The Kenai Central cross-country ski team has a saying: “We’re not runners, we’re skiers.”
This year, Mother Nature was listening.
Ski teams around the state were allowed to start practice on Oct. 31. Teams from the central Kenai Peninsula were on snow within a week, while Homer was on snow within three weeks.
“It has been pretty good,” Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. “We had that windstorm that kind of threw debris all over the trail, but the groomers at Tsalteshi have been great at getting that cleared off and cutting up the trees that fell across the trail.”
Kenai Central coach D’Anna Gibson said snow lightens the mood of a team.
“If there is no snow, we do a lot of running, and we’re not runners, we’re skiers,” she said. “When we can get out on snow and actually ski, it’s a big mood booster.”
Skyview coach Kent Peterson also has been happy with the weather, with one caveat. Peterson was there for the first week of practice, then took a trip to Kodiak that was supposed to make him miss a week of practice.
The weather kept Peterson grounded in Kodiak and he missed two weeks of practice.
“(Assistant coach) Paul Kupferschmid did a great job keeping the kids going,” Peterson said.
Even in Homer, which tends to be wetter and warmer than the central Peninsula, coach Jan Spurkland has no complaints.
“We only had two weeks of dry land,” he said. “That’s still pretty good for us.”
In Region III, both the individual champions return in Soldotna senior Bree Mucha and Soldotna junior Luke Michael.
Mucha led the Stars to their fourth-straight region title last season, but Harbison said the bulk of that team is gone.
“We have only a few returning this year,” he said. “Those will do well, but as a team we’re young and we’ll have to see what we can do.”
Homer, meanwhile, is in great position to defend the boys team title. Last year, Spurkland heard that the boys title was the first for the school in 30 years, but now he said some checking has shown it had been at least 50 years since the boys won a title.
The Mariners return their top trio of skiers, and lost only one out of their top seven.
The following is a closer look at the Kenai Peninsula’s ski teams.
Skiing is booming in Homer. Spurkland has 41 skiers on the roster, the largest team the school has seen in six or seven years.
“A large group of freshmen skiers have come up through the middle school and junior program in Homer,” Spurkland said. “It’s neat to see. We’ve got a group of young kids led by older, experienced seniors.
“It’s a great environment for racing.”
The top trio for Homer is seniors Andre Lovett and Parker Sorenson, and sophomore Brian Rowe. Lovett was third in the region last year.
Also returning to the varsity boys team are seniors Kyle Wentz and Dan Adickes and sophomore Josh VanTrease. Jake Worlsford, who won the junior varsity race at regions, also is ready to contribute.
“It’s neat when you have such a large team feeding off of each other,” Spurkland said.
The girls team did not lose any varsity skiers. The team will be led by seniors Marie Schmidt, Katie Schmidt and Emily Schmidt. Spurkland said the three are in great condition from their work with the swim team.
Other varsity returners are senior Alaine Miller and sophomores Cassidy Soistman and Mady Gerard. Spurkland also expects a boost from freshman Kaya Morelli.
“Those girls made big strides last year,” Spurkland said. “It will be neat to watch them pick up where they left off.”
Kenai Central Kardinals
Gibson has 34 skiers out for the team, which is about the same amount as last year.
The Kards return a solid group of varsity skiers in seniors Olivia Fair, Taylor Ostrander, Olivia Pfeifer, Eve Ferguson, Noelle Schmitter-Schrier, junior Chelsea Springer and sophomore Courtney Stroh.
“Our top four skiers are really strong and they’re all skiing close to each other,” Gibson said. “Within the region, I’m not sure how they’ll do.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they do by the end of the year.”
The boys also return a lot of talent, led by experienced varsity skiers in senior Tyler Cooper, juniors Joe Bressler and Jake Gilman, and sophomore Fox Michaud. Adding depth to the varsity will be senior Carey Updike, junior Trent Saner, sophomore Olen Danielson and freshman Travis Cooper.
Gibson also said sophomores Cole Gross and Nate Mole are on the cusp of varsity.
“I look at my boys and really hope they can give some of those teams a run for their money,” Gibson said. “The boys are skiing well, but they don’t have that big shot out there. With their depth, I’m hoping they might do something.”
Anna Widman continues building a program in Nikiski.
The Bulldogs have six skiers this year after having eight last year. Last year, none of those skiers raced varsity. Widman is hoping juniors Ty Shoemaker, Joshua Croze and Caleb Alkire will be racing varsity by the end of the year.
Also on the team are juniors Ruscia Colton, Haily Conti and Ian Eide.
“We want to expose them to the sport and help them learn the two kinds of skiing,” Widman said.
Peterson has 25 skiers on the trails this season.
The boys team will be led by varsity returners Bud Sparks and Joey Bishop, both seniors, and Kade Cooper, a junior.
After those three, Peterson said he has a pool of young skiers and JV skiers from last year vying for varsity spots.
“Homer’s probably going to have a pretty good team, with almost everybody coming back, but as for the rest I kind of like our team,” Peterson said. “We have three good skiers, but it always boils down to the fourth skier.
“Each team has some good individual skiers. It’s nice to see all the programs doing pretty well.”
The girls team will be led by senior Chelsea Winter and sophomore Mika Morton. Sophomores Brittany Hollers and Casey Neill also should ski varsity.
Peterson also likes what he sees from senior Mary Hauptman, a new skier picking up the sport rapidly.
“I think our girls this year will hopefully be more competitive,” Peterson said. “We’ve got those skiers that are coming up, learning fast and should help the team quite a bit.
“I think most of the new skiers we had last year are a little more experienced and got a taste of competition last year, so they should have a better idea of what it’s going to take.”
Harbison has 25 skiers out for the team.
In addition to Mucha, seniors Ashley Gerola and Hannah Cristiano have varsity experience.
The coach will be looking for freshman Sadie Fox, sophomores Mary Valenzuela and Xochi Harbison, and senior Shannon Wyatt to fill holes on the varsity.
The boys return a solid varsity contingent in Michael, juniors Dillon Jensen and Jang Kim and sophomore Colton Diehl.
Foreign exchange student Jonas Wikstrom gives the team a boost of talent from Sweden. Junior Cole Covey and freshmen Richard Nelson and Kyle North also add depth.
Harbison said he’s got a solid boys team, but added that it will be tough to catch a talented squad like Homer.