The Soldotna High School boys cross-country ski team broke Colony's four-year stranglehold on Region III skiing, overtaking the Knights in the 10-kilometer skate to take the team title at the region cross-country championships Friday and Saturday at McNeil Canyon Trails in Homer.
The Stars overcame a 1 minute, 43 second deficit after Friday's 7.5-kilometer classical race with a strong performance Saturday, placing four skiers in the top 10 in the skate race.
In the girls competition, meanwhile, the Homer Mariners successfully defended their team title, led by the individual overall title winner, Mariner Ida Martin.
"I'm a little surprised," Martin said after being named Region III female skier of the year Saturday. "I knew it would be tough. This is a really good region to compete in."
Andy Liebner paced the Soldotna boys, taking second in the 7.5-kilometer classical race (28:31.8) and fourth in the 10-kilometer skate race (30:46.0) to finish second overall with a total time of 59:17.8.
"This was a really good meet for us," Liebner said. "I was surprised that our team could go up against Colony like that.
"I felt good for the team -- we did better than we've ever done."
While most skiers labored through Friday's chilly, blustery weather, Liebner felt the conditions for the classical race actually played to his strengths.
"I'm a lot smaller, and I drafted off other guys in the wind," Liebner said. "It gave me an advantage. I like the really bad weather. I don't focus on the race as much. It seems easier."
Teammate Brandon Newbould wasn't nearly as pleased with the conditions for the classical race, but Saturday's mild temperature and warm sunshine made for a fast track in the freestyle race.
"Yesterday we got thrown off a little bit," Newbould said. "I was one of the first guys out, and I had to break a lot of trail. That made a big difference. (Saturday) was stellar. With the warmer snow, you can get the fastest wax for it."
Newbould finished 10th in the classical event with a time of 29:55.9 but came back to finish second in the freestyle race with a time of 29:34.6, good for third in the overall standings.
Brent Knight of Soldotna was fourth overall with a total time of 59:58.0 and Daniel Harro took ninth overall with a total time of 1:02:03.3.
Both Newbould and Liebner were chasing Colony's Eric Strabel, the state's reigning skimeister.
Strabel took both events to win the overall individual title with a combined time of 54:44.5. The region meet was Strabel's first competition since returning from the Junior World Championships in Europe three weeks ago.
"I'm feeling a little tired," Strabel said. "The trails were fantastic. I'm happy with (my performance). I'm revved up for next week."
Strabel thought that the Colony boys handled Friday's difficult conditions well, accounting for their first day lead.
"We do a little better when the conditions get tougher," Strabel said. "On a day like (Saturday), it comes down to speed, and other teams can take advantage of that."
Nikiski's Zach Hall fared well in Saturday's sunshine, following up his 14th-place finish on Friday with a seventh place in Saturday's freestyle event.
"My wax was pretty good (Friday), but conditions were pretty bad," Hall said. "It was really windy, and the tracks were disappearing in some areas."
Kenai's Greg Landua had the wrong wax for Friday's conditions.
"We had a couple of inches of snow on the bottoms of our skis," Landua said. "We pretty much jogged the course."
Landua and the rest of the Kenai boys regrouped for a strong showing in Saturday's freestyle race. Landua led the charge, placing 15th with a time of 32:47.4.
Martin and the Mariners girls won the team title with a total time of 3:18:53.7, over 12 minutes ahead of runner-up Skyview.
Syverine Abrahamson (seventh, 49:40.9), Jazzi Fry (ninth, 51:18.5) and Nikki Fry (10th, 51:23.4) also placed in the top 10 overall for the Mariners, while Sydney Schoepke was 11th overall (51:29.6) for Homer.
Amy Lambe led the Panthers, finishing third overall behind Martin and Valdez's Sarah Fischer. Martin's total time was 47:18.2. Fischer skied for a total time of 47:50.8, with Lambe just 2.1 seconds behind.
Lambe was fourth in the five-kilometer classical race and finished first in the 7.5-kilometer freestyle race, though she considers classical her strong suit.
"I wasn't expecting a first place, but I sure am glad I did it," Lambe said. "I was actually hoping to win the classical race, but I worked really hard in the skate race.
"The good weather, the good wax and the sunshine -- that combination added up."
Lambe said that Friday's weather made it tough to choose the right wax, and skiing on the difficult course at McNeil Canyon didn't help matters.
"They were in-between conditions," Lambe said. "We had good wax, but it was a little slippery going up the hills. Homer's course is really tough. The view is really pretty -- maybe one day I'll be able to stop and look."
Panthers teammate Rebekah Aslett finished 10th in the classical race and third in the freestyle event to take sixth in the overall standings with a total time of 48:58.7.
The Soldotna girls finished fifth overall, with Rachel Goldstein taking 13th overall with a total time of 52:56.1.
Caitlin Nelson and Wendy Wiles posted the best combined times for the Kenai girls team, finishing 23rd and 24th, respectively.
Region III Cross-Country Skiing Championships
Friday and Saturday
at McNeil Canyon Trails, Homer
Times combine Friday's 5 km classical race and Saturday's 7.5 km freestyle race.
Team results -- 1. Homer, 3:18:53.7; 2. Skyview, 3:31:12.6; 3. Colony, 3:33:30.2; 4. Susitna Valley, 3:37:09.6; 5. 5. Soldotna, 3:37:58.8; 6. Valdez, 3:43:03.8; 7. Kenai, 3:45:17.5; 8. Seward, 3:49:05.2; 9. Wasilla, 3:53:05.8; 10. Nikiski, 4:01:19.9; 11. Palmer, 4:01:42.2; 12. Grace, 4:23:26.0.
Top 10 individual results -- 1. Martin, Hom, 47:18.2; 2. Fischer, Val, 47:50.8; 3. Lambe, Sky, 47:52.9; 4. Hanson, SuV, 22:57.1; 5. Heimerl, Col, 48:46.4; 6. Aslett, Sky, 48:58.7; 7. Abrahamson, Hom, 49:40.9; 8. Moore, SuV, 50:25.4; 9. J. Fry, 51:18.5; 10. N. Fry, 51:23.4.
Times combine Friday's 7.5 km classical race and Saturday's 10 km freestyle race.
Team results -- 1. Soldotna, 4:00:49.6; 2. Colony, 4:01:50.7; 3. Skyview, 4:11:42.8; 4. Homer, 4:16:56.8; 5. Kenai, 4:29:52.8; 6. Seward, 4:31:39.9; 7. Wasilla, 4:43:45.6; 8. Palmer, 4:44:07.0; 9. Valdez, 5:35:20.5.
Top 10 individual results -- 1. Strabel, Col, 54:44.7; 2. Liebner, Sol, 59:17.8; 3. Newbould, Sol, 59:30.5; 4. Knight, Sol, 59:58.0; 5. Halloch, Col, 1:00:55.7; 6. Dengel, Val, 1:01:04.9; 7. Bolling, Pal, :01:29.0; 8. Kase, Col, :01:49.7; 9. Harro, Sol, 1:02:03.3; 10. Tressler, Sky, 1:02:17.
Complete individual results will be available in Monday's Peninsula Clarion.
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