It's never a good sign when area cross-country ski teams have to drive hundreds of miles just to ski 7.2 kilometers.
A warm and rainy November forced many of the area's high schools into that predicament Friday and Saturday, as they drove north all the way to Talkeetna to compete in a race at Susitna Valley High School.
The season started out promising for the teams, with snow hitting most of the peninsula in early November. However, by the middle of the month above-freezing temperatures and rain were washing out the skiing.
A meet scheduled the week before Thanksgiving in Homer had to be canceled. By the week of Thanksgiving, the only team able to ski anymore was Seward.
Thus far, the coaches said the skiers have remained postive despite the weather.
"We're doing strength training indoors and running," Kenai Central coach Dave Feeken said. "I'm amazed. This is a pretty good group of kids. They're holding up fine."
All the coaches are in agreement that while the athletes are holding up so far, the sooner snow comes, the better. All the coaches also are in agreement that the Skyview girls and Colony boys will be early favorites to retain their Region III titles.
Last season at Tsalteshi Trails, the Panthers won their 10th region title in 13 years while the Knights snapped Soldotna's run of four straight years atop the region.
"I definitely think the Skyview girls are somebody you need to look at," Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. "The Colony boys didn't lose much, either. They should be coming back really strong."
The following is a closer look at the Kenai Peninsula's ski programs.
Coach Daryl Farrens has 27 skiers out this year, which is two times what he had out last year. Farrens said he lost just one senior and has a big freshman class.
The Mariners have only been able to ski for less than two weeks due to the warm temperatures in Homer.
Top to bottom, Farrens thinks his girls team is much stronger than the unit that finished third in the region last year. This is even though Homer lost Aleta Phelps, one of the state's top skiers last season.
Returning varsity skiers for the Mariners are seniors Sara Arsenault, Samantha Halpin and Monica Peters and sophomore Erika Klaar.
However, Farrens said it is no sure thing that all those skiers would remain on varsity due to some young, talented skiers. The coach said sophomores Kristin Vantrease and Alina Rykaczewski and freshmen Thorey Munro and Claire Laukitis would be pushing for varsity time.
"After that, we've got some girls that have potential, but they need to become much better skiers," Farrens said.
Farrens also has a solid group of varsity returners on his boys team in junior Morgan Jones and senior Travis Hines. Senior Michael Farrens also returns to the varsity after missing last season due to illness.
Farrens said sophomore Tad Martin also has been looking good.
He also expects freshmen Tyler Haas, Gus Beck and Miro Schaad to be in the mix for varsity spots.
"We're solid on our top three," Farrens said. "After that, it will depend on how the young fellows develop."
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
Coach Dave Feeken and assistant Melinda Nelson have 25 skiers on the team, including 12 returning skiers.
Senior Synneva Hagen-Lillevik is the captain of the girls team and Feeken said he is looking for a high finish in the region and state from her.
Seniors Cassie Wilcox and Jessica Summer return to the team.
They are being chased hard by three sophomore returners: Rebekah Summer, Christina Harmon and Angelica Avila.
Feeken said the team is very competitive. Danika Summer, Jamie Dunn, Becca Ford and Audrey Coon are new to the team, but have some skiing experience and Feeken said they could push for a spot on varsity.
Mercedes Hughes, Heather Perry, Chelsea Reid, Sandy Steele and Devon Copple are new to skiing but are learning fast.
The Kenai boys were second at regions last year, and Feeken said all of them are faster this season.
Clay Nelson will be the captain of the team. Other returning varsity skiers are Kyle Latz, Christopher Hall and Dustin Reid.
Kirk Louthan and Ben Phillips also return to the team and are improving daily.
Feeken said Trent Semmens is new to the team, but not new to skiing.
Other new members of the team are Kris Larson, Quinn Stoops and Tanin Sittitanadol (Bee) from Thailand.
"This should be one of the strongest boys teams in the region and there is not a senior on this team," Feekend wrote of his boys.
Nikiski coach Dale Bakk has eight skiers out, which he said is about average.
Six of those skiers are boys, though, and Bakk said the boys team will be as good as it has been in five or six years.
Leading the team will be senior Levi Lounsbury and sophomore Aaron Bakk.
Sophomore Mike Wicker also returns to the team, while freshmen Bryan Bakk, Thomas Wheeler and Ancel Ware give the Bulldogs an injection of youth.
"Teamwise, I think we'll do really well," Dale Bakk said. "It's a matter of fine-tuning the technique and getting some snow to ski on.
"These guys, they're motivated. It'll be a good nucleus to build around for a couple of years. It should be a lot of fun."
The girls team will be made up of senior Debbie Duggin and sophomore Juanita Millyard.
Two is not enough to get a team score, so Bakk said he will focus on teaching the duo to ski well.
Dennis Perry, who takes over the program from Rich Hougton, has 18 skiers out this season. He said that is the biggest team Seward has had in years.
The team has been fortunate to have access to the Mile 12 Ski Trails. The trails have been icy, but have 2 feet of snow so they are skiable.
On the boys side, Perry said he has a solid group of experienced skiers led by seniors Matt Adams and Leif Bardarson and junior David Apperson.
Perry also likes the potential in freshman Mark Chase and senior Ilia Petra, who just moved to Seward this year.
On the girls side, Perry also has a solid core group led by senior Anna Clock and sophomores Sarah Glaser and Katie Peck. He also said there are a pair of sophomores on the team with solid potential.
"I just hope it snows more and the weather pattern changes," Perry said. "We want to emphasize having a lot of fun this year."
Skyview coach Kent Peterson has 24 skiers out for the team this year, which is a slightly bigger number than usual.
The girls team returns three to the region-winning team of a year ago. Senior Elisabeth Habermann was third overall at the state meet last season and Peterson said she is looking strong again this year.
Sophomore Kendra Merkes and senior Jaime Miller also return to the varsity this year. Peterson said he is hoping the fourth spot will be filled by senior Marci Mohler. Mohler is rejoining the team after skiing her freshman season and Peterson said she is looking strong this year.
"We don't have a lot of depth," Peterson said. "If somebody gets sick or doesn't have a great season, it will be tough.
"We've got a lot of young kids coming up that are looking good, but they are still learning to ski."
The boys team will be led by three varsity returners. They are seniors Noah King and Nick Byrne and sophomore Taylor Karnikis.
Peterson is hoping the team gets a boost from new skiers Nolan Schmidt, a junior, and Erick Romig, a sophomore.
"They're both new to skiing, but they are very coachable," Peterson said.
Soldotna coach Dan Harbison has 21 skiers out for his team. He said the number is less than normal and wonders whether the less-than-stellar ski winters of late have something to do with it.
Harbison's girls team, which finished second in the region last season, has three returners in seniors Katie Franzmann and Katy Pankoski and junior Brittany Osland.
After that, Harbison said the Stars will be relying on seniors Ali Wykis and Amanda Boll and a bunch of new skiers.
"We're definitely in rebuilding mode at the moment," Harbison said.
He said the boys team also is in a building mode. The team has three varsity returners in senior Steve Olendorff, junior Caleb Chase and sophomore Max Milliron. Junior Sean Twohy will fill the final varsity spot.
Harbison also said sophomores Jacob Franzmann and Ry Baalke show potential.
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