As we pause to look back at sports on the Kenai Peninsula in 2001, it's best to also pause and reflect how the significance of sports has been brought into greater focus in 2001.
Sept. 11 made us question a lot of things in our lives, including sports. In the days following, some said we should continue with a regular sports schedule lest the terrorists win. Others said sports wasn't important enough to bother with in such moments of gravity.
Both sides had compelling arguments, like sports are a way for us to escape from the real world, or sports are trivial compared to the matters of life and death. But neither really mentioned winning and losing. Nobody was concerned their favorite players had to get back on the field because they were on a roll, and there were records to break and playoffs to make.
It seemed unanimous that sports weren't important to toss helmets, or beer bottles, over. So why has this perspective dimmed in the months since?
Enjoy the retrospective. And, please, keep it in perspective.
In 2000, Skyview dominated the fall wrestling season from start to finish. In 2001, the Panthers just dominated the month that mattered.
After struggling several times during the season with everything from injuries to illness, Skyview put it all together to win its fourth state team title, getting an individual title from Vance Gaddis.
Nikiski, with individual titles from Joey Wicker and Neil Fucci, finished second.
The Kenai Central High School hockey team provided the big surprise of the season, making it all the way to the consolation semifinals in the state tournament before losing 3-2 to Lathrop.
The Kardinals had dropped four games to Soldotna during the regular season, so most were expecting Soldotna and Colony to match up for the North Star Conference championship. However, the Kardinals upset the Stars in the semifinals of the conference tourney to earn a berth to the state tournament.
Small-schools girls player of the year Whitney Leman, of Ninilchik, controls the ball against Skyview during early season action. The Wolverines went on to win the Class 2A state title.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"We were looking for a showdown with SoHi all week," coach Brian Gabriel Sr. said after the upset of SoHi. "I don't think we have ever made it to state. At least as far back as the 80s."
Andy Liebner, then a senior at Soldotna High School, became the first senior from the Kenai Peninsula to win the Besh Cup, which is given to the top performer in Alaska's Junior Olympics qualifying series.
Liebner continued his strong season by picking up Region III Male Skier of the Year honors as he led the Stars to their second straight region crown. Also at the region meet, Homer senior Ida Martin was tabbed the Region III Female Skier of the Year. The Homer girls failed to defend their region crown as the Colony girls won their first Region III championship.
Elsewhere, Skyview graduate Jay Hakkinen continued to compete on the World Cup biathlon circuit. Hakkinen had an off year, by his standards, but hopes remain high he will compete for the United States in the Olympics.
Mark Carr of Kenai and Kory Cronquist of Eagle River came up 20 minutes short in the Tesoro Iron Dog 2000 race. Carr and Cronquist made up nine minutes on Tracey Brassard of Anchorage and Ken Lee of Eagle River in the 224-mile leg from Tanana to the finish line in Fairbanks, but Brassard and Lee were able to hang on for the victory.
Clam Gulch musher Tim Osmar had a busy and successful season in 2001. In late February, Osmar overcame tough course conditions to take the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. In early March, Osmar was back on his sled, riding to a 19th-place finish in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The Iditarod was once again dominated by Montana's Doug Swingley, who won his fourth Iditarod. Paul Gebhardt topped peninsula finishers by placing fifth, while Jon Little also made it in the top 20 at 16th.
In the area, Denali Park musher Jeff King broke the Tustumena 200 course record en route to taking his second title.
The Skyview volleyball team led by (clockwise from top) Shari Isaak, Christine Hayes, Jessika Truesdell, Stacia Pfaffe, Angel Hollers, Laura Tarbox and Brandi Aldridge finished second at state this year.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
The Ninilchik girls lost the state player of the year and another first-team all-state player to graduation heading into the season, but if they missed a beat, it was hardly noticeable as they roared their way to their second consecutive Class 2A title, and their fourth title overall.
Whitney Leman was named the girls Class 1-2A Player of the Year for her part in the title run, while Whitney's dad, Dan, was named the Class 1-2A Coach of the Year. Cook Inlet Academy's Chet Nettles earned the boys Class 1-2A Player of the Year for leading CIA to the state tournament.
The Nikiski girls finished fourth in the state in their attempt to defend their Class 3A state title, while the Kenai girls and Soldotna boys made Class 4A state appearances. Both the Kardinals and Stars lost in the consolation semifinals.
Track and field
Track and field has lost numbers to soccer over the past couple of years, but that didn't stop the Kenai Peninsula's athletes from stacking up against the best in the state, and the best of all time, in 2001.
There were eight records broken at the borough meet. Then, Soldotna's Janna Schaafsma broke region records in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles en route to winning both of those events at state.
