Chugiak's Grant Ensign grapples for position in a pack of skiers during the boys freestyle relay race at the Region IV Nordic Ski Championships at Kincaid Park on Feb. 19. Area cross-country skiers are heading to Fairbanks for the state cross-country ski championships at Birch Hill trails.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH
Kinsey Loan knew she was fast. Heck, everyone knew that. But in the tense moments leading up to the presentation of the Region IV girls' Skimeister title, the Chugiak senior still wasn't sure where she stacked up against some of the state's most elite athletes.
"I didn't know," Loan said. "I knew I worked hard, but..."
Loan increased her Day 1 lead during the Day 2 freestyle relay race, crushing the field with the day's fastest time over a brutal 4-kilometer layout at Kincaid Park.
Loan held a narrow 1.6-second lead over Dimond's Marion Woods after the Day 1 individual classic race, but until the results were announced, she had no idea if her anchor leg for Chugiak's third-place relay team would hold up.
"There's some stress," she said. "But after a bit I was just like, 'it'll be what it'll be.'"
Loan had no reason to worry. Her leg in the freestyle race was almost a minute faster than Woods and 45 seconds faster than the second-best time of the day turned in by West's Annie Liotta.
Loan's Skimeister title was the third in as many years for the Mustangs, whose Alyson McPhetres won in 2010 and '09.
Service's Silas Talbot won the boys' award for the second straight year for the Cougars, who won the relay and overall boys' crowns. South took home the girls' team and relay titles.
While Loan's victory was the biggest feat for the Mustangs, it wasn't the only hardware Chugiak hauled away from the post-race awards ceremony in the Kincaid chalet. For the third consecutive season, the Mustangs also took home the coveted spirit award, something in which coach Gretchen Carrick said her squad takes a large amount of pride.
"We are working on that baby, I tell you," she said.
Carrick said she believes the Mustangs have come to dominate the award which is voted on by the "Green Grunt" race volunteers because of the nonstop encouragement they offer along the trails.
"We try to have our kids cheer not only for our own team, but for all the other teams as well," Carrick said.
Chugiak senior Iain Miller, who was singled out for praise by race organizers for following along behind the day's final racers, said he believes the sport is about more than just who's at the front of the pack.
"I don't like leaving people out there," said Miller. "There should always be someone there to cheer you on."
While the Mustangs were cheering on their competitors, there was plenty to cheering to do for themselves as well. Chugiak's boys relay team shook off a slow relay start to claim third place overall, and three other Mustangs took home medals for their performances in Friday's classic race.
Kenny Brewer had the boys team's best effort on Day 1, racing to a fifth-place finish over a course that received six inches of new snow the night before. Teammate Isaac Lammers was seventh for the Mustangs, who placed five boys' skiers in the top 17 spots in the classic race.
Brewer credited his short stride length for propelling him in the deep, soft snow.
"These guys are more power," he said, motioning to Lammers and brother Peter Brewer, who was 17th in the classic race. "They look for the big steps. But with that, the further back you get, the more likely the snow is to shear off. And so just keeping it under me I think really helped."
Alex Loan was 13th for the Chugiak boys, while David McPhetres was 24th.
The classic race was a challenge for everyone, as some skiers flourished while others floundered in the fresh powder. Chugiak's Krysti McPhetres soldiered through the snow to finish seventh in the girls' race for the Mustangs, while Sam Hartke just missed a top-10 finish in 12th.
"It does make things interesting," Loan said of the conditions.
Eagle River sophomore Hannah Stevens had one of the classic race's most impressive showings, finishing 16th and in front of South's Karina Packer, Dimond's Savanna Desatoff and Service's Mykaela McMullen, all of whom are on their way to the Junior Olympics next month.
"She's a tough, young skier," said Eagle River coach Mikey Evans.
Evans said the variable conditions made the classic race a wide-open affair.
"That's racing, that's what makes it not predictable," he said.
Brandon Blackley was the top Eagle River boys skier in the classic race, finishing 25th for the Wolves two spots in front of teammate Cam Johnson.
Saturday's relay races were a bit more predictable, with the newly groomed snow still soft but plenty fast for good racing conditions. More than the elements, the course proved to be a challenge because of several big hills skiers had to negotiate on their way around the loop.
"There were large hills," Loan said. "And it's short enough where it's a very intense race but long enough where you don't want to fry out."
Loan joined the Harke sisters Amy and Sam along with McPhetres to help Chugiak place third in the relay event. Eagle River's girls team of Stevens, Brenna Wheeler, Jackie Klecka and Veri Vihavianen was seventh.
Chugiak's A boys team of Ben Fitzgerald, the Brewers and Lammers struggled out of the blocks in their relay race, and found themselves in sixth place (behind two South teams, two Service teams and Chugiak's B team) after Fitzgerald's leg. Chugiak's David McPhetres was one reason the school's A team trailed early, as his leadoff leg was actually faster than the times turned in by both Fitzgerald and Peter Brewer.
But Peter Brewer did manage to reel in the other Chugiak team on his second leg, Kenny caught South's B team during his lap and Lammers passed Service's final B skier to give Chugiak its third-place finish.
"Each one of us made a dent," Peter Brewer said.
Lammers' anchor leg of 14:09.9 was the third-fastest boys time of the day.
The Eagle River boys had their best showing of the championships in the relay event, where Blackley, Johnson, Evan Fisher and Will Timmons managed to grab fifth place.
Eagle River's coach Evans said he was satisfied with his team's performance, especially in light of the competition the tiny Wolves squad was up against at the Region IV finale. But he noted that if his skiers want to compete with the region's best, they're going to have to put in even more work between now and next year's meet.
"The ski season for the kids competing here begins in April," he said. "It's a year-round event for these guys."
Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or 694-2727 Ext. 215.
Region IV Nordic Ski Championships
At Kincaid Park
Overall team standings
(individual classic, freestyle relay and combined times)
Top 10 1. Silas Talbot, Ser, 29:41.3; 2. Peter Mamrol, Ser, 30:26.0; 3. Forrest Mahlen, South, 30:30.8; 5. Kenny Brewer, Chu, 30:52.0; 6. Jack Novak, Sou, 30:56.7; 7. Isaac Lammers, Chu, 30:57.9; 8. (tie) Austin Hess, Ser, and Eric Backstrum, South, 31:38.2; 10. John Glen, Ser, 31:41.3
Other Chugiak/Eagle River 13. Alex Loan, Chu, 31:52.7; 16. Ben Fitzgereald, Chu, 32:22.3; 17. Peter Brewer, Chu, 33:01.3; 24. David McPhetres, Chu, 34:10.1; 25. Brandon Blackley, ER, 34:49.5; 27. Cam Johnson, ER, 35:16.8; 31. Evan Fisher, ER, 35:45.7; 36. Will Timmons, ER, 36:25.1; 37. Ben Smith, ER, 36:30.1; 42. Jacob Timmons, ER, 37:36.5; 50. James Colles, Chu, 41:12.7