Skyview freshman Marci Mohler had a number of reasons to be nervous before Friday's Nikiski Class Races at Nikiski High School.
It was the first race of Mohler's high school career, it was pouring rain, Nikiski's course is easily one of the toughest in the state, and Mohler already had a reputation to live up to after breaking a 1984 record in the 1,600-meter run at the borough track meet last year.
"When I was warming up, I could hear other girls saying, 'There's that fast girl from Skyview who broke that record. You can keep up with her,'" Mohler said. "That kind of makes me nervous.
"But right after I took a few steps, the nerves went away."
Right after Mohler took a few more steps, pretty much all of her competitors went away, too.
On a 55-degree day with constant "liquid sunshine," to put it in the vernacular of public address announcer Bob Bird, Mohler finished 5 kilometers in 20 minutes, 54 seconds, looking anything but wet behind the ears.
The time put Mohler about 2 minutes in front of runner-up Sarah Hermann of Seward and third-place finisher Aleta Phelps of Homer in the freshman-sophomore girls race. It also held up as the fastest girls time of the day and the second-fastest freshman time -- boys or girls -- of the event.
In addition to Mohler's debut, the story of the day was the weather. The runners said they enjoyed exerting themselves in the sheets of precipitation, even though it led to odd moments like Soldotna junior David Hernandez wiping out during his race and taking a bath in a puddle on Nikiski's track afterward.
"I enjoy the races more when it rains, even though I get worse times," said Homer sophomore Monte Garroutte. "I can breathe better when it rains.
"Plus, after the races, I don't even need to drink water. I don't get thirsty when I run in the rain."
Garroutte, who won the freshman-sophomore race last year, turned the trick again Friday. His time of 18:49 was the best turned in by a boy Friday.
Although he didn't train this summer, Garroutte did fish in Bristol Bay, so he said he was used to grinding through inclement afternoons.
Kenai freshman Trevor Baldwin, who finished second to Garroutte in the freshman-sophomore race with a time of 19:24, didn't fish in Bristol Bay this summer, but he did get to practice on challenging terrain during the junior race at Mount Marathon.
Kenai's Mary Krusen crosses the finish line Friday to win the girl's junior/senior race with a time of 22:59.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
So which was worse, the slick, steep downhills at Nikiski or Mount Marathon?
"I was out of control on some of those downhills," Baldwin said, "but at least I didn't have to worry about rocks flying past me."
Kenai Central senior Mary Krusen would join Garroutte and Baldwin, and Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, for that matter, in extolling the glorious feeling of runnin' in the rain.
"When I woke up this morning and saw rain, I was excited," Krusen said. "It always helps me out."
Krusen also got a little help from the spectators in holding off Skyview junior Kaleena Schouweiler for the tape in the junior-senior girls race. Krusen crossed the line at 22:59, 34 seconds ahead of Schouweiler.
"I can always tell how far people are behind me by the cheering," Krusen said. "There was one point where I heard a lot of 'Go Skyview' right behind me. I thought, 'OK, time to go.'"
Schouweiler joined the rest of the runners in having an easier time getting over Nikiski's arduous hills than getting over what a fun time she had Friday.
"More people should try this," Schouweiler said. "It's more fun that it looks. A lot of people probably think we're nuts, but I had so much fun out there today."
The affinity for striding across the finish line drenched in something other than sweat, for a change, continued in the junior-senior boys race.
Nikiski junior John Rooper, who passed teammate Ryan Wicker in the last mile to win in 19:23, made it clear how enjoyable the race was for him.
A race spectator watches Nikiski's Angani Salonen from the safety of an umbrella. A steady downpour soaked runners and fans alike.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
When he entered the track area and heard his name announced as the probable winner, Rooper broke into a wave and a wide smile for the infield, not unlike what 1,500-meter runner Hicham El Guerrouj did before crossing the finish line victorious at the recently completed World Championships.
The race for second place between the juniors and seniors was much closer, with Soldotna senior Evan Haupt out-sprinting Hernandez, Wicker and Homer's Travis Kaufman to take second in 19:37. Haupt, who recently moved to Alaska from Iowa, wasn't fazed by the rain and hills.
"It was different because I'm used to running my cross country races on golf courses," Haupt said. "They're a lot flatter. I had a great time, though. This was more challenging."
