To ski at the region meet or Besh Cup races?
For the top skiers in Region III, that is the question.
The Region III Nordic Skiing Championships will be held Friday and Saturday in Valdez.
The fifth and sixth Besh Cup races, which determine qualifiers for Junior Nationals and the Arctic Winter Games, will be held Saturday and Sunday at Chugiak High School.
"It's a sad thing that's occurred here because it puts athletes in kind of a no-win situation, especially those on the bubble who may or may not make Junior Nationals," Soldotna ski coach Dan Harbison said.
The recent cold snap is to blame for the scheduling conflict. The fifth and sixth Besh Cup were supposed to be Feb. 2 and 3 in Fairbanks, but those races were postponed due to the cold.
On Wednesday, with brutal cold still settled in the Fairbanks area, the Besh Cup races were moved to Chugiak High School. Saturday's classic race will start at noon, while Sunday's freestyle race will start at 11 a.m.
Of the three regions with ski championships in Alaska, Region III is alone in having a meet this weekend. Anchorage's region meet was always scheduled for next weekend, while Fairbanks has moved its meet to next weekend. The state meet in Anchorage will start in Anchorage on Feb. 21.
Skyview coach Kent Peterson said moving the date of the Region III meet was not an option. He said Valdez already has had to adjust school schedules to accommodate the hundreds of skiers hitting town.
The Kenai Peninsula coaches interviewed for this story were not angry at any one person or governing body for the meets conflicting. They said the conflict was an unfortunate occurrence, and that greater attention will be paid to schedules in the future.
"It's not anybody's fault," said Kenai Central coach D'Anna Gibson. "It's just an oversight."
Of all the central peninsula coaches, Gibson will be hardest hit by the conflict. Kenai Central skiers Molly Watkins, Trent Semmens and Anders Nyquist are all on the bubble at the Besh Cup and will skip regions.
Gibson will not have enough skiers to field a boys team. She also will lose individual region title contenders in Semmens and Watkins.
Becca Ford, Kristi Louthan, Michelle Klaben, Maya Johnson and Annalise Theisen will ski for Kenai's girls, while Larry Blum and Alex Sonnichsen will ski for the boys.
"Our girls team is very young," Gibson said. "This will give these young freshmen and sophomores a really good experience to see what it is all about. It will be neat skiing in Valdez."
Both Soldotna and Skyview should have their full teams at regions.
Soldotna is led by defending region champion Kailey Mucha. Harbison said Mucha is in good position to make Junior Nationals. If she has to, she can hit the race in Chugiak on Sunday on the way back from Valdez.
With several of the region's top girls skiers expected to miss regions, Mucha is the favorite.
"It's just too bad," Harbison said. "Molly (Watkins) has been skiing really well lately aiming at doing well this weekend. I hope she does well at Besh Cup."
Mucha and teammates Jasmine Clock, Amanda Smith, D,Ann Martin and Megan Gordon are expected to battle defending champion Homer for the team title.
"Just this last Friday, (Homer) had a great performance, we had a couple that faltered, and they took it," Harbison said. "That's kind of where we've been all season trading places."
SoHi's boys team of Ryan Sanders, Aaron Chase, Gabe Murray, Intimayo Harbison, Ben Widman, Zach Truesdell and Jordan Merkes also is expected to contend for the region title.
Harbison said Skyview, Palmer and defending champion Colony all will contend for the boys title.
The Skyview boys should contend because Tommy Honer is skipping the Besh Cups and Hunter Jackinsky is fully recovered from a recent illness. Other boys racing for Skyview will be Johnny Cook, Brayden Holt, Leif Danielson, Ryan Helminiski and Yuzhun Evanoff.
"The SoHi boys have been racing really well, but I think we're still in the running," Peterson said.
Peterson's girls team will be made up of Tamlyn Silva, Carol Clonan, Leah Perry and Natalia Hernandez, a foreign exchange student from Mexico. Peterson said the girls are all new to high school racing and looking to get some region experience.
Both Peterson and Harbison said the race for the individual boys champion will be interesting to watch. Contenders mentioned from the peninsula are Honer, Sanders, Chase and CIA's Lars Arneson. Beyond that, a lot depends on which skiers from the Matanuska-Susitna valleys decide to race regions.
CIA coach Cindy Rehm said in addition to Arneson, she will take Mitch Mesa, Danielle Rehm and Hilary Domke to regions.
"All of my kids have never skied in Valdez before, so it's a wonderful opportunity," Cindy Rehm said. "We're hoping for warmer weather. It will be fun to ski a new course.
"Valdez kids travel over here all the time, and they're all so sweet. We're looking forward to being their guests."
Nikiski coach Dale Bakk will bring Tom Wheeler to regions. He said he would like to see Wheeler finish in the top half of the varsity boys.
"We had a ball last time we went to Valdez," Bakk said. "There was plenty of snow and sunny weather. The kids we had then just loved it."
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