If the Kenai Peninsula is to crown its first ever boys state skimeister champion, it will need a big day today from Travis Cooper.
Cooper, a Kenai Central senior, won Thursday’s 7.5-kilometer classic race at Kincaid Park in Anchorage. Cooper’s winning time of 20 minutes, 24.3 seconds, left him 20 seconds ahead than second-place Max Donaldson of West Valley.
Race times from Thursday and Friday will be added up and the fastest skier between the two days will be crowned state skimeister. If Cooper can hold on to his slim lead, he will become the Kenai Peninsula’s first-ever state skimeister.
“It’s been a rush,” Cooper said Thursday evening. “We got here and I thought I would have a chance to win it. I just believed it, and my name came up on the board after I finished. It was great.”
All Cooper needs to do in today’s 10K freestyle event is ski fast enough to prevent Donaldson or any others from making up their deficit. Donaldson is gunning for his third straight state title.
The last Peninsula boy to even finish in the top 10 was Soldotna’s Daniel Harro in 2003, so Cooper stamped his name in pretty rarefied air.
“That was his goal that he set out to do, and he made it,” Kenai coach Brad Nyquist said. “He skied very well, it was all about him. He didn’t have anybody pushing him.”
“It’s fun to up on cloud nine.”
Because Cooper was one of the early starters for the interval-start race, recording his splits during the competition proved futile, as much of his main competition was racing behind him.
But when he came across the line and his name popped up on the stadium timing board as No. 1, Cooper said he felt a giant wave of relief.
“I just had to ski my heart out,” Cooper said.
Cooper said classic is his stronger technique, so today’s interval start race will be one to watch.
“I definitely feel like I can hold them off for maybe 20 seconds,” he said. “There are a lot of good skaters, so we’ll see.”
Coach Nyquist has his back all the way as well.
“I believe he can (win),” Nyquist said. “I know he believes he can, he’s definitely capable of doing it.”
The Kenai boys ended day one ranked sixth in the team standings, a mere 5.8 seconds behind the fifth-place Dimond Lynx. The Soldotna boys, led by the 30th-place finish of Levi Michael, finished the opening day ranked ninth in the standings.
In the girls 5K race, Sadie Fox led the Soldotna Stars with a fourth-place finish, just 42 seconds behind Lydia Blanchet of West, who won with a time of 14:40.7.
“She had a very good race, we’re really happy,” said SoHi coach Dan Harbison. “She did really well when it counted.”
Fox, a senior, will have a chance to gain as much time as she can in today’s 7.5K freestyle event, as second-place Taryn Hunt-Smith of Service is a mere 21 seconds ahead of her. That gives Fox a chance to match her state-best result of second from a year ago.
“She has the potential,” Harbison said. “But those other two are very good also. We’ll just have to see.”
Perhaps the good news is that Fox is typically a stronger skate skier, according to Harbison, so today’s event technique will hopefully play to her strengths.
Harbison also praised the efforts of Hannah Pothast, who finished 14th on Thursday and only 95 seconds adrift of the leader, and freshman Kellie Arthur.
Nyquist added that Kenai freshman Addison Gibson impressed in her state debut with an eighth-place finish in the girls race.
On the boys side, Harbison commended Levi Michael, John-Mark Pothast in 33rd and freshman Coby Vinson in 44th on great results.
Changes were also made in lieu of the minimal snow. With barely enough snow to properly set classic tracks, and with several loops at Kincaid out of commission due to the dilemma, race officials decided to change today’s freestyle event to an individual start, instead of the planned mass start. In addition, all four legs to Saturday’s relays will be freestyle, instead of the traditional free-free-classic-classic order.
Harbison said Thursday’s race was one of the more challenging he has had to wax for, mostly because of the breakdown the trails were seeing with a full field of racers skiing multiple laps over the same terrain.
“I guess I could say there were the best (trails) they could be,” Harbison said. “To give you an idea, you step off the trail and you’re on dirt.”
Aspen Daigle led the Homer girls’ effort with a 44th-place finish in 18:18.8. Ruby Lindquist topped the Seward girls team in 57th.
Jacob Davis led the Homer boys with a 68th-place finish in 25:46.8, with teammate Ghen Sasakura 12 seconds further behind in 72nd. Dylan Gillespie was the top finisher for Seward in 93rd.