Nikiski Class Races
at Nikiski High School
Ninth-grade girls -- 1. Marci Mohler, Skyview, 20 minutes, 54 seconds; 2. Melanie Mach, Homer, 24:28; 3. Teal Hetrick, Seward, 27:01; 4. Alicia Monnier, Sew, 27:09; 5. Samantha Ax, Houston, 27:31; 6. Larissa Cochran, Kenai, 27:35; 7. Natalie Newton, Ken, 27:53; 8. Amanda Boll, Soldotna, 30:32; 9. Samantha Halpin, Hom, 30:49.
Ninth-grade boys -- 1. Trevor Baldwin, Ken, 19:24; 2. John McGlasson, Ken, 20:56; 3. Christopher Amen, Ken, 21:01; 4. Robert Doty, Nikiski, 21:54; 5. Paul Morin, Nik, 22:51; 6. Noah King, Sky, 22:55; 7. Brian Hibberd, Sky, 22:55; 8. Travis Hines, Hom, 22:55; 9. Ben Kellie, Nik, 23:55; 10. Lance Penhale, Nik, 23:57; 11. Joe Misner, Sky, 26:00; 12. Dylan Anderson, Hom, 26:28.
10th-grade girls -- 1. Sarah Hermann, Sew, 22:50; 2. Aleta Phelps, Hom, 22:55; 3. Katie Sela, Sew, 23:59; 4. Angani Salonen, Nik, 25:22; 5. Elsa Gaule, Sew, 25:45; 6. Jolie Glaser, Sew, 26:05; 7. Kortnie Westfall, Houston, 26:38; 8. Heidi Keller, Sol, 26:44; 9. Brandi Denna, Sol, 26:59; 10. Ramona Baker, Nik, 28:41; 11. Tess Caswell, Sol, 28:41; 12. Elisha Tarries, Sky, 33:34; 13. Emily Bullock, Hou, 36:58; 14. Lisa Johns, Sky, 38:42.
10th-grade boys -- 1. Monte Garroutte, Hom, 18:49; 2. Tommy Blair, Sew, 20:18; 3. Anthony Lorenzo, Nik, 20:52; 4. Ryan Walton, Sol, 20:54; 5. Alex Hundertmark, Sol, 20:56; 6. Spenser Litzenberger, Sol, 21:24; 7. Clyde Folley, Sol, 23:33; 8. David Thornton, Sky, 24:13; 9. Sam Banse, Sew, 24:39; 10. James Frost, Hou, 24:40; 11. Ben Quesnel, Nik, 28:49.
11th-grade girls -- 1. Kaleena Schouweiler, Sky, 23:33; 2. Roxanna Wilcox, Ken, 24:18; 3. Lily Sloth, Hom, 24:37; 4. Katie Floyd, Nik, 24:37; 5. Katherine Mooter, Nik, 25:46; 6. Jennifer McCard, Sol, 27:47; 7. Katey Newton, Ken, 30:47.
11th-grade boys -- 1. John Rooper, Nik, 19:23; 2. David Hernandez, Sol, 19:40; 3. Seth Price, Sew, 20:09; 4. Morgan Saltenburger, Ken, 20:09; 5. Joey Wicker, Nikiski, 20:33; 6. Ruben Floyd, Nik, 21:27; 7. Josh Coots, Sew, 21:47; 8. Mark Harron, Hom, 21:52; 9. Clifford Cochran, Ken, 22:43; 10. Cam Poindexter, Hom, 24:11; 11. Flyte Jorgensen, Nik, 24:22.
12th-grade girls -- 1. Mary Krusen, Ken, 22:59; 2. Marion Glaser, Sew, 24:25; 3. Zara Lounsbury, Nik, 25:35; 4. Emilee Gillaspie, Nik, 25:53; 5. Summer Engler, Sky, 27:04; 6. Jessica Ralston, Nik, 28:36; 7. Ruth Banse, Sew, 30:05; 8. Jenny Miller, Nik, 30:18.
12th-grade boys -- 1. Evan Haupt, Sol, 19:37; 2. Travis Kaufman, Hom, 19:37; 3. Ryan Wicker, Nik, 19:41; 4. Trent Foldager, Sew, 21:28; 5. Sid Cox, Sky, 24:32.
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