Habermann unsung hero for Stars

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

When Matthew Habermann first enrolled at Soldotna High School, his goal was to be a part of the Stars hockey team.

Well, that didn't quite pan out for him, but Habermann quickly found a new goal and a new team, trading in his skates for skate skis and joining Soldotna's cross-country ski team.

"I didn't make the hockey team freshman year, and I didn't have anything to do," Habermann, now a senior, said. "All my friends were skiing, so I tried skiing."

Habermann joined the ski team as a sophomore and picked up the sport fairly quickly, competing as a junior varsity skier in his first season before skiing as a member of the varsity squad for his junior and senior seasons.

"It wasn't that hard. Ski technique is a lot like (ice) skating, you just have to add in the arms, so I picked it up pretty quickly," Habermann said, though he added that once he moved past the basics and started to refine his technique, things did get a little harder.

Habermann consistently was Soldotna's No. 2 finisher this season, and counts his ninth-place finish in the overall two-day standings at the Mat-Su Pursuit among his highlights.

"He's in the position of unsung hero," said Soldotna ski coach Dan Harbison. "He's never the person out in front, but he's always the person all of us are relying on."

"He's a real valuable part of our ski team," said teammate Spencer Litzenberger. "He's the main part of it. We had Ryan Walton up front and then a big gap. He filled that gap."

Habermann also was a member of the Stars team that went to the state championships in Fairbanks last month, and he said the experience was great.

"The weather was great, and the snow, and the team did great," Habermann said. "Birch Hill is one of the best courses in the state, and the people were excellent. I had a great time."

Walton finished a respectable 42nd in the 10-kilometer freestyle race at state, 46th in the 7.5-kilometer classic and skied the second leg on the Stars' ninth-place 20-kilometer relay.

"(Racing) three days in a row was extremely hard," Habermann said. "I was really tired by the end."

Habermann said the competition was made a little easier with the support from teammates and parents Katie Franzmann's mother even traveled to Fairbanks to cook for the squad so it could focus on the races without worrying about where they would eat.

The support of Habermann's teammates also played an important role last fall during the cross country running season, when he lost his father.

"When his dad passed away, the place he wanted to be was with his team," Walton said, "which made me feel real good about the team and the way everybody treats each other. He did awesome with what he was faced with, and it was real encouraging to all of us."

Habermann said it was a successful ski season.

"The goal is to peak at the end of the season, and I feel like we peaked at the end of the season," Habermann said. "I feel like I peaked at the end of the season, and you can't ask for anything more."

Habermann's ski season came after a solid season on the cross country running trails that saw the Soldotna boys place third in the region and advance to the state meet. Habermann started running as a sophomore to prepare for the ski season and because his friends were involved with the team.

"Then I found out cross country running was the hardest of all three sports," said Habermann, who also runs track in the spring. "It's pretty hot in August."

While it was tough to beat the heat, Habermann did say the early start to the season had its benefits. With classes not starting until the end of the month, Habermann said it was nice to focus solely on running.

"It's a lot more relaxing," Habermann said.

Next up on Habermann's list of things to do is the track season, where he hopes to qualify for the region championships this year.

Habermann said he first ran track as a freshman, but started out as a sprinter before moving to the distance events, explaining that the longer races were a little more forgiving.

"In the 100, the gun goes off and 12 seconds later you lose if you didn't get out fast," Habermann said. "In distance running, you have a little better chance to make up for a slow start."

Habermann said he enjoys the camaraderie of sports, and his hoping to continue to spend time with his friends and his family until August, when he heads south to Camp Pendleton near San Diego for basic training with the Marine Corps.

Habermann has signed on for a five-year tour with the Marines and would like to become an aircraft engineer.

"I've always thought about going into the armed forces," Habermann said, explaining that he's been inspired by the honor and commitment of veterans he knows who served in Viet Nam.

"Some people say, 'Go for it,'" he said of reactions he gets when he tells people he's headed for the Marines. "Some people say they're happy they did the Marines, but wouldn't recommend it to anyone."

Habermann said there are two types of aircraft engineers weapons engineers and mechanics. Habermann said his family is hoping he chooses to be a mechanic, which is a non-combatant role, but he said he's prepared to serve in any capacity he's needed.

Habermann's hobbies include snowmachining when he has the chance, but he's not into mushing that's his sister Elisabeth's thing.

"I'm happy for her," Habermann said. "She does great in the Junior Iditarod and Junior Quest, and she got to go to the Junior Olympics in Lake Placid (N.Y., for skiing), but I'm not a dog musher."

Habermann has even played down any sibling rivalry. Elisabeth skies for Skyview, and after the two competed against each other on co-ed teams at the Nikiski Relays a race won by his sister's quartet Habermann said, "It's OK if Skyview wins a race once in a while."

All in all, Habermann counts athletics as a positive influence throughout his high school career. Habermann said his teammates all stay out of trouble, and training together year-round has made for some great friendships.

"It's not just all running," Habermann said. "You get to talk, joke around, meet wonderful people and learn from a wonderful coach like Mr. (Mark) Devenney."

Those who have had a chance to work with Habermann say he will leave big shoes to fill.

"He's always that person I can rely on to help out in any situation," Harbison said. "I'll really miss that when he's gone.

"I just think he's had a very good career both running and skiing. His work ethic and his example will be missed."

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