Two years, two titles.
Soldotna sophomore Kailey Mucha claimed her second consecutive Region III crown on Saturday at the Cross-County Skiing Championships in Valdez, finishing more than two minutes ahead of teammate Jasmine Clock.
"She had tremendous races," SoHi coach Dan Harbison said via cell phone. "She's looking really, really good."
After winning the 7.5-kilometer classical race on Friday with a time of 28 minutes, 28 seconds, just ahead of Clock (30:18), Mucha returned Saturday and captured first in the 5-kilometer freestyle race with a time of 18:34.
When it was over, her combined time of 47:02 beat out Clock (49:47) and third-place finisher Mandy Smith (51:50), also of Soldotna.
That trio, along with 11th-place finisher D,Ann Martin (54:37), propelled the Stars to the Region III team title, edging second-place Homer by more than 10 minutes. Colony took third, Palmer fourth, Kenai fifth, Seward sixth, Valdez seventh, Wasilla eighth and Skyview ninth.
"I thought that she would be close to Kailey and she was. She was pretty much where I thought she would be," Harbison said of Clock, also a sophomore. "What we didn't know is that those two would outpace the pack by so much.
"(Senior) Mandy Smith had an outstanding two days of races," he added. "It's pretty outstanding. It really is. Those three have worked very hard to get where they are."
The Soldotna boys also showed they know how to win.
Behind a third-place overall finish from Ryan Sanders (1:00.01), a fourth-place showing from Aaron Chase (1:00.37), a seventh-place finish from Jordan Merkes (1:02.39) and a 16th-place finish from Intimayo Harbison (1:06.20), the Stars also captured a region title with a total time of 4:08.49, just more than five minutes ahead of second-place Colony (4:14.03). Homer finished third, Palmer fourth, Skyview fifth, Seward sixth and Wasilla seventh.
"I'm very excited," Harbison said. "It's a happy bus ride home."
While he expected his girls to possibly win, Harbison said he wasn't quite sure where his boys would finish.
"Everybody on both of the varsity teams had very good races two days in a row and that always helps," he said.
Mucha, though, stole the show again.
Fresh off her second region title in as many years, Mucha will be looking to best her fifth-place finish at state last season when this year's state meet commences at Kincaid Park in Anchorage in two weeks.
"I think she's stronger this year. I know that she's much more experienced. Hopefully that will translate into some good races for her," Harbison said. "I think we're looking for bigger and better things in the future. She's very, very dedicated. She's a great athlete and she brings some talent. The combination of those, I think, it bodes well for the future."
The question is, what will it hold? Perhaps four region titles? A state crown?
"That would be an incredible thing if she does that," Harbison said of becoming a four-time region champion. "Our region is very competitive and Homer was right in there fighting it out with us. They are only going to lose two of their skiers next year and they've got a very big junior varsity team. They again will be a threat next year.
"Palmer's looking really, really good," he added. "I think that the competition level in the region is on the rise again. We're going to see much faster times. We're going to see more competitive races ... That, of course, is good for everyone."
Colony's Mason Wick won the individual boys title, barely edging Cook Inlet Academy's Lars Arneson by nine seconds.
"Mason had a very good race (Saturday). It catapulted him to the front overall," Harbison said. "(Friday's) race was really tight in the front pack. The top five guys were very, very close."
Arneson won Friday's 10-kilometer classical race in 35:56, with SoHi's Sanders taking second (36:00) and Wick finishing third (36:00).
But Wick captured the 7.5-kilometer freestyle competition on Saturday in a time of 23:29, 13 seconds ahead of Arneson and 32 seconds ahead of Sanders.
"Lars has a had a great season. Here at regions, he had two very good days," Harbison said. "The first day, literally gutting it out over the five that were chasing him. That was quite the feat to accomplish.
"He did very, very well. Mason, (Saturday), caught him, but not by much," he added. "He's really come on strong this year. He's been having good races all season."
Other top finishers from the Kenai Peninsula included Skyview's Tommy Honer, who took fifth overall, and Homer's Will Anderson and Gus Beck, who finished ninth and 10th, respectively.
On the girls' side, Kenai's Becca Ford finished fourth overall, Homer's Jaclyn Ardnt and Gillian Beran-Maryott took fifth and sixth, respectively; Homer's Claire Laukitis placed eighth and the Mariners' Katie Miller finished 10th.
Regardless of place, all participants qualify for the state competition on Feb. 21-23, where Harbison is hoping for top-10 finishes from both of his squads.
"We still have some work ahead of us. But we're definitely looking for a top-10 finish," he said. "I'm hoping that we can do better than that."
