While waiting for the awards ceremony to commence following the Kenai Peninsula Borough cross-country skiing championships on Saturday, Soldotna's Travis Semmens was approached by a fellow competitor, who delivered a message likely fostered by many.
"You're going to get a second-place medal one of these days," he jokingly told the freshman following his 58.2-second victory over Cook Inlet Academy's Lars Arneson in a freestyle race at Tsalteshi Trails.
Semmens doesn't want that prophecy to come to fruition at next weekend's Region III meet, also being held at Skyview High School.
In two weeks at state in Fairbanks, however, he'll take it in a heartbeat.
"I'd take that any day," he laughed, adding how when he entered high school, he was surprised at how well he competed. "I just didn't know that I was going to be keeping up with some of these guys.
"I was hoping maybe top 10 for regions. Now I'm trying to win."
It should help, too, with the region meet taking place on the trails he and other local skiers traverse on a daily basis.
"I think it's a real benefit that I get to ski on these trails every day and I get to have boroughs and regions here," he said.
On Saturday, however, coaches decided to have competitors ski the course backward.
"We've been racing here all season so we wanted to try and make it different and interesting for the kids," said Skyview coach Kent Peterson.
That didn't seem to have any affect on Semmens or SoHi junior Kailey Mucha, who also has her sights locked on a region crown after winning the girls 7.5-kilometer race in 20:48.7, edging her sister Bree, a freshman, by 38 seconds and fellow teammate Maranda Merkes by 1:08.3.
"It's nice because you know the trails and you know them by heart," she said of skiing Tsalteshi next weekend. "But this was really different because you had to go backward. ... That was a lot of fun. It was just something new, not anything just the same.
"It's like learning a new trail."
Semmens, who crossed finish line of the 10-kilometer course in 28:08.8, agreed with Mucha's assessment.
"I just didn't really know where everything was at like I usually do," he said. "It was kind of like a new course."
Competing in temperatures hovering around a comfortable 40 degrees, the Soldotna girls, behind the top three finishes of Kailey Mucha, Bree Mucha and Merkes, won the team title with an overall time of 1:26:36.7, ahead of second-place Homer (1:32.33.2), which was led by Maggie Bursch's fourth-place finish, Kenai (1:39.09.9), Seward (1:45.18) and Skyview (1:45:52.6).
"It's really awesome, especially the two freshmen right behind me," Kailey Mucha said of the Stars owning the top three spots. "Just got to keep pulling them up and they can do so many good things in these next couple years.
"It shows that peninsula people were not that good and now they're trying to step it up a notch and they're really starting to get up there and it's really awesome."
Behind Semmens' win, Jordan Merkes' fifth-place finish and Intimayo Harbison's sixth-place standing, the Soldotna boys also claimed the team title with a combined time of 2:03:02.6. Skyview finished second at 2:07.58.5, barely ahead of Homer (2:08:03.5), Kenai (2:15.40) and Seward (2:15.49.5).
Even opposing coaches were impressed with Semmens' performance at the ripe age of 15.
"Holy cow," Kenai Central coach D'Anna Gibson said when she learned of the gap between Semmens and Arneson, a senior. "I figured Travis would be right there with Lars, within just a few seconds, maybe getting there 10 seconds or so. But to see a whole minute, wow.
"Lars is a great skier," she added. "So, to beat Lars is a big accomplishment."
Also the mother of both Muchas, Gibson thinks it's vital to have that healthy competition.
"My thing is you need more pushing the top skiers," she said, "that way everybody else gets better."
And now is the time for that to happen with the final two meets of the season fast approaching.
"I'm looking toward state and junior nationals," Kailey Mucha said. "This is like another practice for me. I'm just going backward."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
Kenai Peninsula Borough cross-country ski meet
Team times: 1. Soldotna, 1:26:36; 2. Homer, 1:32:33; 3. Kenai, 1:39:09; 4. Seward, 1:45:18; 5. Skyview, 1:45:52.
Individual girls 7.5-kilometer freestyle results
1. Kailey Mucha, Sol, 20:48; 2. Bree Mucha, Sol, 21:26; 3. Maranda Merkes, Sol, 21:57; 4. Maggie Bursch, Hom, 22:12; 5. D.Anne Martin, Sol, 22:24; 6. Jasmine Clock, Sol, 22:29; 7. Kristi Louthan, Ken, 22:43; 8. Melanie Smith, Sol, 22:44; 9. Emma Laukitis, Hom, 23:24; 10. Frannie Bursch, Hom, 23:25; 11. Kaya Morelli, Hom, 23:31; 12. Marie Schmidt, Hom, 23:35; 13. Mackenzie Barnwell, Sew, 23:47; 14. Jaclyn Arndt, Hom, 23:55; 15. Shannon Wyatt, Sol, 24:19; 16. Michelle Klaben, Ken, 24:30; 17. Katie Miller, Hom, 24:30; 18. Meghan O'Leary, Sew, 25:30; 19. Carol Clonan, Sky, 25:38; 20. Vanessa Anderson, Ken, 25:38; 21. Samantha Feemster, Sew, 25:46; 22. Olivia Fair, Ken, 26:17; 23. Tamlyn Silva, Sky, 26:31; 24. Chelsea Winter, Sky, 26:39; 25. Elisha Hollers, Sky, 27:03.
26. Meera Oftedal, Sky, 27:18; 27. Noelle Schmitter-Schrier, Ken, 27:41; 28. Olivia Pfiefer, Ken, 28:31; 29. Katie Clonan, Sky, 29:08; 30. Amanda Olsen, Sew, 30:14.
Team times: 1. Soldotna, 2:03:02; 2. Skyview, 2:07:58; 3. Homer, 2:08:03; 4. Kenai Central, 2:15:40; 5. Seward, 2:15:49.
Individual boys 10-kilometer results
1. Travis Semmens, Sol, 28:08; 2. Lars Arneson, CIA, 29:07; 3. Hunter Jackinsky, Sky, 29:31; 4. Will Anderson, Hom, 30:20; 5. Jordan Merkes, Sol, 31:13; 6. IntiMayo Harbison, Sol, 31:38; 7. Anders Nyquist, Ken, 31:52; 8. Ryan Sanders, Sol, 32:01; 9. Jack Anderson, Hom, 32:13; 10. Brett Chase, Sew, 32:17; 11. Kevin Rowe, Hom, 32:28; 12. Gabe Murray, Sol, 32:29; 13. Leif Danielson, Sky, 32:32; 14. Justin Marsh, Sky, 32:41; 15. Andre Lovett, Hom, 33:00; 16. Yuzhun Evanoff, Sky, 33:12; 17. James Watkins, Ken, 33:15; 18. Brayden Holt, Sky, 33:15; 19. Ryan Helminski, Sky, 33:59; 20. Alex Kauffman, Sol, 34:07; 21. Andrew Ferkinoff, Sew, 34:08; 22. Mike Zweifel, Sew, 34:35; 23. Austin Gillespie, Sew, 34:48; 24. Anton Krull, Ken, 35:01; 25. Aaron Williams, Ken, 35:31.
26. Alec Sweetland, Sky, 35:45; 27. John Roedl, Hom, 36:12; 28. Joe Nyholm, Sew, 36:41; 29. Evan Atchley, Ken, 38:01; 30. James Logan, Sew, 40:00; 31. Gabe Esposito, Sew, 40:08; 32. Tyler Cooper, Ken, 40:33; 33. Kenley Scarlett, Ken, 40:59.
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