Two years ago was a surprise with a second place finish at state and to have had four of the top five (Kuba, Peter, Mikko, Erich,) on the from our little summer ski-running training group, which to protect the sensibilities of those around us.
Last year the team in came in with essentially the same group, collaborated more with the high school program and they added a couple solid freshman (Max and Jonathan). They had a great season but walked away with mixed feelings, Kuba snared an indidual state title (first in 32 years) and the team repeated with a second place finish. It was a year of if only. But we figured--knew--that we'd only be stronger if everyone stayed healthy.
Tristan jumped from 10th on the team last year as a freshman into the top five or six this season. The boys had a storybook campaign this fall, winning all the meets convincingly, but everyone knew state would be a big challenge from Service High and of course Kodiak. These two teams have combined for the previous six consecutive state championships.
By the time the boys made it up the first hill on the rugged and slippery course at Bartlett (it snowed an inch or two on Saturday morning) but that had melted into a couple inches of goo on the hilly-twisting ski trails, it was apparent they were off their game a bit. The Kodiak duo of Thomet and Christiansen had taken an early lead as expected, but instead of Peter leading the charge of the chase pack it was Erich. I'm not sure yet what he was thinking. Peter was a couple steps back in fifth.
Instead of a distinct pack of five runners following 10 or 15 seconds behind Peter over that first kilometer or two, the boys were strung out with Tristan in about 15th amid four or five Service runners, Max about 5 meters and a few places back and Mikko another 5 or 10 meters behind. Kuba was well back already, mid pack, with seventh man Jonathon in close company. Five of them moved up some as the race unfolded, two dropped back, but relatively speaking things didn't change much until the final kilometer.
From the second through fourth kilometer, Peter took charge of a chase group that included Service's top runner, Gilly who is almost a foot shorter, and Juneau's top runner; while Erich clung tenaciously, if not tenuously, to sixth place a few seconds back. Similar to the Palmer meet three weeks ago, he had stalkers the entire way. Tristan not only held his own but moved up couple spots by 4K, where he was about 11th or 12th but looking strong. Max and Mikko were not far back, maybe 10 or 15 seconds, and were fighting for top 15-20 with a couple Service and Palmer guys. I thought the race would be won or lost in this section of the trenches.
I caught them heading out of the woods with just about 600 m to go, Peter in 3rd and pulling away, Gilly in 5th for Service but fading. Good news for West Valley. Then a Service guy and Kodiak's McCarthy just ahead of Tristan, who was suddenly in 8th! Max was fighting for 14-15th with Service's Schlemme, and Mikko was hanging on in the top 20 with a yet another Service guy right on his tail. I jumped into the stands in time to see Thomet and Christansen go 1,2, Peter 3rd, Juneau 4th, Gilly of Service 5th, Tristan 6th!!!, McCarthy from Kodiak in 7th (3 in the top 7, uh oh), Service 8th, Erich 11th, two more Service guys in 12th or 13th, Max 15th, Mikko 17th or 18th, Service just a spot behind. And I started jumping up and down we got it we got it! Another coach offered congratulations.
But did they pull it off? I did a quick tally and had us at 51 and Service mid 50s. I'd lost track of Kodiak.
We had to wait 45 minutes for results, here's how it shook out (team points wise, not counting individuals running without a full team).
West Valley: 3, 6, 11, 14, 15 = 49
Service: 5, 8, 12, 13, 16 = 54
Kodiak: 1, 2, 7, 19, 30 = 59
By the time they posted the results we were the only team still outside--we ran up to the scoring print-out and counted the points. Did it! This time we could celebrate for real.
The boys deserve so much credit; they did the work and the hard running. Head coach Dan Callahan did a great job to keep them going through the season and the team modified its training somewhat this year, which in the stretch--that last kilometer--helped the boys prevail. In that top five, only fast starting Erich lost some places: the others gained, pulled away, or held on. That's all you can ask for.
The three seniors Peter, Mikko, and Kuba will be missed. They brought a confident but calm presence to this team, and leadership these past two years. Erich will be the only senior next year, so some new runners will have to step in. Fortunately, the team had several very good freshman and sophomore JV runners
so filling in will not be impossible.