The relentless snowflakes falling didn’t deter Alaska’s best high school skiers this weekend at the expansive Kincaid Park trails that line the west coast of Anchorage.
Nordic skiers from the peninsula put the final touches on another season of racing with three straight days of state competition, starting Thursday with the mid-distance freestyle races, Friday with the longer classic races and finishing Saturday with the team relays.
The Soldotna boys led the charge for the peninsula with a seventh-place showing after three days of individual competition, including a seventh place in Saturday’s 4-by-5K relay. The Stars finished the weekend with a total team time of 4 hours, 25 minutes, 33.2 seconds, just over two minutes behind the sixth-place Palmer Moose among Region III programs, and more than 25 minutes behind the state champion Service Cougars at 3:59:56.6. The Stars’ relay team consisted of Foster Boze, Quinn Cox, Jack Harris and Bradley Walters.
Last year, the SoHi boys placed 10th as a team. The last time the Stars were higher than seventh was 2009, when SoHi took fifth as a team.
The Kenai Central boys finished 13th in a team time of 4:53:02.0, capping the weekend with a 13th place in the relay that included Josh Foster, Sorin Sorensen, Nathan Haakenson and Tyler Hippchen.
In the girls team race, SoHi led the way for local teams in ninth with a total time of 3:43:36.9, about 3 1/2 minutes behind fellow Region III team Palmer. The Service Cougars won the team title in 3:11:40.9, almost five minutes better than West Valley.
The highest finish for peninsula girls teams in recent years has been sixth, accomplished by the 2018 Kenai Central girls and the 2014 SoHi girls.
The Homer girls finished 11th as a team in 3:50:25.3, best among Division II schools, while Kenai was 12th at 3:51:16.2.
The SoHi girls wrapped up the meet with a ninth-place finish in Saturday’s relay, with Jordan Ruffner, Cameron Blackwell, Katie Delker and Erika Arthur teaming up. The Kenai girls took 11th in the relay with Jayna Boonstra, Gabriella Tews, Julia Anderson and Leah Fallon, and the Homer girls were 12th with Brita Restad, Aiyana Cline, Zoe Stonorov and Autumn Daigle.
In the battle for the individual state championship, or the”Skimeister” award, the hardware was claimed by Service’s Alexander Maurer for the boys and West Valley’s Kendall Kramer for the girls. Maurer won both individual days, Thursday’s 7.5-kilometer freestyle and Friday’s 10-kilometer classic, to win in a combined time of 45:27.3, beating Chugiak’s Michael Earnhardt (46:16.9).
Kramer, one of the top junior girls skiers in the nation, punished the competition both days to dominate in a combined time of 35:51.8, with runner-up honors going to Tatum Witter of Service in 37:29.6.
Homer senior Autumn Daigle claimed top honors as the top Division II athlete in the girls Skimeister awards, finishing 19th overall in the stacked field.
In the boys races, SoHi senior Bradley Walters led the peninsula with a 22nd-place result over two days. Walters had a big opening day in Thursday’s 7.5-kilometer interval-start freestyle race with a 15th-place finish, but fell back Friday after a 28th-place result in the 10K classic event. Walters said the kick wax on his skis proved to be a tricky foe as the fresh snow falling on the course stuck to the bottoms, dragging him back on downhill stretches.
“Yesterday was really good for me, and today I was feeling great, but some things are out of your control,” Walters said. “That was a little problematic … it just grabs and you lose a lot of energy.”
Soldotna head coach Isaac Erhardt acknowledged that the boys race Friday served as a test run for the girls event later in the day, and after seeing the boys deal with ice clumps, the SoHi wax team decided to shorten the kick zone and cut back on the wax.
“The waxing was tricky, obviously, we were dealing with icing issues,” Erhardt said. “Some people felt like it was easy skiing, it was great, and others felt it was awful, they were struggling a little. Just one of those days, I guess.”
SoHi junior Foster Boze had the biggest day of all, jumping from 45th in the boys standings on Thursday to record a 27th on Friday, pulling Boze up to 33rd in the overall standings. Boze beat his teammate Walters in Friday’s classic race in a photo finish by .4 of a second.
“He jumped up like, 20 places, that was fantastic,” Erhardt said about Boze. “And then Bradley had an incredible race the first day, 15th place was fantastic.”
