Saturday's chilly conditions didn't seem to bother any of the participants in the Nikiski Classic Sprint Relays at the Nikiski Community Trails.
Instead, the temperature, which hovered around zero for the day, made for some quicker racing as athletes got their bodies working harder -- and moving faster -- to generate the body heat necessary to ward off the chills.
"We've skied in colder earlier this year," said Soldotna's Rachel Goldstein. "I wasn't warm, but I was OK."
The Soldotna boys turned out to be better than OK, winning the 20-kilometer classical relay event in 1 hour, 21 seconds, while the Susitna Valley squad skied away with the girls race with a time of 1:12:20.
Nikiski's Zach Hall led the boys through the first 5-kilometer leg, followed by Kenai and Colony, with Soldotna and Skyview close behind.
The Stars began making up that distance in the second and third legs, and by the time Brent Knight was ready to ski the anchor leg for the Stars, it appeared to be a neck-and-neck race against Colony.
Knight powered out ahead, though, putting enough distance between himself and the competition to finish with a flourish -- though it took him one last pull to figure out where the finish line was.
"It was pretty fun," said Soldotna's David Hernandez. "It was a fun race, but it was a little bit tougher on (leadoff skier) Mark (Harro), skiing against the best Nikiski guy -- he's one of the best in the state. That was pretty good."
Daniel Harro, the fourth member of Soldotna's winning relay, said he enjoyed the team aspect of the relay format.
"It's just like at state. The relays are the funnest part," Daniel Harro said.
"It makes you rely on the team instead of just on yourself," added Hernandez.
The Kenai boys had a solid race, finishing in third place with a time of 1:03:40, 2:52 behind second-place Colony.
"Everything went well. We had good wax, and trail conditions were great," Kenai's Andy Banas said. "We just tried to go out as hard as we could. It's short enough that you don't really have to have any kind of plan, it's more of a sprint. These short races are great."
The Homer team finished in fourth place, the Skyview quartet took fifth and Nikiski's second, third and fourth legs hung on to finish sixth. Seward was eighth overall.
The Kenai Central High School girls skied to a second-place finish with a time of 1:14:30, 2:10 behind the Rams.
"I was waiting for somebody from Skyview to pass me and they didn't," said Kenai leadoff skier Natalie Semmens. "I was kinda like, 'Whoa!' I was really surprised at how good it ended up. I've never beat any of those girls before."
While Susitna Valley pulled away from the field, Kenai gradually put some space between itself and Homer to clinch second, and Skyview finished fourth.
"It's good to break up the monotony of all the serious races," Kenai's Mary Krusen said of the relay format. "It makes everything fun, and I think it builds the team up because you have to do it together."
With most of Region III attending the meet, the race does put some perspective on how things might shape up for the region meet Feb. 15 and 16 at Wasilla.
"I think that it demonstrates what our top boys can do," said Soldotna coach Dan Harbison. "Because of the format of the relay, we didn't really get to see the performance of a particular individual. With the girls team, I'm not sure we saw where things are going to shake out."
Nikiski Classic Sprint Relays
At the Nikiski Community Trails
20-kilometer classic relay varsity results
1. Soldotna (Mark Harro, David Hernandez, Dan Harro, Brent Knight), 1 hour, 21 seconds; 2. Colony (Preston Pickett, Kerry Klauder, Ross Wise, Jeff Warner), 1:00:48; 3. Kenai (Andy Banas, Mike Kent, Chris Amen, Eric Nyce), 1:03:40; 4. Homer, 1:09:02; 5. Skyview, 1:11:27; 6. Nikiski, 1:13:30; 7. Palmer, 1:14:53; 8. Seward, 1:16:16; 9. Wasilla, 1:20:04; 10. Grace, 1:25:04.
1. Su Valley (Renae Moore, Melissa Ostermick, Ayla Dolecki, Tazlina Mannix), 1:12:20; 2. Kenai (Natalie Semmens, Katie Burck, Synneva Hagen-Lillivik, Mary Krusen), 1:14:30; 3. Homer (Aleta Phelps, Lauren Migdal, Mariah Phelps, Syverine Abrahamson), 1:15:48; 4. Skyview, 1:16:00; 5. Soldotna, 1:19:08; 6. Colony, 1:26:21; 7. Palmer, 1:26:53; 8. Wasilla, 1:28:34; 9. Grace, 1:28:53; 10. Nikiski, 1:29:44; 11. Seward,1:33:09.
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