Knowing it’s been accomplished as recently as last season, Soldotna’s Kailey Mucha should feel less apprehensive.
When West’s Amy Glen was crowned Skimeister as a freshman at last year’s Nordic Ski Championships, the Soldotna freshman must have been instilled with a sense of confidence.
If she wasn’t, it certainly hasn’t showed this year.
Mucha has basically dominated the local circuit from a season-opening victory at the Skyview Invitational until last weekend’s first-place finish at the Region III skiing championships.
Now, with her rookie campaign culminating today and Friday at the state meet at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, the sky’s the limit for this timid, fresh-faced youngster.
However, as Mucha’s mother, Kenai coach D’Anna Gibson, was quick to point out, there’s still one little problem.
“Amy Glen’s still there,” she said.
A sophomore at Service this year, Glen may be a favorite to win back-to-back titles.
According to Kenai Peninsula coaches, though, Mucha might not be far behind.
“She’ll break the top 10. She definitely has it in her,” said Seward coach Dennis Perry. “I can see her in four years being the state Skimeister.”
Her mother took it one step further.
“As a coach, if she continues to ski like she has been, then she should definitely be in the top 10,” she said. “If she has that one really good race, she may even be top 5.”
Homer coach Ida Martin is even more optimistic.
“Kailey Mucha’s definitely up there. She could win if she wanted,” she said. “If not, top five, definitely.”
But Nikiski coach Dale Bakk put it best.
“Nothing’s out of the realm of possibility,” he explained. “But she would be one of the ones who would make it to the top of Everest without oxygen.”
While many believe Mucha’s primed for an impressive competition, other peninsula skiers are looking to top their previous finishes.
The Kenai boys are hoping to improve on last year’s sixth-place standing with junior Trent Semmens and senior Chris Hall leading the way after finishing 20th and 21st, respectively, last season.
“If everything goes well ... I think they can pop a top 10,” Gibson said. “They’re both capable of doing that.”
DC Reid owns the third spot on the squad with the fourth position still up for grabs between Kirk Louthan, Anders Nyquist and Levi Sutton.
“All three of them are skiing really well, which is good,” Gibson said. “It makes it hard but it also makes it easier, too. It’s definitely a good problem.”
The Kardinal girls are led by sophomore Molly Watkins, who placed fourth at regions. Becca Ford, Maya Johnson and Christi Louthan round out the team.
Also from Soldotna, freshman Jasmine Clock and senior Max Milliron are emerging from regional fifth and ninth-place finishes, respectively, and could both end up in the top 20.
The Homer girls are hoping their region title translates into success at the state level.
Led by senior Erika Klaar, who finished second at regions and 21st at last year’s state meet, the Mariners may be the most solid peninsula team from top to bottom.
“For these girls, it’s really doable to be in the top three,” Martin explained, adding Klaar could even place in the top 15. “They have the ability to win, it’s just we’ll have to get them to believe that.”
Skyview’s Erick Romig is a heavy favorite on the boys’ side, although he’s caught the illness that’s been jumping from team to team over the last couple of weeks.
“He’s trying to decide how he’s feeling. Everyone wants to race their best so he’s pretty bummed that he might be getting sick,” said Panthers’ coach Kent Peterson. “If healthy, he has a good chance to be in top 10 in both individual races.”
Sidelined due to illnesses when the Panthers placed third at the region meet, Skyview’s Tommy Honer and Taylor Karnikis are back and hoping to lead the boys’ team to a solid finish.
“In the past we’ve kind of focused on regions,” Peterson said. “This year our goal all along was to focus on the state meet.”
Skyview’s Kendra Merkes is also out to best her 45th-place finish at last year’s state meet.
“She’s been skiing very well and has matured a lot this year,” Peterson said.
Training with Skyview, Cook Inlet Academy’s Lars Arneson will also be competitive following his regional seventh-place finish.
Senior Sarah Glaser and the rest of the Seward squad is nearly healthy after also battling sickness at regions last week and is expected to compete for the small schools state title. Glaser, meanwhile, should improve on her 22nd-place standing last season.
“The girls have a shot at it if they’re healthy,” Perry said. “A couple of teams could probably give a good run at it. Valdez is one of them.”
Also seeking the small schools crown was Nikiski, which placed second last season. But after losing one of their four members to eligibility constraints, that chase may have to wait until next year.
“I’m disappointed for the kids. They all want it. They all had that in their sights,” Bakk said. “I think the kids are going to do really well. I think they’re going to surprise themselves with how they do.”
But amongst a highly talented group from the peninsula, Mucha is the clear-cut favorite and SoHi coach Dan Harbison believes her potential has yet to completely expose itself.
He also said she doesn’t need to be as nervous as she was at the start of the season.
Gibson, however, hopes she is.
“If she wakes up and says, ‘Mom I’m real nervous,’ then it should be a good day for Kailey,” she said. “That’s how I know.”
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