Mucha aims for 4th straight ski title: Warm temperatures could make for challenging conditions as Region III meet hits Tsalteshi Trails

Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010

The possibility of losing a spot on the Junior Nationals team didn't stop the Region III skiing dominance of Kenai Central senior Kailey Mucha when she was a sophomore, so chances are unseasonably warm temperatures won't stop Mucha this year.

Mucha will try and earn her fourth Region III skiing championship when the meet commences at Tsalteshi Trails today with a three-kilometer girls freestyle at 2 p.m. and a five-kilometer boys freestyle at 3 p.m.

Saturday, there will be a 10-kilometer boys classic at 11 a.m. and a 7.5-kilometer girls classic at 12:30 p.m. Both will use the mass start format.

The closest Mucha came to not winning regions came when she was a sophomore. A series of postponements forced the final weekend of Besh Cups, which are used to qualify for Junior Nationals, to fall on the same weekend as the Region III meet in Valdez.

Mucha decided to attend the region meet even though it put her Junior Nationals status at risk.

"We had to make a choice whether to ski for regions or Junior Nationals," said D'Anna Gibson, who is Mucha's mother and Kenai Central's coach. "She said, 'I really want to get skimeister all four years.'

"That's definitely been something that's been on her mind the last couple of years."

Mucha was able to hit the Besh Cup race on the way back from Valdez and still qualify for Junior Nationals.

This year, all the worry revolves around the weather. In the middle of the week, according to Soldotna coach Dan Harbison, temperatures were not falling below freezing at night.

This has led to accelerated breakdown of the snow. Freezing temperatures at night also provide an ideal time for grooming.

Harbison said the concern is not today's freestyle race. The concern is Saturday's classic race, when tracks have to be set for the mass start format. Setting tracks is hard when the snow is mushy.

"We'd like to have at least two tracks over most of the course," Harbison said. "Whether we do will depend on how warm it is."

Waxing for classical skiing also is difficult in warm conditions. Gibson said Saturday waxing is one thing that could derail Mucha's title run.

"If everything goes as planned it's definitely Kailey's race to lose," Gibson said. "We're just trying to pick a wax that will really work -- not too sticky but that will give a little kick."

Mucha was sick last weekend at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet, but she wore a mask that is designed for cold weather but also helps sick skiers. It worked like a charm.

"After Saturday night, she was 99 percent better," Gibson said.

In the girls team competition, Harbison's Stars will be seeking a third-straight title.

"We've been working really hard all season," he said. "If we can put it together over these two days, we hope it will go our way."

The Stars are solid at the top, led by Bree Mucha (Kailey's sister), Maranda Merkes, Jasmine Clock and D.Anne Martin. Melanie Smith, Rachel Wyatt and Jordan Nelson give the team great depth.

While Soldotna has set the pace all year, Harbison said a number of teams are slowly encroaching on the Stars. He listed Palmer, Homer and Kenai as concerns. In addition to Kailey Mucha, the Kards will need key performances from Michelle Klaben, Olivia Pfeifer and Olivia Fair to contend.

Skyview coach Kent Peterson said his girls team has improved a bunch this year and has a good chance to earn Skyview's best region placement in quite some time.

The team will be led by the experience of Tamlyn Silva and Carol Clonan, while Hanna Hutchison and Catherine Wolk give the Panthers a shot of youth.

Results should be even tighter on the boys side. The Stars will be seeking a third straight title, but Harbison said holding off Palmer will be difficult.

"I would say Palmer is the team to beat," Harbison said. "The boys team is really strong, and they have given us a run for our money in the last two years."

For the Stars to contend, Ryan Sanders, IntiMayo Harbison and Luke Michael will have to be strong on the top end, while Alex Kauffman, Josiah Martin, Joseph Rife and Dillon Jensen will provide crucial depth.

Coaches also said Kenai and Skyview are in the boys title hunt.

"It's going to be tight between SoHi, Skyview, Palmer and Kenai," Gibson said. "We kind of hope we might be able to do it."

The Kardinals' top three will be Travis Semmens, Anders Nyquist and James Watkins. Evan Atchley and Anton Krull also will have to give key performances.

Peterson said his team also has the potential for a high placing. He said Hunter Jackinsky, Brayden Holt and Leif Danielson can all ski with the top skiers in the region on the right day.

The coach said another advantage his team has is depth. That depth will be provided by Justin Marsh, Bud Sparks and Cade Cooper.

In the race for the boys individual crown, coaches mentioned skiers like Kenai's Nyquist, Palmer's Dunedin Strickland, Kenai's Semmens, SoHi's Sanders and Skyview's Jackinsky.

Semmens is the top returning skier in the region, but Gibson said he missed two days of practice this week due to illness.

"There's a pretty big pool of boys out there," Harbison said. "Any one of them could start to fill in slots one to five or even one to 10."

Peterson said the conditions should not be too big of a factor unless there is a sudden weather change right before the race.

"If it starts snowing right before the race, things are going to get crazy," he said.

The Nikiski skiing team will have four junior varsity skiers at the race. The skiers are freshmen Cole Covey, Ty Shoemaker, Josh Croze and Stephen Lohry.

J.P. Bennett, Nikiski's coach, said that one positive of not having any region contenders is not having to worry so much about the weather.

"We'll have fun no matter what happens," he said. "For those that skiing matters more for at this point, I feel bad for them. It's going to be a tough race the next couple of days."

The host school at the meet is actually Wasilla, although Kenai, Soldotna and Skyview are teaming up to co-host the race. Harbison said a big thanks is owed to the meet volunteers, Tsalteshi Trails Association and especially the grooming crew of Bill Holt, which is expected to make something skiable out of nightmarish weather.

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