Kenai Central nordic skier Riana Boonstra wielded a bandaged club and a dominant authority over the Tsalteshi Trails Thursday afternoon.
After missing the opening two races of the high school ski season, Boonstra returned to the snowy trails in emphatic fashion, winning the SoHi Candy Cane 5-kilometer race with one hand and one pole. Boonstra claimed the win with a time of 14 minutes, 44 seconds, to beat teammate Mikaela Salzetti by 55 seconds and led a dominating sweep of the top 7 positions by the Kardinals. Boonstra led Salzetti, Katie Cooper, Ithaca Bergholtz, Lindsay Floyd, Maddie Michaud and Mackenzie Lindeman across the line before the first Soldotna girl, Brianna Bennett, finished in eighth with a time of 16:40.
Boonstra had missed the first two events — a time trail race at the Government Peak trails in Palmer and the Lynx Loppet in Anchorage — due to an allergic reaction that caused her right hand to swell up enormously, and the resulting surgery she received on Thanksgiving Day left her with a bandaged hand that made it impossible to hold a ski pole.
But for the sophomore who won the junior girls Mt. Marathon race in July and finished second at the high school Class 4A state cross-country running championships in October, winning wasn’t out of the equation.
“I was trying to push up the hills, and it was a lot harder than normal, obviously,” she said. “The power you get with two poles versus one pole is a lot different.”
With her oversized bandaged hand looking more like a club than a hand, Boonstra had to rely on her left ski pole and fantastic leg strength to carry her speed up the hills, using a “V1” technique to that side of her body and planting her pole to that side only.
After the mass start from the Wolverine trailhead — located opposite of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex — the field wound through the Wolverine trails and continued up the long, steep Goat trail that requires massive amounts of strength and stamina to navigate with speed.
“The double pole was really hard with one pole, so at the very beginning I got caught by some girls,” Boonstra said. “The Goat was the hardest.”
Boonstra said she got by her competition immediately before the massive uphill, which allowed her to ski her own pace up the hill. Boonstra said she hopes to have the bandages off and use of her hand returned by January.
The Kardinals nearly swept the podium in the boys race too, instead settling for a 1-2 finish. Senior teammates James Butler and Liam Floyd took the top two spots while Soldotna’s Josh Shuler finished third. Butler beat Floyd to the line by 11 seconds, using the longer strides on each side of his body to execute a perfect “V2” skate technique to gap his teammate.
“He was booking it,” Floyd said about Butler. “He was V2ing the hills, and I couldn’t do it the whole time.”
Butler, who picked up his first win as a varsity skier in his prep career, said a summer of training has begun to pay off early in the ski season.
“I did a lot of rollerskiing this summer,” Butler said. “And a couple practices ago, we did almost strictly V2 the whole practice, so that helped.”
Several top skiers were not competing Thursday in order to better prepare for this weekend’s Besh Cup races 1 and 2 in Anchorage, which serve as qualifiers for Junior Nationals and Arctic Winter Games. The next high school race on the schedule is the Homer Invite on January 8.
Candy Cane 5K
Thursday at Tsalteshi Trails
1. James Butler, Ken, 13 minutes, 35 seconds; 2. Liam Floyd, Ken, 13:46; 3. Josh Shuler, Sol, 14:01; 4. Eric Kempf, Ken, 14:26; 5. Jode Sparks, Sol, 14:51; 6. Joseph Dammeyer, Sol, 15:07; 7. Trevor Debnam, Ken, 15:08; 8. Patrick Michels, Ken, 15:34; 9. Matthew Minium, Nik, 15:35; 10. Braden Olsen, Ken, 15:39; 11. Matthew Torkelson, Ken, 15:53; 12. Cy Dull, Ken, 16:13; 13. Roy Taylor, Ken, 16:58; 14. Ben Wilson, Sol, 17:05; 15. Calvin Strong, Ken, 17:18; 16. Drake Thomas, Ken, 17:35; 17. Billy Morrow, Ken, 18:30.
1. Riana Boonstra, Ken, 14:44; 2. Mikaela Salzetti, Ken, 15:39; 3. Katie Cooper, Ken, 15:48; 4. Ithaca Bergholtz, Ken, 16:15; 5. Lindsay Floyd, Ken, 16:33; 6. Maddie Michaud, Ken, 16:36; 7. Mackenzie Lindeman, Ken, 16:39; 8. Brianna Bennett, Sol, 16:40; 9. Olivia Brewer, Ken, 16:41; 10. Mieka Chythlook, Sol, 16:46; 11. Maria Salzetti, Ken, 16:57; 12. Nimi Pollack, Ken, 18:00; 13. Hannah Delker, Sol, 18:04; 14. Anna Noetzold, Sol, 18:08; 15. Sarah Hollers, Ken, 18:10; 16. Charli Morton, Ken, 19:33; 17. Kealey Hendricks, Sol, 19:54; 18. Altynai Nurmatova, Sol, 19:55; 19. Berit Fosgaard, Ken, 21:01; 20. Hannah Janacek, Ken, 21:01; 21. Kyaran Matturo, Ken, 22:06; 22. Dareena Doyle, Ken, 23:01; 23. Alie Minium, Nik, 23:49; 24. Tirzah Young, Nik, 24:22; 25. Emma Linna, Ken, 25:03; 26. Donalen Bowers, Ken, 26:13; 27. Mikinzie Tickner, Ken, 29:20.