Early Saturday morning, things were looking rather bleak at the Kenai Nordic Trails, as rain and unseasonably warm conditions had Kenai head coach Dave Feeken worried the 2004 Kenai Peninsula Borough Cross Country Championships might not go off.
"At 5:30 it was raining," Feeken said.
A little more than six hours later, Feeken was all smiles after his host Kenai boys team raced to its first ever borough title under sunny skies on a fast, perfectly groomed 8-kilometer course.
"It was beautiful," Feeken said. "(Kenai Parks and Recreation Director) Bob Frates did a great job grooming the trails."
Kenai edged out rivals Soldotna and Skyview by an extremely narrow margin Saturday, as just 47 seconds separated the top three teams.
"We knew it'd be close," Feeken said.
The Kards placed three skiers Mike Kent, Andy Banas and Chris Hall in the top seven Saturday, and got their top four skiers in the top 11 to sneak past the two Soldotna teams. Feeken said the big win gives his team a lot of confidence going into next week's Region III championships at Skyview.
"We'll just keep doing what we've been doing, work hard and see what happens," he said.
The Kardinals were joined on the podium by the Skyview girls, which placed two individual skiers in the top three to edge out the Soldotna Stars, who finished second in both the boys and girls team races.
Skyview assistant coach Jim Bennett said the Panthers couldn't be happier with their performance Saturday, out-skiing powerful Soldotna and Homer teams for the title.
"We couldn't be happier," Bennett said following the race. "We had four girls in the top 10."
Leading the pack for the Panthers were Elisabeth Habermann in second and Elisha Tarries in third. Bennett said the win over Soldotna is especially gratifying since the Stars have gotten the better of Skyview a couple times this season.
Skyview's Kendra Merkes rounds a curve near the finish of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Championships Saturday morning. She finished in sixth place.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"We've been back and forth with Soldotna all year, so it's nice to get a win," Bennett said.
Although the Kardinals and Panthers were the big winners Saturday, it was a pair of Homer Mariners who raced off with a pair of individual titles.
Aleta Phelps, who has consistently been among the top female skiers in the state this season, easily cruised to victory Saturday, winning in a time 17 minutes, 47 seconds that would have placed her second only to boys winner Morgan Jones, also of Homer.
"We're going to have to duel it out sometime," Phelps joked after the race.
Phelps said she was a little worried about the wet conditions early in the day, but once she got out on the course, things all fell into place.
"I was pretty skeptical," she said. "But the weather was nice and it was a fun ski."
Though Phelps' win came as little surprise Saturday, Jones' win was a bit more unexpected. The Homer sophomore had not won a big race all season, and going into Saturday's start, he wasn't looking like a favorite. In fact, Jones barely got to the starting line to begin with.
"I almost missed the start," he said, noting that he arrived at the line just 20 seconds before the gun.
That bit of haste may have pushed Jones to hurry the rest of the way, as he blazed to a narrow seven-second win over Skyview's Kyle Dudley, who was victimized by a late fall that sealed Jones' win.
Jones said the win means a lot, especially considering he beat a number of skiers who had gotten the better of him all season.
"It's definitely nice because I beat some guys here today I haven't beaten before," he said.
Homer coach Daryl Farrens said he, too, was taken a bit off guard by Jones' big win.
"Morgan was a surprise. We knew he'd probably be in the top five, but he just had an excellent race," he said. "I'm really excited to see him do well today. He definitely took a step up."
Although Homer didn't get team glory Saturday, Farrens said having co-borough champs certainly is a nice consolation prize.
"I'm just excited to have two borough champs," he said.
Heading into next week, all the peninsula skiers will have to take a cue from Jones and step things up, with the Colony boys and Su-Valley girls led by the state's top skier Tazlina Mannix expected to offer stiff challenges in both the boys and girls competitions.
Homer's Phelps said she's hoping to finally get the best of Mannix, though she knows it'll be difficult to take down the Su-Valley phenom.
"She's usually faster, but I'll try my hardest to beat her," she said.
