Chugiak High skier Isaac Lammers enjoys the festive Valentine's Day atmosphere of the races with a crazy outfit to match.
Who needs Mardi Gras?
Alaskans wishing to follow a world-class parade over the next couple weeks need only to seek out some of their local cross-country trails, where the state's elite youth Nordic skiers will be on display as they train for and race in the season's championship races.
Chugiak coach Gretchen Carrick said her top-loaded squad is more than ready to go ski-to-ski with the best skiers in the region and state between now and the end of the month.
"I think their comment would probably be, 'Bring it,'" Carrick said on Feb. 14, four days before her team was set to take on the muni's best at the Region III championships.
If Carrick's team is confident heading into the Region III championships, it's for good reason. The Mustangs proved they're a powerful team across gender lines at the East Relays on Feb. 12, when the squad came from behind to grab victory in the two-boy, two-girl classic-style event.
The victory was the third team victory for the Mustangs, whose boys also won at the Bartlett Relays and Kincaid Skiathlon. Neither the Chugiak boys nor girls have finished outside the top three teams in any meet this season.
"We have some pretty strong skiers on both sides, and if they stay healthy and have good races, I think they have an opportunity to do very well," Carrick said.
Kinsey Loan is the team's top skier, and the senior was at her best at the East Relays, skiing the day's fastest individual girls' time as Chugiak's anchor leg. Loan's time of 19 minutes, 54.5 seconds over the 5-kilometer course was nearly a minute faster than South's Tristan Ramey, who had a 6.7-second lead when she took over as South's anchor.
Though Loan's fantastic finish sealed the win for Chugiak, Carrick pointed out that Loan's three teammates Kenny Brewer, Isaac Lammers and Krysti McPhetres weren't exactly on snowshoes out there.
"There's a lot of credit that has to come all the way through," she said.
Brewer got the Mustangs off to a solid start, keeping the team within eyesight of everyone but South's Forrest Mahlen, whose blistering leg of 16:59.2 turned out to be the day's fastest individual time and gave the Wolverines a huge lead over the field at the quarter pole.
McPhetres and Lammers combined to reel in the field over their two legs. McPhetres had cut South's lead to just 33 seconds when she touched off to Lammers, and by the time he returned, the Mustangs were breathing right down South's neck. All Loan had to do was put in the dagger.
"Our second leg got us into second place, our third maintained and moved up and then Kinsey came in and she passed the person who was first," Carrick said.
Loan and Lammers will be among the favorites when the Region meet gets under way with individual classic technique races on Friday, Feb. 18, at Kincaid Park. The Region Skimeister and team titles will be handed out the next day following the conclusion of that day's freestyle relay race. The Skimeister crown is determined by combined individual times in the two races.
But Chugiak is more than just its championship-contending stars. The Mustangs showed off their depth at the East Relays by placing three teams in the top 10 spots, getting a fifth from their No. 2 team (Peter Brewer, Kristen Lessard, Alex Loan, Sarissa Lammers) and 10th from their No. 3 squad (David McPhetres, Amy Hartke, James Colles, Sam Hartke).
Eagle River's Cam Johnson teamed up with Brandon Blackley, Jackie Klecka and Hannah Stevens to help the Wolves' No. 1 team finish 13th. Johnson's time of 19:51.5 was the fastest of the day among Eagle River boys, while Stevens' 23:27.5 was the best for the girls. Eagle River's No. 2 team of Jacob Timmons, Meri Vihavianen, Evan Fisher and Brenna Wheeler won the "B" race. The Wolves No. 3 team won the "C" race.
Wolves coach Mikey Evans said his team has been tapering off its workouts, although the duration of the high school season makes it hard to really wind down properly.
"You taper as much as you can, but it's tough," he said.
Evans said he has no expectations for his team, other than that they go out and ski their best over the coming couple weeks.
"I expect good things from all my kids," he said.
Because this year's Region III individual race is classic technique, Evans said it would be premature to try to single out skiers who he thinks may have strong races.
"In a classical distance race, anything can happen," he said.
No matter how things turn out, Evans said he's been pleased with the effort his squad has put in so far this season.
"I'm always happy with the kids," he said. "They always meet or exceed expectations."
This weekend's meet is just a prelude of things to come for local skiers, who will also travel to Fairbanks' Birch Hill trails for the state meet, which begins on Feb. 24.
Carrick said that her team's workouts have gotten a bit easier in recent days as the team tries to get in top shape for the season's two biggest meets.
"Yes you still have to ski, but it's the effort and weights and conditioning you've done from the middle of December to now," that make the difference, she said.
Carrick said the end of the season is what her skiers spend all year training for.
"This is the big one for them, and they are looking forward to it," she said. "They're very excited."
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At East High/Russian Jack Trails
Top 5 1. Chugiak 1 (Kenny Brewer, Kryston McPhetres, Isaac Lammers, Kinsey Loan), 1:15.41.6; 2. South 1, 1:16:33.9; 3. South 2, 1:18:33.9; 4. West 1, 1:20:13.2; 5. Chugiak 2 (Peter Brewer, Kristen Lessard, Alex Loan, Sarissa Lammers), 1:21:19.7.
Other Chugiak/Eagle River racers 10. Chugiak 3 (David McPhetres, Amy Hartke, James Colles, Sam Hartke), 1:24:45.4; 13. Eagle River 1 (Cam Johnson, Jackie Klecka, Brandon Blackley, Hannah Stevens), 1:27:12.6; 18. Chugiak 4 (Robert Colles, Emily Geppart, Cameron Fritz, Hannah Haeussler), 1:32:12.1