High school state ski
Kincaid Park, Anchorage
Team scores — 1. Service, 1:24:16.3, 2. South, 1:25:02.4, 3. West, 1:25:43.9, 4. West Valley, 1:25:56.0, 5. Dimond, 1:29:34.1, 6. Kenai, 1:29:39.9, 7. Colony, 1:32:04.7, 8. Grace, 1:34:18.2, 9. Soldotna, 1:34:38.0, 10. East, 1:34:59.0, 11. Eagle River, 1:37:51.1, 12. Chugiak, 1:38:56.9, 13. Palmer, 1:44:14.8, 14. Lathrop, 1:44:33.3, 15. Homer, 1:48:21.0, 16. Bartlett, 1:54:54.6.
Individual results — 1. Travis Cooper, Ken, 20 minutes, 24.3 seconds; 2. Max Donaldson, WV, 20:44.4; 3. Hunter Wonders, Sou, 20:48.1; 4. Gus Schumacher, Ser, 20:52.2; 5. Canyon Tobin, Ser, 20:59.0; 6. Conner Truskowski, Ser, 21:03.4; 7. Will Balcao, Sou, 21:03.9; 8. Kelson Denton, Dim, 21:15.2; 9. Matthew Muffoletto, Ser, 21:21.7; 10. Riley Bickford, Wes, 21:22.2.
Other Peninsula finishers — 25. Karl Danielson, Ken, 22:11.0; 30. Levi Michael, Sol, 22:22.4; 33. John-Mark Pothast, Sol, 22:42.8; 37. James Butler, Ken, 23:06.3; 44. Koby Vinson, Sol, 23:51.3; 48. Jordan Theisen, Ken, 23:58.3; 67. Daniel Shuler, Sol, 25:41.5; 68. Jacob Davis, Hom, 25:46.8; 72. Ghen Sasakura, Hom, 25:58.0; 73. Aaron Swedberg, Sol, 26:00.9; 74. Tanner Best, Sol, 26:02.1; 79. Hoxie Parks, Hom, 26:40.4; 83. Liam Floyd, Ken, 27:08.7; 92. Tadhg Scholz, Hom, 29:55.8; 93. Dylan Gillepsie, Sew, 30:10.8; 94. Patrick Michaels, Ken, 30:15.4; 96. Hunter Kratz, Sew, 31:06.4; 98. Logan Smith, Sew, 32:34.5;
Team scores — 1. West, 1:01:50.9, 2. Service, 1:03:20.9, 3. South, 1:04:41.4, 4. Chugiak, 1:06:26.7, 5. East, 1:06:32.8, 6. Kenai, 1:07:33.7, 7. Dimond, 1:08:43.3, 8. West Valley, 1:08:59.9, 9. Soldotna, 1:09:51.2, 10. Colony, 1:11:33.0, 11. Homer, 1:16:32.3, 12. Eagle River, 1:17:31.2, 13. Palmer, 1:18:16.7, 14. Grace, 1:25:03.4, 15. Valdez, 1:28:52.5.
Individual results — 1. Lydia Blanchet, Wes, 14 minutes, 40.7 seconds; 2. Taryn Hunt-Smith, Ser, 15:02.1; 3. Emma Tarbath, Ser, 15:08.3; 4. Sadie Fox, Sol, 15:22.9; 5. Annika Flynn, Sou, 15:27.0; 6. Magdalen York, Wes, 15:32.8; 7. Molly Gellert, Wes, 15:34.8; 8. Addison Gibson, Ken, 15:45.0; 9. Ryan Terry, Ser, 15:46.1; 10. Abby Amick, Eas, 15:49.9.
Other Peninsula finishers — 14. Hannah Pothast, Sol, 16:15.8; 27. Riana Boonstra, Ken, 17:02.7; 29. Alex Bergholtz, Ken, 17:10.0; 38. Katie Cooper, Ken, 17:36.0; 42. Mikaela Salzetti, Ken, 18:13.9; 44. Aspen Daigle, Hom, 18:18.8; 49. Rachel Ellert, Hom, 18:58.6; 51. Olivia Hutchings, Sol, 19:02.0; 53. Emily Werner, Sol, 19:10.5; 57. Ruby Lindquist, Sew, 19:17.7; 58. Sara Wolf, Hom, 19:19.9; 59. Kellie Arthur, Sol, 19:22.7; 63. Ithaca Bergholtz, Ken, 19:30.7; 65. Audrey Russell, Hom, 19:55.0; 68. Mia Alexson, Hom, 20:02.6; 74. Mariah Vantrease, Hom, 20:22.5; 75. Meika Chythlook, Sol, 20:44.2.