine classic and freestyle techniques, but nothing that involves in-race waxing.

"I didn't hear one negative comment about the race," Gibson said.

The conditions for the race were ideal, with temperatures in the mid-20s and fresh snow on the course. Volunteer Brad Nyquist started packing the trail at 2 a.m. on Friday, and Dave Hernandez of the city of Kenai started helping Nyquist at 6 a.m. Work on the trail continued until 11 a.m.

With the fresh snow and temperatures comfortably below freezing, though, kick-waxing was a snap. If the snow hadn't covered up the icy conditions of recent weeks, Gibson said the race wouldn't have worked because the kick-waxing would have been more difficult.

Another thing playing in the skiers' favor is that in the summer, the Kenai Nordic Trails serve as the Kenai Golf Course. This means there are no long climbs in which a lack of a good kick could be a serious disadvantage.

Both Merkes and Holt said their strategy was to apply the kick wax as quick as possible and get out on the course.

"Coach (Dan Harbison) said to just glob it on and that's what I did," Merkes said. "As soon as I saw someone leaving the zone, I stopped waxing. I wanted to get out on the course and get in front."

She said the biggest surprise was fatigue. Despite the all-night efforts of the groomers, the course was still a bit soft, meaning skiers lost valuable energy sinking into the snow on many strides.

Merkes celebrated her 17th birthday with the victory. When she was announced as the winner and called up on the stage at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium, those assembled serenaded her with "Happy Birthday."

While Merkes topped runner-up Anna Trujillo of Grace by 39 seconds, Holt had a much closer victory in the boys race. He was skiing in the same group as James Watkins of Kenai, who ended up in second place. Holt said he did not pass Watkins until about 1.5 kilometers were left in the race. He beat Watkins by 6.6 seconds.

"I was pretty happy," Holt said. "There weren't many hills so I was able to double-pole most of the course."

Holt also led the Panthers to a team time of 2:18:47.5, more than enough to top runner-up Kenai Central's 2:23:33.1. Skyview had three skiers in the top five, with Leif Danielson finishing fourth and Kade Cooper taking fifth. Peterson credited Cooper with an especially strong race.

Even though the race was held in a nonstandard format and some top skiers were missing to rest up for the Besh Cups, Peterson said the win is important

"This was a good confidence boost for them," he said. "Even though it was a different race, a race is a race."

Gibson also said her girls and boys teams, by both finishing second, had great days. The girls, behind a third from Michelle Klaben and a fifth from Olivia Fair, finished second to Grace Christian.

While many schools, such as Kenai, Soldotna and Skyview, have skiers waxing their owns skis every day or two, that's not always the case.

"Grace is working to get their kids to wax their own skis," Gibson said. "This was a good opportunity for their coaches to say, 'See, we're not the only school that does this.'"

The coach always tries to do somethsing a little different with the Klassic, so she's not sure if she will stick with this format for next year.

Knight takes Besh Cup sprint

Soldotna High School graduate Brent Knight won a classic sprint race at the Besh Cup 3 races at Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School on Saturday.

Knight, who currently skis for the Alaska Pacific University training program, won the Junior 1 and older race skiing in the Senior category.

In the women's Junior 1 and older race, former Homer High School skier Erika Klaar led the peninsula by winning the B final.

In the girls Junior 3 race, Kirsten Nyquist of Kenai finished fourth. In the boys Junior 3 race, Levi Michael won the B final. In the Junior 4 boys race, Jeremy Kupferschmid was fifth.

In the Junior 5 and 6 race, Sonora Martin of Kenai was second while Darius Martin of Kenai was third.

In the Masters race, Jens Klaar of Homer was fourth and Karl Romig of Cooper Landing was fifth.

Kenai Klassic

Friday at Kenai Nordic Trails

GIRLS

Team scores: 1. Grace, 2 hours, 5 minutes, 8 seconds; 2. Kenai, 2:06:56; 3. Homer, 2:15:17; 4. Soldotna, 2:19:19; 5. Skyview, 2:20:16.

