"It was definitely the best ski meet I've been to," Soldotna High School senior Dan Harro said Saturday afternoon at the conclusion of the Alaska School Activities Association State Cross Country Ski Championships in Fairbanks.
His finishes in the top 10 on all three days of the highly competitive contest were not the only reason for his sunny assessment.
"The conditions and the weather don't get any better than this year," he said. "There were so many good skiers it was really tough."
The SoHi boys and the Skyview High School girls put in the strongest showing of all the Kenai Peninsula teams, as coaches had predicted. The Panthers were ranked fourth, and the Stars finished seventh in the final team standings.
Overall, the boys division was a rout for the hometown Fairbanks school teams, with Lathrop taking first and West Valley second. Service picked up an overwhelming win on the girls side, with West Valley again as runner up.
Nikiski Middle-Senior High School coach Dale Bakk, who brought four students to the championship, was among those who noted that the Fairbanks skiers got more than the typical homecourt advantage, thanks to the Pineapple Express weather system that has plagued the rest of the state.
"It would have been a dogfight if we'd all had more snow," he said.
But he also agreed with other observers that placing first was not the main point of the meet, and that everyone came away from the three-day event as winners.
"This has just been a fun weekend," he said. "They've enjoyed the weather, they've enjoyed the snow -- the whole thing."
The Skimeister awards to the highest-scoring individuals went to exactly the same people who won them last year: Chugiak's Justin Singleton, who shut out his competition in both the classic and freestyle races, and to Service's Paige Brady, who placed a close second in both individual races and led her school's powerhouse girls team.
Although the meet's first day, Thursday, was slow for the peninsula skiers, they picked up the tempo on Friday and Saturday.
In Friday's freestyle event, Harro placed fourth in the boys 7.5-kilometer race with a time of 20 minutes, 43.9 seconds, and Skyview's Elisabeth Habermann placed fourth in the girls 5-kilometer event with a time of 15:13.8. SoHi's Mark Harro (Dan's brother), Skyview's Stephanie Lambe, SoHi's Rachel Goldstein and Homer's Aleta Phelps all placed within the top 20. Nearly 100 racers competed in each race.
The winner of the boys race was Singleton in 19:51. The winner of the girls race was Service's Katie Ronsse in 14:38.6 seconds.
Habermann, a sophomore, beamed Friday after her strong showing in the freestyle.
"It's a cool course," she said. "The snow is gorgeous. Everything went right."
Saturday, excitement crested as relays started under blazing sunshine, while the loudspeakers played the "William Tell Overture" and crowds of spectators waving placards and ringing cowbells cheered the skiers on.
Those who had attended the meet last year recalled the frigid Fairbanks temperatures then, but this year sunburn was more of a threat than frostbite.
The SoHi boys skied to fifth place in the relay, with a total time of 58:30.3, about two minutes slower than first-place Lathrop. Kenai Central High School placed 10th, Skyview 11th, Seward 12th and Homer 13th. Eighteen teams skied the boys relays.
The girls race got off to an auspicious start when Skyview junior Stephanie Lambe outdistanced the field in the first leg, and Homer's Phelps ran fourth. But Skyview was unable to keep the lead and finished the race fourth, about two minutes behind the Service girls. SoHi's team placed eighth, KCHS 10th and Homer 14th. Fifteen teams competed in the girls relay.
Lambe, a junior, had been disappointed Thursday when she placed 18th in the classical race. But by the end of Saturday, she was all smiles.
Finding herself at the head of the pack at the beginning of the relay was a rush, she said.
"It was awesome. I felt good today, but I didn't think I felt good enough to be in front," she said. "We tied with our best school record. Everyone is stoked about that."
The coaches from the two Soldotna schools were as pleased as their students.
SoHi's Dan Harbison said he has noticed that the skiing in Alaska is getting more competitive over time, and he predicted a bright future for cross-country skiing in the state.
"I thought we did really well. I thought we represented the Kenai Peninsula really well here," he said.
"This is the highest finish for a SoHi girls team."