In the boys race, all three peninsula teams will be fighting to take down the powerful Knights, though Skyview's Bennett said he believes Kenai, Soldotna and Skyview all have a chance to challenge the valley schools for region supremacy.
"Everybody's real excited to see how we stack up," Bennett said. "It's not just a team effort, it's a peninsula effort."
KENAI PENINSULA BOROUGH CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Kenai Golf Course
Team scores: 1. Kenai, 73 minutes, 20 seconds; 2. Soldotna, 74:02; 3. Skyview, 74:07; 4. Homer, 81:08; 5. Seward, 80:28.
Individual eight-kilometer freestyle results
1. Morgan Jones, Hom, 17:45; 2. Kyle Dudley, Sky, 17:52; 3. Noah King, Sky, 17:55; 4. Ryan Walton, 18:03; 5. Mike Kent, Ken, 18:04; 6. Andy Banas, Ken, 18:12; 7. Chris Hall, Ken, 18:19; 8. Stephen Olendorff, Sol, 18:30; 9. Matt Habermann, Sol, 18:33; 10. Matt Adams, Sew, 18:39; 11. Clay Nelson, Ken, 18:45; 12. Kyle Latz, Ken, 18:50; 13. Spencer Litzenberger, Sol, 18:56; 14. Max Milliron, Sol, 18:59; 15. Travis Hines, Hom, 19:01; 16. Caleb Chase, Sol, 19:21; 17. Alex Cox, Sky, 19:25; 18. Taylor Karnikis, Sky, 19:25; 19. Nick Byrne, Sky, 19:31; 20. Chad Adams, Sew, 19:44; 21. D.C. Reed, Ken, 19:48; 22. Simon Kleinert, Sky, 19:53; 23. Aaron Bakk, Nik, 20:01; 24. Sean Twohy, Sol, 20:33; 25. Leif Bardarson, Sew, 20:41; 26. Levi Lounsbury, Nik, 20:47; 27. Tad Martin, Hom, 21:16; 28. David Apperson, Sew, 21:24; 29. Alex Rodgers, Sky, 21:32; 30. Chris Amen, Ken, 22:44; 31. Mike Wicker, Nik, 23:03; 32. Peter Shepard, Hom, 23:06; 33. Ken Faust, Sew, 24:24.
Team scores: 1. Skyview, 77 minutes, 2 seconds; 2. Soldotna, 78:55; 3. Homer, 81:20; 4. Kenai, 86:21; 5. Seward, 93:55.
Individual eight-kilometer freestyle results
1. Aleta Phelps, Hom, 17:47; 2. Elisabeth Habermann, Sky, 18:27; 3. Elisha Tarries, Sky, 18:59; 4. Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, Ken, 19:11; 5. Katie Franzmann, Sol, 19:19; 6. Kendra Merkes, Sky, 19:24; 7. Katy Pankoski, Sol, 19:26; 8. Jenny Smola, Sol, 19:58; 9. Brittany Osland, Sol, 20:12; 10. Jaime Miller, Sky, 20:12; 10. Erika Klaar, Hom, 20:12; 12. Lauren Olendorff, Sol, 20:45; 13. Tess Caswell, Sol, 20:47; 14. Sarah Glaser, Sew, 20:57; 15. Samantha Halpin, Hom, 21:27; 16. Shauna Hall, Ken, 21:30; 17. Heidi Keller, Sol, 21:31; 18. Kassey Aberhold, Hom, 21:54; 19. Kira Matiya, Ken, 21:58; 20. Sara Arsenault, Hom, 22:00; 21. Kristin Vantrease, Hom, 22:01; 22. Rebekah Summer, Ken, 22:42; 23. Ali Simpson, Sky, 22:49; 24. Jessica Summer, Ken, 22:56; 25. Monica Peters, Hom, 23:56; 26. Jolie Glaser, Sew, 24:03; 27. Katie Peck, Sew, 24:21; 28. Heather Apperson, Sew, 24:34; 29. Callie Ware, Nik, 24:54; 30. Tasia Allen, Ken, 26:12; 31. Debbie Duggin, Nik, 27:26; 32. Kunanni Landford, Nik, 33:18.
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