Watkins does well
at Besh Cup
Kenai Central's Molly Watkins made her decision to skip the Region III Skiing Championships in Valdez a good one on Saturday in Besh Cup racing at Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak.
Watkins finished seventh in the women's 10-kilometer classic race, earning 45 Junior Nationals points. The points moved her to 11th on the points list. The top 15 Junior 1/Older Junior skiers make the Junior Nationals.
Mucha, who skipped Saturday's Besh Cup race for the region meet, is 10th on the Junior 1/Older Junior list.
Watkins, in her best Besh Cup performance of the season, finished in 36 minutes, 51.30 seconds. Becca Rorabaugh of Alaska Pacific University won the race in 33:15.30.
Other finishers with peninsula ties in the race were Homer graduate Erika Klaar at 19th with a time of 38:53.90 and Homer's Emma Teal Laukitis in 26th with a time of 39:30.40.
Kenai Central's Anders Nyquist also made it worth his time to skip the region meet. Nyquist finished sixth in the Junior 2 5-kilometer classic race, his best Besh Cup placement of the season.
Nyquist had a time of 15:50.20, while winner Logan Hanneman was at 14:26.60. Nyquist moved up to 10th on the Junior 2 Junior Nationals points list. The top six on the list go to Junior Nationals, while the next four on the list go to the Arctic Winter Games.
In the men's 10-kilometer race, Skyview graduate Erick Romig continued the solid performances that should put him at Junior Nationals. Romig finished 16th in the race at 30:04.90 to earn 26 Junior Nationals points.
The winner of the men's race was Tyson Flaharty at 27:29.80.
Romig is now fourth on the Junior 1/Older Junior points list. The top 15 on the list go to Junior Nationals.
Kenai Central's Trent Semmens finished 28th in the race. Semmens had a time of 31:28.00 and is now 21st on the Junior 1/Older Junior list. Semmens is just five points out of earning a trip to the Arctic Winter Games.
Also in the men's race, Masters skier Karl Romig of Cooper Landing finished 55th with a time of 38:55.90.
In the Junior 2/Junior 3 girls 5-kilometer classic race, Maranda Merkes of Soldotna Middle School closed in on making the Arctic Winter Games team. Merkes finished 17th overall in the race with a time of 19:56.20, but was the second Junior 3 skier to cross the line. That moved Merkes up to fourth on the Junior 3 girls points list. The top four Junior 3 girls skiers go to the Arctic Winter Games.
Today, the Besh Cup series will conclude with freestyle races starting at 11 a.m. in Chugiak. The teams for Junior Nationals and the Arctic Winter Games will be announced following the race.
Region III Cross-Country Skiing Championships
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 4:08.49; 2. Colony, 4:14.03; 3. Homer, 4:20.57; 4. Palmer, 4:22.11; 5. Skyview, 4:22.50; 6. Seward, 4:43.01; 7. Wasilla, 5:08.52.
Top 10 finishers: 1. Mason Wick, Col, 59:29; 2. Lars Arneson, CIA, 59:38; 3. 3. Ryan Sanders, Sol, 1:00.01; 4. Aaron Chase, Sol, 1:00.37; 5. Tommy Honer, Sky, 1:00.40; 6. Davis Dunlap, Pal, 1:01.36; 7. Jordan Merkes, Sol, 1:02.39; 8. Ian Mannix, Su Valley, 1:02.54; 9. Will Anderson, Hom, 1:03.41; 10. Gus Beck, Hom, 1:03.49.
Other peninsula finishers: 15. Jack Anderson, Hom, 1:06.19; 16. Intimayo Harbison, Sol, 1:06.20; 17. Mark Chase, Sew, 1:06.32; 18. Johnny Cook, Sky, 1:06.35; 19. Gabe Murray, Sol, 1:06.38; 20. Hunter Jackinsky, Sky, 1:06.40; 23. Patrick Schneider, Hom, 1:07:08; 30. John Roedl, Hom, 1:08.39; 32. Leif Danielson, Sky, 1:09.11; 33. Dylan Critchett, Hom, 1:09.30; 34. Yuzhun Evanoff, Sky, 1:09.42; 35. Ryan Helminski, Sky, 1:09.43; 36. Mike Sweifel, Sew, 1:09.53; 37. Tyler Haas, Hom, 1:10.17; 38. Benjamin Widman, Sol, 1:10.45; 40. Aaron Sarka, Sew, 1:12.09; 41. Brayden Holt, Sky, 1:12.12; 43. Tom Wheeler, Nik, 1:13.52; 45. Matt Nyholm, Sew, 1:14.54; 46. Andrew Ferkinhoff, Sew, 1:15.40; 47. Zachary Truesdell, Sol, 1:17.08; 48. Mitch Mesa, CIA, 1:18.09; 52. Koal Backlund, Sew, 1:39.04.
