For the first time in four years, Kailey Mucha will not be the individual girls champion when the Region III skiing meet concludes Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails.
That doesn't mean her family is ready to give up the award, however.
Kenai Peninsula coaches said Bree Mucha, a Soldotna junior, is the favorite to have the top two-day combined time after racing Friday and Saturday. Mucha has won all races against region competition this year.
"She's just been really, really consistent," Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. "She has been setting the bar all season."
While Kailey Mucha's term at the top is over, the Soldotna girls are set to continue an impressive run of their own at the top. Coaches said the Stars are the favorite to win a fourth straight title.
"We've been working with that goal in mind," Harbison said. "We're hoping to put it all together when the time comes."
Harbison said he is taking nothing for granted because all of the schools in Region III have not had a lot of chances to race together this season. The only time most of the schools got together after Christmas was at the Skyview Invitational in mid-January. Mucha won both races, and the Soldotna girls won the team races by almost 15 minutes.
In addition to Mucha, Harbison said Maranda Merkes, D.Anne Martin and Jordan Nelson will play key roles in the region title defense.
The Kenai Central girls will be led by Michelle Klaben. Kenai coach D'Anna Gibson would like to see Klaben in the top five. Klaben will be joined by Olivia Pfeifer, Taylor Ostrander and Olivia Fair as scoring skiers as the Kards try to break into the top three.
"I would like to see them get third, but that's going to be tough, very tough," Gibson said. "Grace, Palmer and Colony are right up there."
Skyview coach Kent Peterson said his top four skiers should be Tamlyn Silva, Elisha Hollers, Catherine Wolk and Chelsea Winter. Peterson said it would be nice to see Silva, Wolk and Hollers in the top 20. With Winter coming off an illness, though, he's not setting a specific team goal, instead using regions to tune up for state.
Homer coach Jan Spurkland said his key girls skiers will be Marie Schmidt, Alaine Miller, Emily Schmidt, Mady Gerard and Cassidy Soistman. He said a top-five finish for Marie Schmidt would be fantastic.
"I would think they'll be maybe third or fourth place as a team, if things come together well," Spurkland said.
Seward coach Bob Barnwell will have two girls racing varsity. He said a top-10 finish is a good goal for MacKenzie Barnwell. Also, the coach said Amanda Olsen, coming off injury, is aiming to finish in the top half of the field.
The boys half of the field also will see a new individual champion. As a sophomore, Kenai Central's Travis Semmens won the title last year, but Semmens is not skiing this year because he decided to suit up for the Kenai hockey team.
Palmer's Schyler Knopp stamped himself as the favorite when he won both races at the Skyview Invitational. According to coaches, Knopp is not as big of a favorite as Mucha. Andre Lovett, in particular, turned some heads by winning the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet on Saturday.
The team title also figures to come down to Homer and Palmer. The Moose won their first title in 19 years last season.
"We have a strong group of boys in Homer," Spurkland said. "They're getting on their step. We hope to give Palmer a run for their money, for sure."
Parker Sorenson and Brian Rowe are Homer's other top two skiers, while Kevin Rowe and Kyle Wentz give the team depth.
Coaches also said another possible individual winner is Luke Michael of Soldotna.
"I definitely think Luke has a chance at it," Harbison said.
The coach said IntiMayo Harbison and Dillon Jensen should be up near the top, while Joseph Rife should provide the crucial fourth time.
"If we could have the same kind of performance we had last weekend, we could get into the mix of the top three," Harbison said.
Skyview coach Kent Peterson said Brayden Holt and Leif Danielson should also be in the mix for the individual title. With Bud Sparks out due to illness, Joey Bishop and Kade Cooper should be Skyview's other scoring skiers.
"With Bud not skiing, that kind of changes things a lot," Peterson said. "We'd still like to be in one of the top three spots."
Another possibility for the individual title is Kenai's James Watkins. The other skiers that score for the Kardinals come from a group of Tyler Cooper, Evan Atchley, Fox Michaud and Joe Bressler.
Gibson said that the goal is to be in front of Skyview, and maybe even Soldotna. She said for that to happen, her skiers would have to race their best on both days.
Brett Chase and Austin Gillespie will race for Seward. Barnwell said Chase could get into the top 10 with a good performance, while Gillespie could get into the top 20.
All of the skiers qualify for the state championships Feb. 24 to 26 in Fairbanks.
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