Boze crossed the stripe in 32:10.9, and said a steady start had him sitting behind a large group of racers, allowing him to save energy for a strong finish. Catching Walters, however, caught even Boze by surprise.
“I just drafted behind a whole bunch of people and slowly made my way up,” Boze said. “I got (Walters) around an uphill and he drafted behind me for a bit, and he passed me but I got him again … he’s a great racer.”
Jack Harris rounded out Soldotna’s top finishers in 35th while Quinn Cox was 37th. Also for SoHi, Ryder Geisler was 50th and David Grinestaff was 73rd.
With the conditions throwing all teams a curveball, Kenai Central head coach Brad Nyquist said the Kardinals staff began their preparations on Thursday night with an eye on the forecast.
“Last night we were looking through our (wax) box and picked some theoreticals,” he said. “Kailey (Mucha) came out early and picked some things that weren’t going to ice up on the base … the extra snow on top changed things a little bit. We look for kick and then put a little cover on it for speed, that’s kind of what we do.”
Sophomore Tyler Hippchen led Kenai Central in the boys race in 56th after two days with a combined time of 56:07.0, falling from 40th on the first day. His senior teammate Josh Foster was 60th in 57:08.3.
While Hippchen led the Kards on day one, Foster had the upper hand on day two, finishing 60th in a time of 35:36.5 to beat his younger teammate by 19 seconds in the classic race, thanks to a strong second lap.
“I caught a second wind, I was hitting it pretty hard and passed some people I needed to,” Foster said. “I caught up to like, 10 or 12 guys. It was a really good day.”
The Homer boys were led Garrett Briscoe in 87th and Seamus McDonough in 89th overall. The Seward Seahawks recorded finishes of 72nd for Cody Bryden and 75th for Clay Petersen.
In the girls Skimeister race, Daigle led the peninsula in 19th and Kenai Central freshman Jayna Boonstra followed suit in 21st. Daigle picked up a spot from Thursday’s result, while Boonstra picked up two spots.
The two peninsula skiers raced each other in a sprint to the finish in Friday’s classic event, with Daigle pipping her younger Kenai competitor to the line by .6 of a second for 17th place. Boonstra was racing behind Daigle early in the race but caught and passed the Homer senior late in the going before she was beat in the sprint finish.
“She’s always been right there, she’s super fast,” Boonstra said. “We’ve been pushing each other all season, kind of working together.”
Boonstra, whose family has a rich history in the sport (father, Todd, competed in three Winter Olympics in Nordic skiing, mother, Kelli, was also a national-level talent who almost qualified for the 1998 Winter Olympics and older sister, Riana, is a former Region III champion and collegiate skier), said her weakness in double-poling left her behind at the start Friday, but added she has plenty of time to build on that.
“I was able to make that up through the race,” Boonstra said. “It’s definitely nice knowing I have my whole rest of high school ahead of me to keep improving.”
“Jayna has an amazing motor,” Nyquist added about his young skier. “She’s a freshman skiing against these older, more physically mature skiers, so she’s just doing great.”
Boonstra was followed by Kenai teammates Leah Fallon in 58th, Summer Foster in 61st, Julia Anderson in 63rd, Gabriella Tews in 64th and Anya Danielson in 77th.
Soldotna featured a tight cluster of girls competing for top team honors after Thursday’s freestyle race, with 3.4 seconds separating Erika Arthur, Jordan Ruffner and Katie Delkner from 31st to 33rd positions.
Friday’s race determined the final positions with Ruffner claiming the title as top SoHi girl in 31st in the classic race, beating Arthur by 14 seconds. In the overall standings, Ruffner finished 31st in a two-day total of 43:48, while Arthur took 32nd in 44:01.3, and Delker was 34th in 44:31. SoHi also got finishes of 47th by Cameron Blackwell, Carson Dement in 68th and Jordan Strausbaugh in 73rd.
“Erika and I stayed together,” Ruffner said about the classic race. “I think I had faster skis.”
Ruffner credited fast skis that had particularly good glide compared to the competition. Both her and Arthur credited the knowledge of the SoHi coaching staff for preparing the skis.
“The kick was kind of iffy, we had to work for it, but the glide was so fast,” Arthur said. “We passed a lot of people on the downhills because of our glide.”
Erhardt said he and assistant coaches Dan Harbison and Steve Milliron spent time Friday looking for the right combination of kick and glide for the classic event, and much was learned after the boys race.