7.5-kilometer mixed race

1. Maranda Merkes, Sol, 29:06; 2. Anna Trujillo, Gra, 29:46; 3. Michelle Klaben, Ken, 30:07; 4. Claire Trujillo, Gra, 31:10; 5. Olivia Fair, Ken, 31:22; 6. Marie Schmidt, Hom, 31:27; 7. MacKenzie Barnwell, Sew, 32:00; 8. Elle Arnold, Gra, 32:00; 9. Taylor Ostrander, Ken, 32:04; 10. Kayla Rowe, Gra, 32:10; 11. Jordann Nelson, Sol, 33:07; 12. Olivia Pfiefer, Ken, 33:21; 13. Betsy Winkle, Gra, 33:51; 14. Tamlyn Silva, Sky, 33:54; 15. Eve Ferguson, Ken, 34:08; 16. Alaine Miller, Hom, 34:14; 17. Cassidy Soistman, Hom, 34:24; 18. Vanessa Anderson, Ken, 34:33; 19. Chelsea Schmidt, Hom, 35:09; 20. Emily Schmidt, Hom, 35:09; 21. Mady Gerard, Hom, 35:38; 22. Mika Morton, Sky, 35:40; 23. BethAnne Davis, Gra, 35:56; 24. Elisha Hollers, Sky, 36:06; 25. Maren Pfenning, Sol, 37:53; 26. Chelsea Springer, Ken, 37:54; 27. Katie Clonan, Sky, 37:55; 28. Nanna Skeltved, Sol, 39:10; 29. Mary Valenzuela, Sol, 41:09; 30. Xochi Harbison, Sol, 41:38; 31. Hannah Christiano, Sol, 44:05.

BOYS

Team scores: 1. Skyview, 2:18:47; 2. Kenai, 2:23:33; 3. Grace, 2:23:55; 4. Homer, 2:26:51; 5. Wasilla, 2:30:31; 6. Soldotna, 2:35:44.

10.5-kilometer mixed race

1. Brayden Holt, Sky, 32:35; 2. James Watkins, Ken, 32:42; 3. Luke McGlaughlin, Gra, 33:35; 4. Leif Danielson, Sky, 34:13; 5. Kade Cooper, Sky, 34:24; 6. Daniel Serventi, Gra, 34:44; 7. Brian Rowe, Hom, 34:47; 8. Parker Sorenson, Hom, 34:56; 9. IntiMayo Harbison, Sol, 35:47; 10. Kyle Wentz, Hom, 35:51; 11. Connor Mattson, Was, 35:54; 12. Tyler Cooper, Ken, 36:13; 13. Keith Pulver, Was, 36:31; 14. Brett Chase, Sew, 36:35; 15. Austin Gillespie, Sew, 36:57; 16. Evan Atchley, Ken, 37:15; 17. Isaac Cryer, Ken, 37:21; 18. Fox Michaud, Ken, 37:27; 19. Bud Sparks, Sky, 37:34; 20. Dillon Jensen, Sol, 37:38; 21. Mathew Eller, Gra, 37:39; 22. Joe Bressler, Ken, 37:44; 23. John Klein, Gra, 37:56; 24. Quentin Metcalf, Gra, 38:02; 25. Olen Danielson, Sky, 38:34; 26. Sam Werthmuller, Sky, 38:42; 27. Ben Gilman, Ken, 38:45; 28. Richard Loveless, Was, 38:52; 29. William Bowmer, Was, 39:13; 30. Joey Bishop, Sky, 39:38; 31. John Weber, Gra, 39:45; 32. Joseph Rife, Sol, 40:32; 33. Josh Vantrease, Hom, 41:15; 34. Jang Kim, Sol, 41:44; 35. Colton Diehl, Sol, 41:59; 36. Ehren Rickman, Sol, 42:15; 37. Anthoney Oliver, Was, 43:41; 38. Cole Covey, Nik, 47:43.



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