A look back at the highlights of the area sports scene in 2006:
At the Class 4A state meet in February in Anchorage, Skyview’s Michaela Hutchison became the first female wrestler in the country to win a state individual title. Michaela was more than ready to admit, however, that she didn’t even have the most impressive feat in her family on that night.
Skyview High School's Eli Hutchison, receives a congratulatory hug from his brother Zeb after winning the state title in the 135-pound bracket at Chugiak High School in February.
M. Scott Moon
Eli Hutchison punctuated his career at Skyview by becoming the first Alaska wrestler to finish his prep career without a loss in the state. Eli, wrestling at 135 pounds, won his fourth straight state title with a 14-4 major decision over South Anchorage’s Matt Blakeslee.
“There’s so many ups and downs, and sickness, and no matter who you are, there’s going to be owies here and there, sore backs and sore necks,” Skyview coach Neldon Gardner said. “To never lose a match in a high school career is pretty spectacular.”
Michaela defeated Aaron Boss of Colony 1-0, scoring an escape with 15 seconds left in her match, much to the delight of the standing-room only crowd estimated at 1,800.
Skyview High School's Michaela Hutchison's hand is raised in victory as she becomes the first girl to win a state championship wrestling competition in the United States during the Alaska state championship wrestling tournament in February.
M. Scott Moon
The Panthers picked up a third state title at the meet when Clark Buffington, at 145, capped his career by winning in double-overtime to claim his first state title. The final state title from the peninsula at the meet came from Homer’s Simeon Daigle at 125.
At the Class 1-2-3A state meet in Wasilla in December, Ninilchik junior Austin Vanderford was the lone peninsula wrestler to win state. Vanderford defeated Hutchison senior James Gillen 6-5 in the championship at 152.
For the first time since 1996, there was not a peninsula team in the Class 4A state hockey tournament.
Since 1996, Soldotna has represented the peninsula at the state tournament six times while Kenai Central has made four state appearances. Both teams lost in the semifinals of the North Star Conference tournament, but action at the end of 2006 points to a peninsula return to state in 2007.
The central peninsula and NSC lost one of it members in 2006 as Skyview High School did not field a team. Homer moved to the NSC from the small-schools Greatland Hockey Conference for the 2006-07 season.
The Kenai Peninsula, specifically Kasilof, can now make a strong argument about being the home of the greatest biathlete in U.S. history.
At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Jay Hakkinen started the Olympics by finishing 10th in the 20-kilometer individual race the best Olympic finish ever by an American. One more made shot would have given Hakkinen a bronze medal.
After a disastrous performance in the sprint which also eliminated him from the pursuit, Hakkinen recovered to give the United States the lead after the first leg of the relay. The Americans ended up finishing ninth.
Hakkinen then closed his Olympics with a 13th place in the mass start. Combined with his 13th place in the pursuit at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Hakkinen now has the top three U.S. finishes in Olympic history.
The performance of Hakkinen and the U.S. team raised hopes that the United States can get its first biathlon medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
At the high school level, Skyview did the best in tough conditions at the Region III ski meet. The first day of the meet in Homer featured a mushy slog, while the second day was icy. Skyview’s Kendra Merkes was the girls Skimeister, while the Skyview boys won the team title. At the state meet, Kenai Central’s boys had the most success of any peninsula team, finishing sixth.
The Ninilchik and Nikiski girls basketball teams kept on rolling in 2006.
In late March in Anchorage, Ninilchik defeated Bristol Bay 45-43 for their eighth Class 2A state championship. Ninilchik had finished runner-up to the Angels in the 2005 Peninsula Conference and state tournaments, and had lost to Bristol Bay in three previous games in the 2005-06 season.
Not to be outdone, Nikiski won its eighth Class 3A title when it defeated Barrow 51-41 in the title game.
Nikiski’s Sarah Herrin was named the Daily News/Alaska Media All-State Basketball Class 3A girls player of the year, while Nikiski’s Ward Romans was the Class 3A girls coach of the year. For Ninilchik, Kendra Moerlein was named the Class 1-2A Player of the Year.
Also from the peninsula, the Cook Inlet Academy boys, Seward girls and Homer girls made appearances at state.
