HATCHER PASS — The Palmer Moose swept the Region III cross-country ski titles at Government Peak Recreation Area on Saturday.

Heading into Saturday’s classic ski race, the Moose held and maintained a lead, taking the top two spots in both the boys and girls overall standings. Palmer’s Aila Berrigan finished first overall after winning the Saturday race and Rosie Whittington-Evans won the skate race on Friday and finished second overall. Colony’s girls came in second place and Soldotna’s girls finished third by just over 30 seconds. SoHi’s boys team finished in second, just ahead of Colony in third.

“It’s just really great that we’re able to still maintain our first place even though Katey’s not with us,” said Whittington-Evans. “We kind of were neck and neck going down the hill and then she ran past me at the end.”

While Whittington-Evans won the skate race by under two seconds over Berrigan, Saturday’s classic contest saw a wild finale. Heading into the stadium with just under a kilometer to go, both Berrigan and Whittington-Evans crashed, leaving Berrigan without one of her poles.

“We both kind of merged into one of the same tracks and so she kind of grabbed my pole and my pole shattered in half and then she took a fall. So I come down but luckily coach Evans was right there and had an extra pole in his hand,” said Berrigan.

Palmer head coach Mikey Evans carries two sets of ski poles with him as he patrols the race course at every event. Evans estimates that in over a decade of coaching cross-country skiing, he has only had to hand out five poles, but was prepared on Saturday. Palmer’s top two held nearly a minute lead in both races.

“You would give a pole to any athlete in the field, not just your guy. That’s what makes our sport great, it’s the deal .She called for it back there so I was ready,” said Evans. “You’d hate to see it come down to equipment.”

Homer’s Autumn Daigle came in third overall with a combined time of 35:42.7 and Daigle’s teammate Zoe Stonorov came in 6th overall. Kenai’s Jayna Boonstra took fourth place and Soldotna’s Erika Arthur finished seventh overall, despite taking fourth place in the skate race. Colony’s Sofija Spaic led three Knights in the top 10 overall with a fifth-place finish overall. Lydia Bushey took ninth and Nicole Bell took 10th for Colony.

While teams from the Mat-Su Valley, Kenai Peninsula and Grace Christian School in Anchorage sent skiers to compete at GPRA over the weekend, Abbi Boucher’s story on the snow is unique. With the lack of cross-country ski program at Wasilla, Warrior skiers have had to ski for one of their Valley rivals. With little success since the end of Wasilla’s ski program, Boucher represents a bright spot. As a student at Wasilla High skiing in Palmer blue, Boucher has improved her skiing throughout the year. With a time of 18:08.68 in the skate race on Friday, Boucher was counted as the third skier in Palmer’s team standings.

“We’re lucky to get her and have her in our program now because she’s an inexperienced ski racer who just has grown, grown, grown all season long and has done really well for herself and this weekend especially. She skied super well yesterday, she was our third yesterday which is great,” said Evans.

Palmer’s dominant boys team also held a sizable lead going into the classic race on Saturday. Fresh off a qualification for the Junior National Team last week at GPRA, Joseph Walling won both the classic and skate races en route to the overall Region III title.

“The best thing that ever happened to Joseph Walling is not making the junior national team last year and it was close,” said Evans. “It’s March at junior nationals in the stadium at Kincaid and he says coach, what do I got to do so this never happens again.”

Walling’s combined time of 36:46.4 was 40 seconds faster than that of the second place finisher, Walling’s teammate Kaj Taylor. Evans said that the training between Taylor and Walling in the off-season has helped improve times for the pair of Palmer skiers.

“If somebody’s not willing to go and rollerski three hours on a Wednesday in the summertime, then you’re just doing it by yourself or you’re just not doing it if you don’t have the discipline. These boys have the discipline so they do the work,” said Evans.

Walling and Taylor finished more than a minute ahead of Soldotna’s Bradley Walters. Walter’s teammates Jack Harris and Quinn Cox finished in seventh and eighth places. Colony was led by Simeon Ramirez in fourth. Garrett Streit also finished sixth and Jayden Rice finished ninth for the Knights.

Walling hopes to continue his season’s success at the State race at Kincaid Park in Anchorage in two weeks.

“Hopefully get top five, we’ll see how it goes,” said Walling.

After a dominant season, the opportunity for Palmer’s teams to compete at state came down to one weekend of racing. Whittington-Evans said that wax issues plagued the girls team that was expected to compete for the team title last year. Despite fresh snow and relatively high temperatures compared to what the winter has been like for ski teams statewide, Palmer’s wax strategy paid off.

