Skiers get off to great start

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008

Skiers are usually ecstatic if there is actually snow on the ground when their season starts. So you can imagine the euphoria emanating from wax huts across the peninsula when snow covered the trails before high school practice started on Nov. 3.

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Photos By M. Scott Moon
Photos By M. Scott Moon
SoHi's Ryan Sanders races at the Kenai Klassic cross-country ski meet last January. Both he and teammate Kailey Mucha, at top left, are expected back this season as the Stars look to defend girls and boys Region III crowns.

"The skiing so far has been great," said Skyview coach Kent Peterson, who has been coaching in some capacity at the school for 14 years. "They've done a great job maintaining the trails.

"I've been skiing since Oct. 9. I'm kind of proud of that, too."

Peterson and Dan Harbison, who has been the coach at Soldotna for 14 years, said they can only remember one other time in their tenures that athletes were able to ski consistently in October.

The early, great snow is so rare that it is actually throwing coaches off of their game a little bit.

"It's kind of a mixed thing," Harbison said. "I like two weeks of dry-land training for some real basics. When you get on snow immediately, some of those things are lost."

Kenai Central coach D'Anna Gibson said the early snow also has forced skiers to have their gear together immediately.

"Usually the first week you're teaching kids how to put on a ski pole or asking them, 'Do you have the gear?'" Gibson said. "This year, it was, 'Oh, we have snow. Let's go.'"

None of those comments should be mistaken as complaints, however.

"We're pretty glad to be out there," Peterson said. "The kids are more excited to be on snow."

Last season, the Soldotna girls and boys swept the Region III skiing championships. The Stars should be in great shape again this year with the girls getting a large infusion of young talent and the boys returning all of their skiers from a year ago.

The season starts on Saturday at 11 a.m. with the Homer Invitational on Ohlsen Mountain.

The following is a closer look at the central peninsula's ski programs:

Cook Inlet Academy Eagles

Eric Arneson takes the helm of the team and has three skiers with which to work.

Senior Lars Arneson finished second in the region last year and won one of the region races.

"One of his personal goals is to be top 10 in the state," coach Arneson said. "Top 20 is pretty good. We'll see."

Junior Levi Grinestaf and sophomore Jacob Grinestaf fill out the team.

Kenai Central Kardinals

Gibson is welcomed to her third year at the helm by 27 skiers. Gibson said she and skiers in the program did a lot of work recruiting and it paid off.

"The more we get out, the better, I always say," Gibson said. "I always say to my kids, skiing is not something you just do for a year. I hope they're out there 20 years from now. I want to teach them something they can use the rest of their lives."

The girls team returns seniors Molly Watkins and Kristi Louthan and sophomores Michelle Klaben and Annalise Theisen. The Kards also will get a boost from junior Dani Rehm, a transfer from Cook Inlet Academy.

Gibson said her team has a lot of talent, but it will be hard to catch a SoHi team led by Bree and Kailey Mucha, who are Gibson's daughters.

Sophomore Caroline Knackstedt has been looking good after skiing just off varsity last year, while freshmen Olivia Fair, Venessa Anderson, Noelle Schmitter-Schrier, Olivia Pfeifer and Eve Ferguson help give the program a present and a future.

The girls also have three foreign exchange students -- Janine Steinmann, Tabea Weber and Icha Poetry.

On the boys team, junior Anders Nyquist is the lone returning varsity skier.

"Almost all of our boys are brand-new skiers," Gibson said. "They've got good athletic talent. We'll see what they can do by the end of the year."

Some other candidates for varsity are junior James Watkins, sophomore Ben Gilman and freshmen Aaron Williams, Tyler Cooper and Evan Atchley.

Nikiski Bulldogs

Nikiski coach Dale Bakk said the Bulldogs will not have a team this year. Bakk will help out at the middle school and hopes to get the program going again.

Skyview Panthers

Last year, the Skyview boys battled with the Stars all year before SoHi took the region title.

Peterson, who has about 27 skiers in his program, said his team should be in the hunt again this year.

"I think so," he said. "We might be able to keep it interesting."

Returning to varsity are seniors Johnny Cook, Ryan Helminski, Yuzhun Evanoff and Alec Sweetland, juniors Hunter Jackinsky and Justin Marsh and sophomore Brayden Holt.

"We've also got a few skiers that are learning pretty fast," Peterson said. "A few might step up, and we might get a little more competition on the varsity."

Peterson has about 10 girls this season after having just four last year. The top returners are sophomores Tamlyn Silva and Carol Clonan.

"It's mostly a lot of new skiers, but some have skied in middle school," Peterson said. "They're excited to have a girls team this year.

"They're pretty young. We'll see how they grow."

Soldotna Stars

Like Kenai and Skyview, Harbison also has robust numbers in his program, with 27.

The girls program is in great shape to repeat at regions and possibly make some noise at state.

Returning varsity skiers are juniors Kailey Mucha and Jasmine Clock and sophomores Cassie Sheridan and D.Anne Martin. Mucha has won the last two individual region titles.

Harbison also gets a nice infusion of youth from freshmen Bree Mucha, Maranda Merkes, Melanie Smith and Shannon Wyatt.

"We're definitely working toward that," Harbison said of a region title. "A couple of them, that couple being Kailey and Jasmine, we're sort of training to do something at state, also."

Returning for the Soldotna boys are seniors Aaron Chase, Jordan Merkes and Gabe Murray, juniors Ryan Sanders, Zach Truesdell and Alex Kauffmann, and sophomore Intimayo Harbison.

Freshmen Travis Semmens and John Corr should push the varsity returners.

"We'd like a defense and that's what we're working toward," Harbison said. "It's a pretty driven group. They're skiing with a purpose."

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