After winning no more than two events at the state meet in the last three years, peninsula athletes broke through for six titles in 2001. The Kenai Central girls 3,200-meter relay team won a state title and set a state record. Other titles came from Ninilchik's Molly Bosick in the 400, Soldotna's Sasha Cvetkovski in the shot put and Nikiski's Josh Reilly in the 300 hurdles.
The state soccer tournament has been around for two years, and the Kenai Central boys and girls soccer teams are still the only peninsula squads that have qualified for it.
The Kardinals girls qualified for state in a relatively direct fashion, winning two matches to get to the region title game. Meanwhile, the Kenai boys had a scripted run through the region tourney. The Kardinals won their first game of the tourney in overtime, then lost their second in overtime. In the match to get to state, Kenai defeated Wasilla in another overtime thriller. At state, the Kenai girls lost the fourth-place match, while the Kenai boys lost in the consolation semifinals.
The Peninsula Oilers came up short in their bid to win their fourth-straight Alaska Baseball League title. The Oilers, whose season was marked by a string of close losses, finished fifth in the six-team ABL with a 13-20 record.
Soldotna's Janna Schaafsma, pictured at the Skyview Invitational, won state titles in two hurdle events at the track and field championships in Palmer.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
The American Legion Post 20 Peninsula Twins finished their season with a 26-24-1 record, getting eliminated from the Alaska State American Legion Baseball Tournament by Juneau.
It was once again a busy summer at the Soldotna Municipal Airport, which was home to a series of drag racing events sponsored by the Cook Inlet Racing Lions, as well as some state moto-cross races and grand prix events.
In addition to another exciting season of stack car racing at Twin City Raceway, the Alaska Sprint Tour made a stop at the dirt track this summer, bringing a full field of winged sprint cars to the peninsula.
The golf world, and the community in general, absorbed a huge loss this summer with the death of Donnie Morgan, who ran the Kenai Golf Course. The course was closed for a day in Morgan's honor, and a tournament -- the Donald R. Morgan Kenai Golf Association Club Championship -- was named in his honor.
In other major news, Aaron Dexheimer, who spends the summer in Kenai commercial fishing with his father, won the Alaska State Amateur Championship. Dexheimer had a four-day total of 306 strokes to beat the runner-up in the tournament by three strokes.
After dominating all comers all year, the Soldotna boys spent a few nervous moments before learning they had won their third straight Class 4A state championship.
The individual title of Soldotna's Kyle McBride, however, was never in question. McBride followed up Liebner's title from a year ago by dominating the boys field in Palmer.
"Three in a row is an accomplishment that makes teams want to be like you," Soldotna coach Mark Devenney said. "Now, maybe the Palmer or Kodiak coach will ask his team, 'Do you want to be like Soldotna?'"
Soldotna's Kyle McBride makes his way to a victory in the cross country borough championships. He went on to win the state meet, leading the Stars to the team title.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Seward and Nikiski made their way to the small-schools state title game taking decidedly different routes. Nikiski, which also won in 2000, came into the season with a lineup loaded with seniors. Seward came into the season with an unsettled lineup and gradually worked itself into a unit that shocked Soldotna in the playoff semifinals.
In the end, the Bulldogs came out on top again, earning a ton of additional laurels in the process. Nikiski receiver David Holloway, who finished with 41 catches for 1,120 yards, was the first player from Nikiski to be named the Gatorade Player of the Year.
Holloway also led a parade of Bulldogs named to the 2001 Alaska All-State Football Small Schools team. Holloway was named Offensive Player of the Year, while senior Josh Reilly was Defensive Player of the Year, senior Gabe Lavigueur was co-Lineman of the Year and Tim Johnson was Assistant Coach of the Year.
The Homer boys, swimming in their home pool, became just the second team in 22 years to deny the Soldotna boys a Region III title. The Mariners' boys bested Soldotna's boys 88-81 in a region meet that came down to the 400-yard freestyle relay -- the final race of the day.
On the girls side of the meet, the Stars girls cruised to their third straight region title.
At the state meet, Soldotna coach Sohail Marey was rewarded for his years of hard work by being named the state's coach of the year.
Skyview made a ton of noise at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament before eventually losing, in four games, to Wasilla in the championship match.
The Panthers came back from a third-place finish at the Region III tournament to beat state powerhouse Service in the first game at state. After that, a victory against Juneau-Douglas moved the Panthers, the Region III/4A Southern Division champions, to the title game.
Nikiski also made it to state, finishing third in its attempt to defend the Class 3A state title. The Bulldogs lost to Valdez in the semifinals. Seward then lost to the Buccaneers in the finals.
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