Teamwork took on a new face Saturday at the Nikiski Relays when boys and girls teams found themselves cooperating in competition.
The Soldotna mixed four-leg relay team of Jenny Smola, Ryan Walton, Katie Franzmann and Alex Hundertmark won the varsity race with a time of 59 minutes, 14 seconds, coming back to beat a Kenai team that took a strong lead.
Kenai finished second in 59:45 and Skyview finished third with 1:00:56.
Stars coach Dan Harbison said the changed format required a bit more strategy on his part.
"Stacking the teams was a challenge," Harbison said. "I had to try to draw from the team's strengths. I looked at who's the better sprinter and who was better over the distance, and tried to mix that by putting our sprinters out in front."
Smola and Hundertmark were the sprinters, with Smola leading off for the Stars. Halfway into her first lap on the 5-kilometer trail, she found herself in fourth place behind Kenai, Skyview and Homer skiers. But she said she wasn't discouraged by her placement as her leg of the race came to a close.
"I just really pushed," she said, after tagging up in third, a few seconds behind Homer.
Hundertmark said he put his nose to the grind to help bring the team back into position to win. He said Skyview skier Kyle Dudley's misfortune aided his advance.
"I just went all out," he said. "I caught Skyview one-third of the way through the race. He got his ski caught in some undergrowth to the side of the trail. Then I just pushed and caught up to Kenai."
Smola credited Franzmann with giving the team's best performance, however.
"'Super' Katie had the best race," Smola said of her teammate's third leg that gave Soldotna the lead.
Franzmann caught Kenai's Roxanna Wilcox a little past the halfway point of the trail on the first downhill.
"It was pretty easy to pass her," Franzmann said. "I was in a deep tuck and she wasn't. She tried to catch me but she couldn't."
Franzmann, who said she was worried she started her leg too fast, gave the team about a 45-second lead when she tagged up with Walton.
Harbison said he had faith that Walton could make a solid finish against a powerful Kardinals ski team.
"Kenai was strong," he said. "I wanted someone who could hold out. Ryan was our anchor because he's one of our strongest distance skiers."
Walton said he started his leg certain that Kenai's Andy Banas would be in hot pursuit. But he said once he was on the trail, he never looked back.
"I knew he was going to be behind me," Walton said. "I had to just keep my focus and push hard."
At Nikiski Community Trails
A & B Teams Mixed Relay Format (Girl,Boy,Girl,Boy)
1. Soldotna A (Jenny Smola, Alex Hundertmark, Katie Franzmann, Ryan Walton), 59:14; 2. Kenai A (Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, Jordan Engel, Roxanna Wilcox, Andy Banas), 59:45; 3. Skyview A (Elisha Tarries, Kyle Dudley, Alecia Wood, Damian Andersen), 1:00:56; 4. Soldotna B, 1:01:39; 5. Kenai B, 1:04:14; 6. Wasilla A, 1:08:33; 7. Homer A, 1:09:35; 8. Seward A, 1:09:59; 9. Skyview B, 1:12:38; 10. Wasilla B, 1:12:44; 11. Nikiski A, 1:18:41.
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