“We didn’t want them to have what happened with Bradley,” Erhardt said. “So to avoid that, we ended up going center, and maybe we were a little bit too thin, but it’s a tradeoff.”
After Daigle, Homer’s top girls were Zoe Stonorov in 39th, Brita Restad in 50th, Aiyana Cline in 75th, Kara Super in 79th and Eryn Field in 81st. Lucy Hankins was 84th as the lone Seward girl.
ASAA State Nordic Ski Championships
10K classic top 10 — 1. Alexander Maurer, Ser, 28:19; 2. Joel Power, Ser, 28:26; 3. Peter Hinds, Dim, 28:30; 4. Michael Earnhart, Chu, 28:38; 5. Eric Difolco, WV, 29:23; 6. Aaron Power, Ser, 29:23; 7. Josh Baurick, WV, 29:46; 8. Max Beiergrohslein, Chu, 29:51; 9. Luke Buth, WV, 29:51; 10. Aaron Maves, Wes, 30:03.
Peninsula finishers — 27. Foster Boze, Sol, 32:10; 28. Bradley Walters, Sol, 32:11; 34. Jack Harris, Sol, 32:57; 39. Quinn Cox, 33:14; 48. Ryder Geisler, 34:03; 60. Joshua Foster, Ken, 35:36; 61. Tyler Hippchen, Ken, 35:55; 66. Clay Petersen, Sew, 36:35; 67. Cody Bryden, 36:42; 68. Nathan Haakenson, Ken, 36:43; 73. David Grinestaff, Sol, 37:17; 76. Johann Carranza, Ken, 37:42; 82. Tucker Mueller, 38:54; 86. Sorin Sorensen, Ken, 40:40; 88. Seamus McDonough, Hom, 41:19; 89. Garrett Briscoe, Hom, 41:28;
Saturday relays — 1. Service (Power, Power, Ulbrich, Maurer), 51:25.0; 2. West Valley, 51:36.6; 3. Chugiak, 52:48.8; 4. Dimond, 53:49.3; 5. West, 55:18.9; 6. Palmer, 55:20.2; 7. Soldotna, 56:11.2; 8. Lathrop, 56:29.1; 9. Colony, 57:35.1; 10. South, 58:32.7; 11. East, 1:00:05.4; 12. Grace, 1:00:10.6; 13. Kenai, 1:01:04.7; 14. Eagle River, 1:05:12.4.
Overall Skimeister standings — 1. Alexander Maurer, Ser, 45:27; 2. Michael Earnhart, Chu, 46:16; 3. Peter Hinds, Dim, 46:26; 4. Joel Power, Ser, 46:40; 5. Eric Difolco, WV, 46:46; 6. Aaron Power, Ser, 47:35; 7. Josh Baurick, WV, 48:05; 8. Luke Buth, WV, 48:05; 9. Aaron Maves, Wes, 48:08; 10. Joseph Walling, Pal, 48:21.
Peninsula — 22. Bradley Walters, Sol, 50:55; 33. Foster Boze, Sol, 52:31; 35. Jack Harris, Sol, 52:51; 37. Quinn Cox, Sol, 53:03; 50. Ryder Geisler, Sol, 54:30; 56. Tyler Hippchen, Ken, 56:07; 60. Joshua Foster, Ken, 57:08; 66. Nathan Haakenson, Ken, 58:31; 72. Cody Bryden, Sew, 59:10; 73. David Grinestaff, Sol, 59:17; 75. Clay Petersen, Sew, 59:58; 77. Johann Carranza, Ken, 1:00:33; 80. Tucker Mueller, Ken, 1:01:31; 85. Sorin Sorensen, Ken, 1:03:09; 87. Garrett Briscoe, Hom, 1:05:37; 89. Seamus McDonough, Hom, 1:06:03.
Final team standings — 1. Service, 3:59:56.6; 2. West Valley, 4:03:38.5; 3. Chugiak, 4:09:12.8; 4. West, 4:14:13.5; 5. Dimond, 4:14:36.0; 6. Palmer, 4:23:26.1; 7. Soldotna, 4:25:33.2; 8. Lathrop, 4:28:23.6; 9. Colony, 4:31:57.9; 10. South, 4:31:59.6; 11. Grace, 4:38:45.9; 12. East, 4:42:12.6; 13. Kenai, 4:53:02.0; 14. Eagle River, 5:09:21.1.
