Blue skies and balmy temperatures greeted Kenai Peninsula skiers Thursday at the start of the Alaska School Activities Association State Cross-Country Ski Championships in Fairbanks.
And snow -- beautiful snow -- that inspired both their skiing and their jealousy.
The solo races of the first day yielded few surprises and fewer prizes for the peninsula athletes. Only two, Soldotna High's Dan Harro and Homer High's Aleta Phelps, managed to place in the top 10. Phelps placed eighth in the girls 7.5-kilometer classical race, and Harro ninth in the boys 10-kilometer classical race.
SoHi's David Hernandez and Rachel Goldstein, and Skyview's Stephanie Lambe and Elisabeth Habermann placed in the top 20. Ninety-three boys and 85 girls raced.
But everyone seemed pleased just to have a chance to get out on decent trails.
Coaches said they were pleased with students' efforts and optimistic about the rest of the three-day meet. They wrote off any disappointments as due to the adverse weather that has jinxed the teams all winter.
"We're getting beat by teams that have been on snow," said Kenai Central High School coach Dave Feeken.
Kent Peterson, Skyview's coach, agreed.
"The Anchorage teams had it just as bad as us. The only ones who could train like a normal season were Fairbanks, which was an advantage to them."
The winner in the boys race was Justin Singleton of Chugiak High School, who last year won the individual Skimeister award at the championship. He finished in 29 minutes, 20.4 seconds, outpacing Tyson Flaharty, of Fairbanks' West Valley High, by 21.6 seconds.
The girls race was a squeaker, with Sally Johnson of East Anchorage High School upsetting last year's champ, Service's Paige Brady, by one second.
The large Anchorage and Fairbanks teams dominated the first day's races, with most peninsula skiers finishing in the middle of the pack.
SoHi's coach, Dan Harbison, said he was pleased that his team stayed within competitive distance of the other teams.
"We feel pretty good about that. It's the first time we've ever done that on the first day at state. Before we were always playing catch up," he said.
"And of course we're proud of Dan Harro placing in the top 10. It's a very competitive field."
KCHS, SoHi, Skyview, Nikiski, Homer and Seward have a total of 50 students at the meet. The peninsula teams are among 22 schools competing for titles at this year's contest.
The coaches said warm temperatures on the peninsula and hard work for the regional championships, held two weeks ago in Homer, may be costing their teams now. Their teams may have peaked then.
"Weve lost some conditioning just from being indoors," Feeken said.
With winter weather patterns shifted about 500 miles north of where they normally are, the peninsula teens felt right at home in Fairbanks. Although the normal high temperature for the date is 14, the thermometer hit 30 on the course Thursday afternoon at the Birch Hill Recreation Area. The forecast calls for continued mild weather throughout the meet.
Skyview sophomore Nick Byrne said the air was so warm he thought about tossing his hat at one point on the trail. But he kept it and was glad to have it in the cooler shade of the spruce and birch groves.
He praised the quality of the course and the volunteers assisting with the meet. Although the course and instructions seemed complex at first, they played out perfectly.
"They did an awesome job," he said.
He described the trail as fast, thanks to a careful choice of wax, and as having a good placement of hills. The only part that gave him trouble was one nasty corner about halfway through the course.
"As long as you kept tucked it was okay," he said. "And it was a little slippery at the end."
This year, the hosting Fairbanks Nordic Ski Club and West Valley High School are building upon what they learned hosting the event last year, and the race coordinator worked at the most recent winter Olympics.
Peterson also praised the layout at the ski area northeast of Fairbanks. A large, open area near the main lodge was set up for spectators and warm-ups, while the race course consisted of several loops that circled back to the central area. The result was that viewers could see several portions of the race at once and easily access different trail sections.
"It's a real spectator friendly course," Peterson said.
Among those spectators, Skyview assistant coach Jim Bennett was trying something new this year: Palm Pilot software designed specifically to track ski races. It takes into account the staggered start times and predicts where racers need to be to pace themselves. Although he had tried a demo of the program before, he and SoHi coaches are trying the finished version for the first time at this meet.
Bennett said punching in numbers was nowhere near as much fun as watching the racers fly past, but he's intrigued by the technology's prospects for aiding sideline coaching.
"It's very accurate," he said. "Maybe as we get more experience we will be able to use it more."
The contest continues today, with the girls 5-kilometer and boys 7.5-kilometer freestyle races, and finishes Saturday with mixed-technique relays.
