After a season of improvising, the Mariners demonstrated their skiing prowess at Boroughs competition in Soldotna Feb. 5, with top-10 finishes for both boys and girls and a third-place team finish over all.
The skies were clear and the temperatures in the mid-teens as the skiers lined up for an afternoon mass start. Coaches and volunteers arrived earlier to assess the course and wax the Mariners’ skis to match the dry, granular snow with conditions better than expected.
“The groomers worked wonders with a few inches of snow on top of a few inches of dirt and ice. The trails were in great shape and we were skiing,” said Assistant Coach Alison O’Hara in an email.
The competition featured a fast-paced duathlon-style set up, which required skiers to switch their skis from skate to classic gear mid-race, with the option of changing boots and poles as well. Each team was allowed one ski handler in the staging area to assist with the rapid transitions.
“At times there were a few Mariners in the chute at once and things got kind of chaotic as amped racers attempted to get boots into bindings at race pace,” said O’Hara.
The skiers took off on a 4K route at the Wolverine trailhead of the Tsalteshi trails on skate skis, stopped at a marked area to switch to classic-style skis, and finished with another 3K loop for a total 7K.
Freshman Sarah Wolf led for the Lady Mariners again with a sixth-place finish in the girls varsity race with a time of 27:36.0. She was followed closely by junior Rachel Ellert, who placed eighth, 25 seconds behind Wolf. Freshman Mia Alexson placed 11th in the varsity girls race, and sophomore Audrey Russell, who was penalized for an accidental wrong turn in the home stretch of the race, placed 12th.
Freshman Jacob Davis led the Mariner boys, with another sixth-place finish of 23:32.9. Sophomore Hoxie Parks was in ninth place. Freshman Josh Wisner finished in sixth place for the JV boys.
The event’s results displayed the burgeoning talent amongst the younger members of the field, as the two first-place medals went to freshmen from other teams. Addison Gibson from Kenai finished first in the girls varsity race and John-Mark Pothast of SoHi won the boys varsity race.
The Mariners’ Assistant Coach Gus Beck is excited about the growth he’s seen from the younger members of the team this year.
“I’m really impressed by the freshmen on the team,” he said. “Three years from now, the team is going to be so solid having good, fast leaders with good technique. I bet in the next couple of years we’re really going to see the team beef up.”
Unless more snow falls, the Mariners will return to their training grounds of the Homer Reservoir to prepare for Regions this week. Despite the flat terrain, the coaches have been working hard to draw connections between the skills learned during their long weeks of dry land drills this fall to the corresponding motions on snow.
The skiers will travel to the Government Peak Recreational Area near Hatcher Pass on Friday to kick off Regions with a 5K classic race at 1 p.m. A 5K skate race for the girls and approximately a 7.5K skate race for the boys is scheduled for Saturday.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. The Peninsula Clarion also contributed to this story.