When the state ski meet starts today at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula will be represented by what is perhaps its most solid group of skiers ever.
However, those skiers will have to pull off some major shockers if they are going to come away from the meet with first-place hardware.
Anchorage's Service High School is favored to dominate the state meet, much like it dominated the Region IV ski championships last weekend at Kincaid.
The state meet begins today with a boys 10-kilometer classical race at 2 p.m. Immediately following is the girls 7.5-kilometer classical race.
Friday, racing again begins at 2 p.m. The girls will do a 5-kilometer freestyle race, to be followed by the boys 7.5-kilometer freestyle.
Saturday, action will start at 11 a.m. with the boys 4-by-5-kilometer relay. Immediately following will be the girls 4-by-3-kilometer relay.
All schools are invited to send a boys and girls team to the meet. Each team consists of five skiers.
The biggest story of the state meet is expected to be Service's Tara Hamilton becoming the only skier in the state's history to win four skimeister titles. The skimeister award is given to the person who accumulates the lowest time in Thursday's and Friday's races.
Hamilton's main competition was expected to be East senior Kikkan Randall, but she is off in Lahti, Finland, racing for the United States in the 44th World Ski Championships.
Among those expected to be chasing Hamilton are Skyview senior Amy Lambe and Homer senior Ida Martin.
The two proved they are amongst the state's top skiers by finishing in the top five of the final Besh Cup rankings. The rankings come from six races and are used to select Alaska's Junior Olympics team.
However, it would be a major surprise if either Lambe or Martin were to catch Hamilton, who is arguably the best skier in the country at her age. This year, she finished 15th in the 5-kilometer classical race at the Junior World Championships in Poland.
"I want to place Ida in the top five," Homer coach Mickey Todd said.
In the race for the girls team title, Service again will most likely be out of reach. The Cougars defeated East by about 20 minutes at last weekend's region meet, with their relay teams posting four of the fastest five times at the meet.
Skyview was the top peninsula team at the region meet last weekend, finishing second behind Colony. Homer was third at the meet.
"We usually aim for a top-five finish at state, but this year we won't be able to do that," Martin said. "We'd like to finish in the top eight."
The peninsula boys also send a strong contingent to state, with four of them having qualified for the Junior Olympics team and another two finishing in the top 20 of the Besh Cup standings.
Leading that group will be Soldotna senior Andy Liebner and the Soldotna boys team. Liebner won the Besh Cup this year and the SoHi boys won their second straight region title last weekend. Soldotna also has Junior Olympics team member Brent Knight.
Standing in the way of the Stars will be Service, which was fairly dominant at last weekend's Region IV meet.
Colony coach Ed Strabel, whose boys interrupted Service's dominance at state by winning titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999, said the Soldotna boys remind him of his team back in 1997.
"Four years ago, we surprised Service on the first day of state," Strabel said. "After that, everyone kept telling me, 'ABS, ABS.'
"They finally let me in on what that meant -- anyone but Service. People don't want them to win because they are so dominant. I think Soldotna will be getting tips from other Anchorage schools."
Soldotna coach Sarah Tureson wasn't talking about a state title after last weekend's region meet.
"We finished third in the relay last year at state, and we'd like to match that again this year," she said. "We'd also like to see Andy get in the top five."
Skyview was second at the Region III meet and the Panthers have the peninsula's other two members of the Junior Olympics team -- seniors Jacob Fellman and Adam Tressler.
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