Skyview's Kent Peterson was equally jazzed about his teams and singled out his girls for special praise. He said he suspected they would do well, and he is looking forward to next year's season.
Many of the fastest skiers from other peninsula teams -- Homer's Phelps, Brandon Moffet and Michael Farrens, Kenai's Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, and Seward's Anna Clock and Matt Adams -- are underclassmen. All the coaches expressed optimism that the peninsula's skiers are only going to get better.
"We still have a young team," Peterson said.
While many of the peninsula skiers already are looking forward to next season, some don't have to wait. Five of the peninsula skiers -- Goldstein, Lambe, Dan Harro, Brent Knight and David Hernandez -- will be back at the Birch Hill Recreation Area in two weeks for the 2003 Junior Olympics.
ASAA/First National Bank 2003 Cross-Country Skiing State Championships
at Birch Hill, Fairbanks
Team scores: 1. Service, 3 hours, 26 minutes, 52.7 seconds; 2. West Valley, 3:33.32.9; 3. East, 3:38:35.8; 4. Skyview, 3:45:48.1; 5. West, 3:49:16.5; 6. Chugiak, 3:50:25.4; 7. Lathrop, 3:57:15.0; 8. Soldotna, 3:58:22.6; 9. Dimond, 4:01:25.5; 10. Kenai, 4:10:07.6; 11. Colony, 4:17:12.1; 12. Homer, 4:20:00.8; 13. Palmer, 4:20:12.6.
Individual 5-kilometer freestyle results
1. Katie Ronsse, Ser, 14:38; 2. Paige Brady, Ser, 14:43; 3. Amanda Brassfield, Ser, 15:02; 4. Elisabeth Habermann, Sky, 15:13; 5. Sally Johnson, Eas, 15:17; 6. Caroline Livett, Ser, 15:19; 7 (tie). Tazlina Mannix, SuV, Davya Baker, WV, 15:23; 9. Lana Mathis, Ser, 15:34; 10. Christina Gillis, WV, 15:38.
Other peninsula finishers
11. Stephanie Lambe, Sky, 15:46; 13. Rachel Goldstein, Sol, 15:51; 15. Aleta Phelps, Hom, 15:57; 25. Jaime Miller, Sky, 16:41; 33. Lela Wiley, Sky, 17:22; 34. Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, Ken, 17:29; 38. Elisha Tarries, Sky, 17:40; 43. Roxanna Wilcox, Ken, 18:05; 44. Jenny Smola, Sol, 18:06; 46. Katie Franzmann, Sol, 18:13; 54. Tess Caswell, Sol, 18:48; 56. Katie Burck, Ken, 18:55; 59. Cassie Wilcox, Ken, 19:08; 61. Heidi Keller, Sol, 19:19; 62. Kasey Aderhold, Hom, 19:31; 68. Anna Clock, Sew, 19:46; 69. Linnea Hassbring, Ken, 19:47; 71. Jacqueline VanDriessche, Sew, 20:09; 74. Samantha Halpin, Hom, 20:22; 76. Heather Apperson, Sew, 20:58; 78. Laura Rooper, Nik, 21:29; 82. Clarissa Ribbens, Nik, 22:15; 83. Monica Peters, Hom, 22:32.
14-kilometer mixed technique relay results
1. Service, 39 minutes, 23.3 seconds; 2. East, 40:10.5; 3. West Valley, 40:15.3; 4. Skyview (Stephanie Lambe, Lela Wiley, Jaime Miller, Elisabeth Habermann), 41:26.3; 5. West, 42:40.4; 6. Chugiak, 43:22.3; 7. Lathrop, 44:03.7; 8. Soldotna (Heidi Keller, Katie Franzmann, Jenny Smola, Rachel Goldstein), 45:05.6; 9. Bartlett, 45:16.2; 10. Kenai (Katie Burck, Cassie Wilcox, Roxanna Wilcox, Synneva Hagen-Lillevik), 46:49.1; 10. Palmer, 47:21.0; 11. Dimond, 48:13.3; 13. Colony, 48:35.2; 14. Homer (Aleta Phelps, Monica Peters, Samantha Halpin, Kasey Aderhold), 48:54.1; 15. Wasilla, 48:58.6.
