Seasoned ski coach steps into head position for Homer’s team

Alison O’Hara is technically the new head coach for Homer’s cross-country ski team, but she’s no stranger to the sport or teaching it to young people.

O’Hara has been coaching at the assistant level for a while and has long been active in Homer’s skiing community. She moved into the head coaching position for the high school team this season when no one else applied for it, she said.

“I think it’s going really well,” she said.

O’Hara credited her two assistant coaches, Megan Corazza and Katie Miller.

“They’re awesome,” she said.

O’Hara said she’s excited to implement several techniques and tips she recently learned on a trip to Montana. There, she participated in a weeklong ski clinic that included instruction from a former Olympic skier.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “So I’m super excited about sharing the different kinds of stuff that I learned. Even a lot of dry land (things), too.”

That will come in handy for Homer’s team, as snow has been scarce so far this season. O’Hara said the coaches try to make each practice varied and interesting, but that it can be difficult on team morale to inch farther and farther into the season with no snow in sight.

“It’s just frustrating, because it would be like swimming without water,” O’Hara said of the lack of snow.

Homer did get a much welcome snowfall on Tuesday night that stretched into Wednesday, but the team has been doing a lot of roller skiing and adventure runs up to this point. The coaches even had the skiers get retro with some step aerobics, O’Hara said.

One training technique O’Hara said the team will work on implementing this season is called periodization. It consists of a four-week block in which one week is on the easier side and geared toward racking up hours of running or skiing, another week of intervals, a third week of hard combination work and, finally, a recovery week.

As for the team itself, it looks a bit different this year. A core group of five senior boys graduated last spring and have therefore left the boys’ team on the young side.

“We took a heavy hit,” O’Hara said.

On the girls’ side, however, the team didn’t lose any varsity skiers to graduation last year.

“The girls were really strong last year, and this year I expect they’re even going to be stronger,” O’Hara said. “I do expect a lot out of our girls this year.”

Three skiers to watch this season are sophomore Zoey Stonorov, junior Autumn Daigle and senior Katia Holmes.

“All three of them are really super solid,” O’Hara said.

She expects the team to have a strong showing on the Kenai Peninsula this season, in part due to the departure of some strong senior skiers from Kenai Central High School through graduation. The borough-wide meet is set to be held at Government Peak Recreation Area near Palmer this year, which O’Hara said boasts an interesting course.

She said a large hill was recently added to the course, but hills aren’t something her team generally has to worry about. Both the Government Peak trails and the Lookout Mountain ski trails in Homer — where Homer’s team practices — were designed by former U.S. Olympic skier Bill Spencer.

“Hills are something that our kids excel at,” O’Hara said.

Another aspect of the season O’Hara is working on is the continuation of adaptive skiing. With the inclusion of Homer High School student Angelica Haakenson on last year’s team, the entire peninsula got its introduction to sit skiing. Haakenson lost both her legs after a car crash on Christmas Day in 2014. Sh’s a member of both the high school’s ski team and swim team.

Last year marked her debut in the competitive cross-country ski arena. Once skiers from other schools found their way onto adaptive sit skis to join her, Haakenson dominated the competition.

“The other teams definitely rallied,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said she’s working on trying to improve logistics of including adaptive skiing into the regular season so that it can continue. Working out kinks like making sure there are available outhouses at all meets is one consideration.

Last year’s sit skis, other than those belonging to Haakenson, were borrowed from Challenge Alaska. O’Hara said they will need to be borrowed again this year.

“We just have to keep being creative,” O’Hara said of integrating adaptive skiing into the traditional ski meet lineup.

Last year, Homer’s program incorporated a number of challenging relays, one of which involved a female standing skier, a male standing skier and a sit skier all working together.

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