ASAA Cross-Country Skiing State Championships
Thursday at Birch Hill, Fairbanks
Team scores: 1. Service, 1 hour, 47 minutes, 46 seconds; 2. West Valley, 1:49:45; 3. East, 1:51:34; 4. Skyview, 1:59:17; 5. West, 1:59:22; 6. Chugiak, 1:59:26; 7. Soldotna, 2:02:17; 8. Lathrop, 2:03:20; 9. Dimond, 2:04:17; 10. Kenai, 2:09:39; 11. Colony, 2:12:11; 12. Homer, 2:12:42; 13. Palmer, 2:15:50; 14. Grace, 2:28:13; 15. Wasilla, 2:33:40.
Individual 7.5-kilometer classic results
1. Sally Johnson, Eas, 25:49; 2. Paige Brade, Ser, 25:50; 3. Katie Ronsse, Ser, 26:48; 4. Davya Baker, WV, 27:03; 5. Elizabeth Quinley, Eas, 27:03; 6. Krista Rader, WV, 27:16; 7. Amanda Brassfield, Ser, 27:20; 8. Aleta Phelps, Hom, 27:30; 9. Tazlina Mannix, SuV, 27:30; 10. Adele Mary, WV, 27:34.
Other peninsula finishers
14. Rachel Goldstein, Sol, 28:03; 18. Stephanie Lambe, Sky, 28:20; 19. Elisabeth Habermann, Sky, 28:30; 31. Lela Wiley, Sky, 30:31; 36. Katie Franzmann, Sol, 30:49; 39. Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, Ken, 31:03; 43. Heidi Keller, Sol, 31:39; 45. Jenny Smola, Sol, 31:45; 46. Elisha Tarries, Sky, 31:54; 47. Roxanna Wilcox, Ken, 31:54; 49. Tess Caswell, Sol, 32:18; 53. Katie Burck, Ken, 32:56; 55. Kasey Aderhold, Hom, 33:13; 58. Jaime Miller, Sky, 33:33; 60. Cassie Wilcox, Ken, 33:45; 62. Samantha Halpin, Hom, 33:52; 72. Laura Rooper, Nik, 35:51; 73. Anna Clock, Sew, 36:02; 74. Linnea Hassbring, Ken, 36:08; 77. Heather Apperson, Sew, 37:09; 78. Clarissa Ribbens, Nik, 37:56; 79. Monica Peters, Hom, 38:07; 80. Jacqueline VanDriessche, Sew, 38:08.
Team scores: 1. Lathrop, 2:03:27; 2. Service, 2:05:33; 3. West Valley, 2:05:39; 4. East, 2:06:05; 5. Chugiak, 2:08:36; 6. Soldotna, 2:09:14; 7. West, 2:09:28; 8. Colony, 2:11:27; 9. Dimond, 2:17:48; 10. Kenai, 2:18:57; 11. Skyview, 2:24:24; 12. Homer, 2:26:53; 13. Seward, 2:29:03; 14. Wasilla, 2:32:08; 15. Palmer, 2:37:51; 16. Bartlett, 2:41:21; 17. Valdez, 2:56:15; 18. Grace, 3:10:43.
Individual 10-kilometer classic results
1. Justin Singleton, Chu, 29:20; 2. Tyson Flaharty, WV, 29:42; 3. Mike Hinckley, Ser, 30:11; 4. Daniel Clark, Eas, 30:17; 5. Loren Schmidt, Lat, 30:29; 6. Espen Haugen, Eas, 30:43; 7. Brett Broda, Lat, 30:46; 8. Paul Schauer, Lat, 30:49; 9. Daniel Harro, Sol, 31:01; 10. Fredryk Haug, Ser, 31:04.
Other peninsula finishers
17. David Hernandez, Sol, 32:00; 24. Mark Harro, Sol, 32:14; 30. Andy Banas, Ken, 33:04; 37. Damian Anderson, Sky, 33:50; 38. Ryan Walton, Sol, 33:58; 43. Brandon Moffet, Hom, 34:34; 44. Kyle Dudley, Sky, 34:37; 46. Jordan Engel, Ken, 35:03; 47. Noah King, Sky, 35:10; 49. Mike Kent, Ken, 35:18; 51. Clay Nelson, Ken, 35:31; 54. Matt Adams, Sew, 35:57; 60. Michael Farrens, Hom, 36:46; 61. Kyle Latz, Ken, 36:48; 62. Nick Swann, Sew, 36:50; 63. Dylan Anderson, Hom, 37:18; 65. Leif Bardarson, Sew, 37:53; 66. Alex Hundertmark, Sol, 37:56; 67. Morgan Jones, Hom, 38:13; 69. Walter Moore, Sew, 38:22; 70. Nick Chapman, Sew, 38:35; 76. Nick Byrne, Sky, 40:45; 82. Levi Lounsbury, Nik, 42:52; 83. Kaleb Johnson, Nik, 43:12; 88. Jess Orr, Sky, 44:43.
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