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 3:23.16; 2. Homer, 3:33.38; 3. Colony, 3:40.06; 4. Palmer, 3:49.17; 5. Kenai, 3:51.34; 6. Seward, 3:57.03; 7. Valdez, 4:02.31; 8. Wasilla, 4:05.25; 9. Skyview, 4:45.10.
Top 10 finishers: 1.Kailey Mucha, Sol, 47:02; 2. Jasmine Clock, Sol, 49:47; 3. Mandy Smith, Sol, 51:50; 4. Becca Ford, Ken, 52:15; 5. Jaclyn Ardnt, Hom, 52:18; 6. Gillian Beran-Maryott, Hom, 53:10; 7. Heidi Doner, Col, 53:27; 8. Claire Laukitis, Hom, 53:40; 9. Kimberly Del Frate, Pal, 53:44; 10. Katie Miller, Hom, 54:30.
Other peninsula finishers: 11. D'Anne Martin, Sol, 54:37; 14. Allison Barnwell, Sew, 55:50; 17. MacKenzie Barnwell, Sew, 56:07; 18. Kristi Louthan, Ken, 56:10; 21. Meghan O'Leary, Sew, 57:29; 23. Molly Warburton, Hom, 58:28; 26. Oshi Wills, Hom, 58:34; 28. Carol Kahoun, Sol, 59:13; 31. Dani Rehm, CIA, 1:00.05; 32. Megan Gordon, Sol, 1:00.06; 34. Michelle Klaben, Ken, 1:00.18; 40. Cassie Sheridan, Sol, 1:02.20; 45. Maya Johnson, Ken, 1:03.32; 46. Denali Critchett, Hom, 1:03.50; 47. Annalise Theisen, Ken, 1:04.39; 48. Tamlyn Silva, Sky, 1:06.14; 49. Hilary Domke, CIA, 1:07.42; 50. Samara Johnson, Sew, 1:07.58; 51. Samantha Feemster, Sew, 1:08.10; 52. Carol Clonan, Sky, 1:08.25; 54. Leah Perry, Sky, 1:10.16; 57. Natalia Hernandez, Sky, 1:20.15.
7.5K Classic Race
Top 10 finishers: 1. Kailey Mucha, Sol, 28:28; 2. Jasmine Clock, Sol, 30:18; 3. Sarah Cresap, Grace, 30:59; 4. Becca Ford, Ken, 31:10; 5. Jaclyn Ardnt, Hom, 31:25; 6. Heidi Donor, Col, 31:57; 7. Gillian Beran-Maryott, Hom, 32:00; 8. Mandy Smith, Sol, 32:08; 9. Sydney Stewart, Col, 32:11; 10. Katie Miller, Hom, 32:16.
10K Classic Race
Top 10 finishers: 1. Lars Arneson, CIA, 35:56; 2. Ryan Sanders, Sol, 36:00; 3. Mason Wick, Col, 36:00; 4. Aaron Chase, Sol, 36:01; 5. Tommy Honer, Sky, 36:38; 6. Davis Dunlap, Pal, 36:50; 7. Jordan Merkes, Sol, 36:52; 8. Ian Mannix, Su Valley, 37:27; 9. Robby Wise, Col, 37:32; 10. Corbyn Jahn, Col, 38:25.
5K Freestyle Race
Top 10 finishers: 1. Kailey Mucha, Sol, 18:34; 2. Jasmine Clock, Sol, 19:29; 3. Mandy Smith, Sol, 19:42; 4. Claire Laukitis, Hom, 20:38; 5. Jaclyn Ardnt, Hom, 20:53; 6. Becca Ford, Ken, 21:05; 7. Gillian Beran-Maryott, Hom, 21:10; 8. Kimberly Del Frate, Pal, 21:18; 9. MacKenzie Barnwell, Sew, 21:25; 10. D'Anne Martin, Sol, 21:27.
Top 10 finishers: 1. Mason Wick, Col, 23:29; 2. Lars Arneson, CIA, 23:42; 3. Ryan Sanders, Sol, 24:01; 4. Tommy Honer, Sky, 24:02; 5. Aaron Chase, Sol, 24:36; 6. Will Anderson, Hom, 24:46.29; 7. Davis Dunlap, Pal, 24:46.72; 8. Gus Beck, Hom, 24:51; 9. Hunter Jackinsky, Sky, 25:25; 10. Ian Mannix, Su Valley, 25:27.
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