Statebound skiers ready to finish season of misery

Road trips, including multiple times off the Kenai Peninsula, just to find snow. Pool workouts. Ice skating on Headquarters Lake. And spinning at The Fitness Place.

What a long, strange season it’s been.

One of the most challenging high school cross-country skiing seasons in recent memory will come to a close with the state meet today, Friday and Saturday at Kincaid Park in Anchorage.

Today, the boys varsity will do a 7.5-kilometer interval start classic race at noon, while the girls will follow with a 5K classic race at 1:30 p.m.

Both Soldotna coach Dan Harbison, who has been involved with skiing on the Peninsula since 1996, and Kenai Central coach Brad Nyquist, who has been involved for nine years, said this has been as tough of a winter as they can remember.

“It does rank up there,” Harbison said. “There’s been some that have been close to this, but this has been a pretty sparse one.”

A good measure of the lack of snow comes from the fact that Harbison’s team has been in classic tracks just twice this season — once in Anchorage and once in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys.

That means that not once has there been enough snow on the central Peninsula to groove in guides for classic skiers.

Among the nonsnow activities Harbison and Nyquist have resorted to are the following: pool workouts, indoor circuit training, indoor biking, core training, walking with ski poles, hiking with weights, ice skating and a hike up Skyline trail.

“We hiked up Skyline just before Christmas,” Harbison said. “I’d never been up there that time of year.

“There was no snow and no vegetation. You can see all over the place. That was kind of wild.”

And therein lies a hidden nugget to this winter. While both Harbison and Nyquist would have taken loads of snow in a heartbeat, the lack of snow did allow them to see things that otherwise would not have been as eminently visible.

The main thing is the character of their teams.

Despite all the hardship, the Kenai boys and girls were able to sweep the Region III titles for the first time in school history last weekend. Kenai’s Travis Cooper was the boys skimeister, while SoHi’s Sadie Fox triumphed on the girls side.

“Part of the reason they are on this team is for the team itself,” Nyquist said. “These guys just enjoy being together and working out together.

“They are a unique group that gets along really well together.”

Harbison echoed those sentiments.

“They’ve worked really hard and hung together and stuck with it to the bitter end,” he said. “In that respect, it’s actually been a pretty fun season, having everyone working together and finding fun in whatever it is we do.

“The only other option is to be depressed about it.”

Nyquist said the poor conditions on the Peninsula led to his team being able to participate in an REI winter festival in Hatcher Pass, as well as a cool and historic ski through Independence Mine.

“I’m so proud of the way they hung in there all season,” Nyquist said.

That included Monday, when Nyquist’s plan was to ski the fields behind Kenai Central. When almost all the snow disappeared during the day due to warmth and wind, the Kards joined the Stars at Tsalteshi Trails.

“The snow is pretty rotten and going fast,” Harbison, a notorious late-season skier, said of Tsalteshi. “It reminds me of late April skiing.”

Kincaid will make use of the snow-making loops for the state meet and any other loops that may be available as rain looms in the forecast for Saturday.

According to Harbison, Fox is fully recovered from illness and has a chance to be the first Peninsula skier to win a skimeister crown.

Kailey Mucha, skiing for Soldotna, took second in 2009. Fox, now a senior, was second last season.

“She’s gotten a little rest and worked very hard all year long to do well here,” Harbison said. “She has high hopes.”

Right behind Fox’s total of 27 minutes, 52 seconds, at regions were Kenai freshmen Addison Gibson (28:09) and Riana Boonstra (28:21).

“They ski really well together and feed off each other,” Nyquist said. “They have a lot of experience skiing in bigger races.

“I expect them to ski very well even though they are competing against a lot of other schools.”

While it is not uncommon for Peninsula girls to dot the top 10 at the state meet, Cooper, a senior, will be looking to become the first Peninsula boy since SoHi’s Daniel Harro in 2003 to earn a spot in the top 10.

“I know he’d like to be in the top five,” Nyquist said. “That could happen. He’s very capable of doing that and then some.”

While Besh Cup racing has allowed the top skiers to see how they stack up as individuals, canceled races have meant that Peninsula coaches have no idea how their teams stack up statewide.

“I’m expecting the same thing I’ve expected all year, that our teams will go out skiing really hard,” Nyquist said. “But it’s hard to say how they will do.”

For the Kenai boys, Cooper will be backed up by senior Jordan Theisen, freshman Karl Danielson, junior James Butler and sophomore Patrick Michael. Junior Liam Floyd will be back after missing regions due to illness.

Joining Gibson and Boonstra will be senior Alex Bergholtz and Kirsten Nyquist, sophomore Katie Cooper and junior Mikaela Salzetti.

For the SoHi girls, Fox will be backed up by a group that all can return next year and helped the Stars to second in the region. Hannah Pothast, Emily Werner, Olivia Hutchings and Mieka Chythlook are juniors, while Kellie Arthur is a freshman.

The SoHi boys should be led by junior Levi Michael and freshman John-Mark Pothast. Pothast is feeling better after dealing with illness for the region meet, and Harbison said both could break into the top 20.

Seniors Tanner Best and Daniel Shuler will ski their last races for the Stars, while freshmen Koby Vinson and junior Aaron Swedberg will gain valuable experience for the future.

Homer was led at regions by Aspen Daigle in 10th, Rachel Ellert in 17th and Sarah Wolf in 18th on the girls side, and Jacob Davis in 17th on the boys side.

Seward got a 21st from Ruby Lindquist.

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