High school ski teams are on their way to compete at Kincaid Park in Anchorage this weekend for the state cross-country skiing meet. Soldotna, Kenai, Homer and Seward will all be representing the Kenai Peninsula.
Competition starts Thursday and runs until Saturday.
The first day of competition will be interval start classic technique races for boys and girls. Friday will be a mass start freestyle technique race and Saturday will be mixed technique relays — two athletes performing classic technique and two performing freestyle.
Coaches from local schools didn’t mince words when discussing their goals for this weekend.
“The boys team should win state,” Homer coach Jessie Goodrich said Tuesday. “I should maybe knock on wood when I say that.”
Homer and the rest of the peninsula schools compete with all the big schools from Fairbanks, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys at state. There is an award for the top Division II team, and Homer, Kenai and Seward are Division II.
Goodrich said a boys team from Homer hasn’t ever claimed the top finish before, but their performance this season, especially their last two showings at Region 3 meet and at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet, showed her they have what it takes.
Soldotna High School coach Isaac Erhardt said he’s looking at his girls team to close the gap on Colony, which claimed the top spot at regions by fewer than two minutes.
That rings true especially for Ariana Cannava and Tania Boonstra, he said. Together they have held the top two spots at many races this season, including regions.
“Both of them are hopeful to have some good races,” Erhardt said. “For them, a good race would be breaking into the top 20 group — we’ll see how far they can break into that.”
Erhardt said that the Stars haven’t had the opportunity to compete against “a good half or more” of the Division I skiers this season.
“This is the end of the season,” Kenai Central High School coach Brad Nyquist said. “I’m looking forward to each of the kids skiing their best races of the year — that’s all they can do.”
Nyquist said that when it comes to awards, the Kardinals will only be measured against the other Division II schools, but his sights were set on the way his athletes stack up to the rest of the state.
“We’ve got some kids that I think finishing in the top 20 of everybody is a goal for them,” he said.
These last weeks of the season are the time to double down on the usual essentials, Nyquist said. That means equipment checks, resting well, drinking water, watching nutrition and keeping minds focused on the race in front of them.
“It’s a lot of the same things we preach about during the season, but now those things all become very important,” he said. “They want to have their very best race, and there is no race afterwards.”
To lock in the finish this weekend, Goodrich said she’s been focusing on speedwork and especially corners — that’s where her skiers are looking to make the difference.
Erhardt said that he’s focusing on keeping a level head on his racers, especially when they encounter tricky conditions or other obstacles during their races.
“How they stay strong, how they use positive self talk, and keep on going even in a tough race,” he said. He said a tough race would be waiting for them on Thursday, when the weather conditions are forecast to be challenging.
Thursday’s weather forecast was a challenge discussed by all three coaches.
Goodrich said that the forecast is for snow and relatively warm temperatures. That precipitous combo will put a lot of pressure on the ski waxing in Thursday’s classic ski.
“The trickiest conditions to race in for classic. That’s what we’re facing,” Erhardt said.
Nyquist had a brighter outlook.
“The weather always plays a factor, and that’s kind of the fun part of the coaching,” he said.
Nyquist said that like figuring out his skiers and their competition, the weather was just another element that the team would plan for when they arrived.
This weekend, Nyquist said he’s looking to Jack Laker putting on the team’s top performance on the boys side, but said that Zane Tews and Ben Boersma have what it takes to step up and push Laker.
On the girls side, Kenai will be well represented by Emily Moss, Madison McDonald, and Mya Taylor.
In addition to Boonstra and Cannava, Erhardt said he’s hoping to see a strong performance from senior Andrew Cox.
Goodrich said that her girls team is developing, with most of the older girls having recently graduated out. Eryn Field, the only senior on the girls side, is targeting a top five finish, Goodrich said.
Goodrich said only five Homer girls are coming to state, of a possible six, and that they are benefitting from feeling less pressure. That isn’t the case for the boys.
“Homer’s never had a boys team this competitive — even with each other,” she said. “If we have a good day Thursday and Friday, we’ll take all podium positions for our division.”
Representing Homer on the boys side will be Jody Goodrich, Garrett Briscoe, Ethan Styvar, Seamus McDonough, Leif Jaworski and Johannes Bynagle.
“All the kids, they’re ready,” Nyquist said. “They just can’t wait to ski.”
Reach reporter Jake Dye at email@example.com.