Team scores: 1. Lathrop, 4 hours, 25 minutes, 45.0 seconds; 2. West Valley, 4:28:46.9; 3. East, 4:30:18.3; 4. Service, 4:31:36.8; 5. Chugiak, 4:32:33.0; 6. West, 4:33:54.0; 7. Soldotna, 4:35:22.8; 8. Colony, 4:44:44.0; 9. Dimond, 4:46:09.7; 10. Kenai, 4:57:21.9; 11. Skyview, 5:07:21.9; 12. Homer, 5:13:07.3; 13. Seward, 5:14:52.8; 14. Wasilla, 5:26:11.0; 15. Palmer, 5:36:37.7; 16. Bartlett, 5:38:37.7; 17. Valdez, 6:05:42.9; 18. Grace, 6:51:19.5.
Individual 7.5-kilometer freestyle results
1. Justin Singleton, Chu, 19:51; 2. Tyson Flaharty, WV, 20:18; 3. Donovan Walsh, Wes, 20:39; 4. Daniel Harro, Sol, 20:43; 5. Daniel Clark, Eas, 20:56; 6. Ryan Holtan, Wes, 21:01; 7. Anders Gillis, WV, 21:04; 8. Loren Schmidt, Lat, 21:07; 9. Daichi Ito, Ser, 21:08; 10. Espen Haugen, Eas, 21:15.
Other peninsula finishers
17. Mark Harro, Sol, 21:27; 25. David Hernandez, Sol, 22:09; 37. Ryan Walton, Sol, 23:17; 39. Noah King, Sky, 23:22; 41. Michael Farrens, Hom, 23:28; 42. Damian Andersen, Sky, 23:30; 43. Jordan Engel, Ken, 23:33; 45. Andy Banas, Ken, 23:39; 47. Alex Hundertmark, Sol, 23:41; 50. Nick Swann, Sew, 24:00; 53. Kyle Dudley, Sky, 24:20; 54. Mike Kent, Ken, 24:22; 55. Matt Adams, Sew, 24:29; 56. Morgan Jones, Hom, 24:34; 57. Clay Nelson, Ken, 24:43; 60. Nick Chapman, Sew, 25:09; 64. Kyle Latz, Ken, 25:45; 65. Dylan Anderson, Hom, 25:48; 66. Walter Moore, Sew, 25:53; 67. Brandon Moffet, Hom, 26:01; 72. Jess Orr, Sky, 26:47; 73. Leif Bardarson, Sew, 27:07; 74. Nick Byrne, Sky, 27:17; 80. Kaleb Johnson, Nik, 28:14; 81. Levi Lounsbury, Nik, 28:14.
20-kilometer mixed technique relay results
1. Lathrop, 56:24.0; 2. West Valley, 57:13.7; 3. Chugiak, 57:30.8; 4. East, 57:50.0; 5. Soldotna (David Hernandez, Ryan Walton, Mark Harro, Daniel Harro), 58:30.3; 6. West, 58:10.3; 7. Service, 59:11.4; 8. Dimond, 1:00:01.9; 9. Colony, 1:01:14.8; 10. Kenai (Andy Banas, Mike Kent, Clay Nelson, Jordan Engel), 1:03:05.7; 11. Skyview (Noah King, Kyle Dudley, Jess Orr, Damian Andersen), 1:04:58.6; 12. Seward, (Matt Adams, Walter Moore, Nick Chapman, Nick Swann) 1:06:15.7; 13. Homer (Brandon Moffet, Dylan Anderson, Michael Farrens), 1:06:22.2; 14. Bartlett, 1:08:16.3; 15. Palmer, 1:09:36.9; 16. Wasilla, 1:09:52.4; 17. Valdez, 1:15:14.2; 18. Grace, 1:25:55.2.
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