The Alaska School Activities Association Nordic Ski State Championships came to a close this weekend following the final day of competition Saturday, from which all three local teams in the relays emerged with something to celebrate.
The Homer boys claimed their first Division II win in program history with an overall team time of 4 hours, 34 minutes and 48.4 seconds — good for eighth overall.
On the girls side, Kenai Central took home the top honor for Division II with a time of 4:08:41.8, 10th place overall.
Division II schools are those with fewer than 500 students, including Kenai, Homer, Valdez and Seward.
Soldotna, a Division I school, claimed the Kenai Peninsula’s top overall result for the girls at eighth place with a time of 3:53:35.4.
Ahead of the competition, Homer coach Jessie Goodrich said that her boys had what they needed to win, and that they were looking to bring home the award. She was all smiles Saturday as she greeted her son Jody Goodrich, who anchored Homer’s relay, at the finish line.
“Homer, for the first time in forever, has had a full boys team that’s been capable of something like this,” Jody said, moments after finishing that race and securing the win. “It was really a team effort. Everyone on the team played a pretty critical role, and it was great.”
That sentiment was echoed by teammates Garrett Briscoe and Ethan Styvar.
“My freshman year, we didn’t even have a relay team,” Briscoe said. “There were only two of us.”
The championship meet stretched from Thursday to Saturday, with winning teams being determined by overall team time — the cumulative total time of the top four finishers from each team on each day.
Athletes skied classic technique on Thursday, five kilometers for the girls and 7.5 kilometers for the boys, freestyle technique on Friday, 7.5 kilometers for the girls and 10 kilometers for the boys, and finally a mixed technique relay on Saturday.
The relay challenged four athletes from each team to complete three kilometers for the girls and five kilometers for the boys — a total of 12 or 20 kilometers. The first two skiers from each team skied classic, while the second two skied freestyle.
Anchorage’s West High School claimed the top overall finish for the girls relay, with a time of 38 minutes, 8.6 seconds.
The top finishing Peninsula team for the girls was Soldotna.
The Stars opened the relay toward the front of the pack, Tania Boonstra leading girls from East, South and Chugiak as they came back into view around halfway through the first leg of the race. All three would ultimately finish ahead of the Stars.
Soldotna landed in ninth place with a time of 44:48.3.
Boonstra, who delivered the top Peninsula finishes on both Friday and Saturday, said after the race that she hadn’t had the opportunity to see most of the Anchorage schools in action until she arrived for the championship meet. Despite that, she said she was pretty happy with her performance all weekend, capped off with “a pretty good race” in her leg of Saturday’s relay.
“There’s some really amazing skiers here,” Ariana Cannava, also of Soldotna, said after the race. “It’s been a really great experience.”
Cannava, only a sophomore, said that this weekend she saw her growth and her efforts in training pay off.
“Last year I got 41st and 42nd. This year I got 25th and 19th,” she said of her individual races. “Now that I’ve seen improvement, I can just keep training on the same plan … trying to improve for next year.”
Around two minutes after the Stars, Kenai Central landed the 10th place finish with a time of 46:46.3.
“It was really fantastic,” Kenai’s Emily Moss said after the relay. “All the teams are super nice, and it’s such a great community. The Kenai team especially, they’re so sweet and so caring and they work so hard every day.”
Moss, who held the first leg of the relay for the Kardinals, also took home individual wins for Division II in both Friday and Saturday’s races.
“It just means I get to show my love for the support and I get to be there for my teammates and for my friends,” Moss said of the awards.
Eryn Field, of Homer, who also landed in the top three for Division II in both individual races, said that the Mariners benefited from being small and tight-knit.
“We all stick together, we’re all really close,” she said. “The hard work is paying off.”
Moments before the boys were set to race, she said that hard work would be clearly apparent as the Homer boys relay team was “gonna go crazy.”
The Homer boys, similar to the Soldotna girls, opened the race toward the front of the pack. Even as the boys returned into view at the end of the first leg, Homer’s Garrett Briscoe was still outpacing Colony’s Clayton Steer. Colony would ultimately claim the fourth place finish.
Despite two missteps during the relay conversions, the Mariners landed an eighth place finish at 53:55.5, around 10 minutes ahead of Kenai, the next Division II school. They came in only around six minutes after the top two boys teams in Service and West, who were separated by only .4 seconds at 47:36.6 and 47:37.0, respectively.
Jody said after the race that he didn’t feel good about his showing on Friday, but that he stepped up for the relay.
“Today was just a 5K, and my team was depending on me, so I just went for it,” he said. “I’m really happy with how it went.”
Briscoe, the top Division II finisher in Friday’s race, said that Saturday’s relay was “probably one of the best races that I’ve ever had.”
“It was a really fun race, fun team sprint,” Styvar said.
The good weather was a big part of the fun, he added.
Kenai, Soldotna and Homer all reported difficulties with the weather during Thursday’s race, but clear skies and shining sun heralded Saturday’s relays.
Fun was a word also used by Jack Laker, who held up the final leg of the relay for Kenai. He said the relay, which only required a 5K of each athlete, was fast and fun.
Laker was also the top Division II finisher in Friday’s race.
“There’s not a whole lot of schools in it,” he said. “But there’s some competition.”
With the season concluded, the local skiers were largely looking forward to two things — more skiing and the track season.
“I had a very fun season,” Boonstra said. “I’m kind of sad it’s over, but I’m really looking forward to track.”
Laker, too, had track on the top of his mind.
Moss said she was sad to see the season close, but that she would still be skiing in the off-season.
Briscoe, a senior, said that he would continue training for next year’s Besh Cups, looking to qualify for Junior Nationals.
Jody and Styvar both said they were looking forward to long-distance skiing.
“Lots of chill,” Jody said. “No more sprinting.”
The final Kenai Peninsula team, Seward, did not have enough skiers to participate in the relays.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.