Skiing over tracks of man-made snow across otherwise grassy fields, the Homer High School Mariner skiers raced to the finish of their 2015 season at the state championship last weekend at Kincaid Park in Anchorage.
The Mariner girls were awarded for their efforts on and off the snow, taking home first place for highest combined grade point average, with a cumulative team average of 3.94, as well as an overall first place girls finish amongst smaller, 2A-3A schools.
The championship, pitting athletes from 22 schools across the state against each other in three days of racing, kicked off last Thursday afternoon under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-30s. The man-made snow on the trails was mushy and granular, making waxing difficult, but the Mariner waxing team of coaches and volunteers worked hard to nail down a combination that gave the athletes a good mix of kick and glide.
The course consisted of several loops of trail, featuring flat stretches near the stadium in addition to some steep hills with hairpin turns at the bottom, one of which was said to be stained red with blood from the high number of wipe-outs.
“The course was kind of like a roller coaster, which is ideal for testing the skiers’ ability,” said Mariner Assistant Coach Gus Beck.
In addition to tight course turns, facing off against the larger Anchorage schools for the first and only time this season got the Mariners’ adrenaline pumping, said Beck.
“I’ve never seen the (Mariner) kids race as fast and as hard and as passionate as they did. … Their attitude was on fire,” he said.
Thursday’s competition was a classic race, with a 5K circuit for the girls and 7.5K circuit for the boys. Senior Aspen Daigle came in 44th overall in the classic race, and second for 2A-3A schools. She was followed closely by junior Rachel Ellert in 49th place, and freshman Sarah Wolf in 58th. Freshman Jacob Davis came in 68th for the Mariner boys, followed closely by senior Ghen Sasakura in 72nd place.
The sun came out again for the 7.5K girls and 10K boys freestyle competitions on Friday. The Mariner girls placed 12th overall, with Daigle leading again in 39th place, winning her first place amongst 2A-3A schools. She was followed by Ellert in 50th place, and sophomore Audrey Russell in 60th. The Mariner boys placed 13th overall, led by Davis in 56th, Sasakura in 65th and sophomore Hoxie Parks in 74th.
The final day of racing on Saturday brought a fitting conclusion to a season plagued by inclement weather: rain. Spectators gathered alongside the snow wearing mud boots and holding umbrellas while the athletes lined up for their 3K and 5K relays. The relays, which are usually comprised of two classic legs and two freestyle legs, were amended to four legs of freestyle skiing instead, due to the difficulty of finding traction with rain on ice.
The girls relay team of Daigle, Ellert, Russel and Wolf placed 12th out of 16 teams competing with a combined time of 41:09.2. The boys team of Davis, Sasakura, Parks and sophomore Tadhg Scholz took 14th out of 16 teams with a time of 53:55.8.
Mariner Head Coach Alan Parks was impressed by the skiers’ performance at the championships, but even more so by their relentlessly positive attitude that stayed strong throughout the long, snowless season.
“To see the kids perform well on their skis against kids who have had so much more ski time, it’s something to be proud of as a skier and a coach,” said Parks.
Max Donaldson of West Valley, along with Lydia Blanchet of West, received first place Skimeister awards for top combined personal finishes. The Service boys took first place for combined team results and West claimed first for girls.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.