“We tested wax for two hours yesterday after everybody went home. I prepped the kids skis at the school last night until 10:00 and then I was here at 6:00 this morning before any of the lights were turned on,” said Evans. “The bottom line is on a classic day you can lose minutes on your competition if they’ve got better skis than you. The athletes know that and so we put a lot of time into preparing their skis and test lots of wax combinations to make it work. I think we had good skis today.”

With a week and a half left of training before the state meet, Evans will try to fit high intensity and volume workouts for his athletes prior to tapering to allow Palmer skiers to peak at the right time. Evans said that he is more concerned with his athletes achieving their personal goals, but has high hopes for their chances at finishing high on the leaderboard.

“I’d like to see the ladies be solid in the top 10 if they can,” said Evans. “That’s going to be a tall order but I think they can get there.”

Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at tim.rockey@frontiersman.com.

Region III Championships

Friday-Saturday, Government Peak

Girls team standings

Palmer 2:28:41; 2. Colony 2:30:08; 3. Soldotna 2:30:41; 4. Homer 2:43:03; 5. Kenai 2:37:56; 6. Grace Christian 2:39:22.

Boys team standings

Palmer 2:37:15; 2. Soldotna 2:39:18; 3. Colony 2:40:25; 4. Grace Christian 2:43:09; 5. Kenai 3:02:47.

Girls individual results (2-day total)

A. Berrigan, Pal 34:36; 2. R. Whittington-Evans, Pal 34:44; 3. A. Daigle, Hom 35:27; 4. J. Boonstra, Ken 35:55; 5. S. Spaic, Col 35:59; 6. Z. Stonorov, Ho 36:58; 7. E. Arthur, Sol 36:58; 8. L Bushey, Col 37:20; 9. N. Bell, Col 27:24; 10. J. Ruffner, Sol 37:30; 11. K. Delker, Sol 37:39; 12. C. Blackwell, Sol 28:34; 13. A. McLaughlin, Gra 38:47; 14. E. Metzger, Gra 39:12; 15. B. Restad, Hom 39:15; 16. A. Bell, Col 39:25; 17. E. Henneman, Pal 39:36; 18. L. Fallon, Ken 39:36; 19. Z. Copp, Pal 39:43; 20. A. Boucher, Pal 39:44; 21. L. Shea, Col 40:16; 22. M. Nelson, Gra 40:18; 23. K. Deering, Col 40:19; 24. J. Anderson, Ken 40:49; 25. B. Werner, Pal 40:56; 26. A. Rinner, Gra 41:04; 27. C. Dement, Sol 41:10; 28. G. Tews, Ken 41:34; 29. L. Gionet, Gra 41:48; 30. A. Cline, Ho 42:21; 31. J. Strausbaugh, Sol 42:23; 32. E. Field, Hom 43:24; 33. K Widner, Gra 44:50; 34. K. Super, Hom 45:02; 35. E. Reese, Sol 45:34; 36. M. Rossi, Gra 47:00

Boys individual results (2-day total)

1. J. Walling, Pal 36:46; 2. K. Taylor, Pal 37:26; 3. B. Walters, Sol 38:29; 4. S. Ramirez, Col 38:34; 5. C. Fritzel, Gra 38:46; 6. G. Streit, Col 39:23; 7. J. Harris, Sol 39:36; 8. Q. Cox, Sol 40:15; 9. J. Rice, Col 40:30; 10. W. Metzger, Gra 40:42; 11. R. Geisler, Sol 40:57; 12. P. Wethington, Gra 41:23; 13. J. Lee, Pal 41:29; 14. T. Merritt, Pal 41:33; 15. G. Steer, Col 41:57; 16. B. Thatcher, Gra 42:17; 17. F. Boze, Sol 42:48; 18. J. Foster, Ken 43:37; 19. D. Grinestaff, Sol 43:45; 20. T. Elliot, Gra 44:11; 21. G. Daggett, Gra 44:26; 22. T. MacDonald, SV 44:30; 23. N. Haakinson, Ken 44:51; 24. C. Peterson, Sew 44:55; 25. E. Taylor, Pal 45:25; 26. J. Strom, Sol 45:28; 27. N. Johnson, Col 45:38; 28. C. Steer, Col 45:52; 29. C. Bryden, Sew 45:52; 30. T. Mueller, Ken 46:47; 31. J. Caranza, Ken 47:31; 32. Z. Witczak, Pal 47:35; 33. M. Grzybowski, Ken 49:04; 34. G. Fode, Sew 59:29.

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