Peninsula mushers continued to stack up favorably against other competitors.
Lance Mackey, then a resident of Kasilof, won the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in late March. Mackey became the race’s fourth multiple champion by defending his 2005 title. The race was supposed to go from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, but ended up finishing in Dawson City due to a lack of snow.
In the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the peninsula put four finishers in the top 20. Paul Gebhardt was third, Mitch Seavey was ninth, Mackey was 10th and William Hanes was 19th. Also of note, the peninsula’s Tim Osmar served as trail guide to help Rachael Scdoris of Bend, Ore., become the first legally blind musher to finish the Iditarod.
On the local scene, Two Rivers musher Jessica Hendricks won the Tustumena 200 in late January to defend her 2005 title.
Track and field
Seward's Rubye Foldager pumps her hand in victory as she crosses the finish line at Tsalteshi Trails to win the cross country championship in the Class 1-2-3A in September.
M. Scott Moon
Kenai Central’s Levi Sutton and Seward’s Denali Foldager won state titles for the peninsula at the state track and field meet in Fairbanks in late May. Sutton won the 400-meter dash in Fairbanks with a time of 51.66 seconds. Foldager took the girls 300 hurdles with a time of 46.50.
Finishing second at the state meet were the 1,600 relay team of the Kenai boys, Kenai’s Papapa Nicholas in the shot put and discus, Kenai’s Amber McGlasson in the 100 hurdles and Soldotna’s Paige Blackburn in the shot put.
A late breakup made for a difficult season for the peninsula’s soccer outfits. While teams around the state are increasingly getting larger and larger indoor areas to use for practice, peninsula squads still practice in the gym.
The one team to overcome those obstacles and advance to the state soccer tournament was the Kenai girls. In June at Skyview, the Kardinals won their first Northern Lights Conference tournament title by defeating Palmer 3-1. The victory also gave Kenai its first state appearance since 2001. Kenai then lost its first two games at the state tournament.
The late breakup wasn’t any easier for a group of Soldotna girls looking to make history. For the first time in school history, Soldotna had a softball team.
Although the team did not make it into the playoffs, the Stars did win their first game. In a 14-0 victory over Seward, Vanessa Cleveland tossed a no-hitter.
The Peninsula Oilers won the Alaska Baseball League title their first since 2000 in dramatic fashion.
The Peninsula Oilers defeated the Anchorage Bucs to win the Alaska Baseball League title in July. About 1,000 people were in attendance at Coral Seymour Memorial Park to witness the victory.
M. Scott Moon
The Oilers did not clinch the title until the final game of the regular season. In that game, Oilers pitchers Jordan Meaker and Taylor Bills combined to beat the Anchorage Bucs 1-0 at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in front of 1,000 fans. Had the Oilers lost that game, the Bucs would have played a makeup game against the Athletes in Action Fire. A Bucs win in the makeup game would have given the Bucs the title.
The Oilers then had a tough run at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., losing their first game of the tournament and then getting eliminated in the sixth round of the loser’s bracket.
After the season, Oilers manager Thad Johnson said he will not be able to return to the team. He was replaced by Aric Thomas, who coached the team in 2004 when the Oilers finished one game out of first place in the ABL.
The American Legion Twins took the District II tournament in Fairbanks to advance to the state tournament, but were not able to achieve victory at state.
In one of the most thrilling finishes in the 22-year history of the Tesoro Iron Dog, Dwayne Drake of Fairbanks and Andy George of Wasilla edged Scott Davis of Soldotna and Todd Palin of Wasilla in February in Fairbanks.
Drake and George overtook Davis and Palin in the final 100 miles in the 1,850-mile race to win by one second.
In the summer, the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions continued to rev up fans with stock cars, sprint cars, quarter midgets and motocross at Twin Cities Raceway in Kenai.
The final winners for the season were Cameron McGahan in the sprint car division, Frank Soares in the late model division, Charley Michel in the B Stock division and Brian Vukasin in the A Stock division.
Chet Soares, the president of the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions, said that to his knowledge, Michel is the first woman to win the B Stock Division and also the youngest driver to win the division.
The sport of rowing continued to be a major presence on the peninsula summer recreation scene.
The Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Club, which calls Mackey Lake home, hosted its first regatta in June. The event was called the Icebreaker Regatta and was held on Hidden Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The event also included the Anchorage Rowing Association and the Kenai Crewsers Rowing Club.
The Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Club also was able to compete in several other regattas in the state and Outside.
Billy Bomar, the director of golf at Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, won his fourth Kenai Chrysler Golf Championship title in August at the Kenai Golf Course. In the final day of the two-day tournament, Bomar fired a 1-under 71 to beat the seven golfers who started the day ahead of him and the three who started the day tied with him.
Bomar’s two-day total of 145 was one off the two-day scoring record he set in winning the Chrysler in 2003 and 2005. Texas professional Cory Stone fired a tournament-record 67 on the first day, but stumbled to a 79 on the second day.
At the 10th annual Wells Fargo All-Alaskan Pro Skins Game in July at Birch Ridge Golf Course, Birch Ridge pro Tom Walsh and Moose Run pro Bryan Anderson teamed up to win the tournament with a total of $2,400. The event featured two-person teams this year instead of individual competition.
On the amateur side, Todd Eskelin had a successful season, winning the Peninsula Amateur at Birch Ridge and the Donald R. Morgan Memorial Kenai Golf Association Annual Championship for the second straight year.
Eskelin could not stop Birch Ridge from coming to Kenai and winning the Twin Cities Walker Cup. Birch Ridge captain Dave Stein said he would have been happy with a tie on Kenai’s challenging layout, but instead the golfers from Birch Ridge won 14 1/2 to 9 1/2 in the three-day tournament.
Cross country running
In early October at Tsalteshi Trails, Seward’s Rubye Foldager reclaimed her state Class 1-2-3A girls title.
Rubye had won the title as a freshman before her twin sister, Denali, won the title when the two were sophomores.
“I think (this one) is more exciting now I’m not a one-hit wonder. It would be cool if we could go Rubye, Denali, Rubye, Denali, and just dominate all four years of high school,” said Rubye, who also led the Seward girls to a state team title.
At the Region III meet in Nikiski, Skyview’s Ivy O’Guinn won the Class 4A girls race while Denali Foldager won the Class 1-2-3A girls race. The Skyview boys finished third to earn a trip to state at the meet.
The Skyview Panthers dominated the regular season, going 10-0 in the Northern Lights Conference and 14-0 in nontournament play. In late November at Kodiak, a wild NLC tournament sent Soldotna, 2-8 in the conference and 6-10 overall entering the tournament, to state and kept Skyview home. Soldotna’s Paige Blackburn was named the player of the year in the Southern Division.
Soldotna’s berth to state was the school’s fourth overall and first since 1997. The Stars lost both games at state.
The Nikiski volleyball team won the Southcentral Conference Tournament for the second time in three years. Hannah Thompson also was named the conference’s most valuable player for the second time in three years. The Bulldogs then finished fourth at the Class 1-2-3A state tournament.
In December, Thompson said she would play volleyball for Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. She will become just the third player in the peninsula’s history to earn Division I scholarship money.
SoHi celebrated its first state championship football victory in October.
M. Scott Moon
Soldotna won the first state football title in school history by topping Kodiak 29-20 in Anchorage in October in the small-schools state title game. The Soldotna football program had contended many times for state titles in its 23 years, but was unable to break through until this year.
The Stars, the undefeated Northern Lights Conference champions, got off to a rough start against the Bears, falling behind 12-0. Soldotna then used a stout defense and a solid running attack to gradually wear down Kodiak.
Soldotna’s Austin Roberts was named the small-schools lineman of the year, while Skyview’s Gregor Bosick was the defensive player of the year.
Nikiski lost a coin toss to miss out on the playoffs, but the Bulldogs did defeat Eielson 24-20 at Nikiski in September. Eielson had joined the Great Land Conference in 2003 and had gone 20 games without losing.
Swimmers from the Kenai Peninsula were not able to take any state titles, but the Homer girls were able to take the title at the Region III Championships, with Lauren Bell taking a pair of individual titles for the Mariners. Lyla Marey won a title for Soldotna.
On the boys side at the meet, Kenai’s Christopher Hall and Homer’s Lars Matkin each won a pair of individual events.
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