7.5K classic top 10 — 1. Kendall Kramer, WV, 22:01; 2. Tatum Witter, Ser, 22:53; 3. Garvee Tobin, Ser, 22:56; 4. Adrianna Proffitt, Chu, 23:10; 5. Ivy Eski, Wes, 23:14; 6. Emily Walsh, ER, 23:36; 7. Marit Flora, Ser, 23:39; 8. Neena Brubaker, Ser, 23:50; 9. Maggie Druckenmiller, WV, 23:53; 10. Meredith Schwartz, Ser, 23:59.
Peninsula finishers — 17. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 25:41; 18. Jayna Boonstra, Ken, 25:41; 31. Jordan Ruffner, Sol, 26:47; 32. Erika Arthur, Sol, 27:01; 37. Katie Delker, 27:27; 41. Zoe Stonorov, Hom, 27:52; 44. Brita Restad, Hom, 28:04; 47. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 28:12; 56. Leah Fallon, 29:02; 58. Gabriella Tews, Ken, 29:19; 60. Summer Foster, Ken, 29:30; 65. Carson Dement, Sol, 29:55; 67. Julia Anderson, Ken, 29:57; 71. Kara Super, 30:38; 72. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 30:45; 73. Anya Danielson, Ken, 30:55; 74. Eryn Field, Hom, 30:57; 78. Aiyana Cline, Hom, 31:30; 85. Lucy Hankins, Sew.
Saturday relays — 1. Service (Brubaker, Flora, Witter, Tobin), 38:49.0; 2. West, 39:10.2; 3. West Valley, 39:37.9; 4. Dimond, 42:32.9; 5. Eagle River, 42:40.2; 6. South, 42:54.5; 7. Chugiak, 42:59.4; 8. Palmer, 43:22.2; 9. Soldotna, 45:01.9; 10. Colony, 46:06.8; 11. Kenai, 46:13.2; 12. Homer, 46:49.2; 13. Grace, 48:27.0; 14. Lathrop, 50:53.6; 15. East, 52:36.0; 16. Bartlett, 57:02.2.
Overall Skimeister standings — 1. Kendall Kramer, WV, 35:51; 2. Tatum Witter, Ser, 37:29; 3. Adrianna Proffitt, Chu, 37:40; 4. Ivy Eski, Wes, 37:47; 5. Garvee Tobin, Ser, 37:50; 6. Maggie Druckenmiller, WV, 38:21; 7. Marit Flora, Ser, 38:35; 8. Meredith Schwartz, Ser, 39:05; 9. Emily Walsh, ER, 39:09; 10. Neena Brubaker, Ser, 39:22.
Peninsula — 19. Autumn Daigle, Hom, 41:52; 21. Jayna Boonstra, Ken, 42:06; 31. Jordan Ruffner, Sol, 43:48; 32. Erika Arthur, Sol, 44:01; 34. Katie Delker, Sol, 44:31; 39. Zoe Stonorov, Hom, 45:14; 47. Cameron Blackwell, Sol, 46:14; 50. Brita Restad, Hom, 46:38; 58. Leah Fallon, Ken, 47:10; 61. Summer Foster, Ken, 48:06; 63. Julia Anderson, Ken, 48:18; 64. Gabriella Tews, Ken, 48:18; 68. Carson Dement, Sol, 49:41; 73. Jordan Strausbaugh, Sol, 50:08; 75. Aiyana Cline, Hom, 50:43; 77. Anya Danielson, Ken, 50:58; 79. Kara Super, Hom, 51:14; 81. Eryn Field, Hom, 52:22; 84. Lucy Hankins, Sew, 54:00.
Final team standings — 1. Service, 3:11:40.9; 2. West Valley, 3:16:34.5; 3. West, 3:18:00.6; 4. Dimond, 3:35:02.8; 5. Chugiak, 3:35:13.4; 6. South, 3:36:14.0; 7. Eagle River, 3:38:17.1; 8. Palmer, 3:40:03.6; 9. Soldotna, 3:43:36.9; 10. Colony, 3:49:14.8; 11. Homer, 3:50:25.3; 12. Kenai, 3:51:16.2; 13. Grace, 3:59:02.5; 14. Bartlett, 4:48:21.4.
By JOEY KLECKA
For the Clarion