Relay wins, state ski championships go to South, West Valley

bbragg@adn.comFebruary 23, 2013 

— With dazzling displays of speed and style, the South High girls and West Valley boys ruled Saturday's relay races on the final day of the high school cross-country ski season at Kincaid Park.

The South girls, sporting neon pink and purple headbands sewn by scramble leg Janey Hoefler, won the 4x3-kilometer mixed-technique race by more than two minutes to cement the girls team title, their second state championship in four years.

The West Valley boys, wearing trucker hats monogrammed with nicknames and given to them before the race by coach Christina Turman, won the 4x5 relay by 22.9 seconds to seal the boys team championship, their first since taking back-to-back state titles in 1992-93.

Team scores consist of combined times from three days of racing, and both South and West Valley owned big leads by the end of the second day. Either team could have lost the relay race yet still won the state championship.

But neither intended to let that happen.

"Losing the relay and winning the whole thing isn't quite the same," West Valley skier Riley Troyer said.

While the South girls posted a wire-to-wire finish, the West Valley boys didn't take control until the third leg, when the Wolfpacks' Tristan Sayre passed Service's Taylor Turney going up the Lekisch Trail. He opened up a big lead before tagging off to Max Donaldson, and then it was game over.

Donaldson, the first West Valley boy to capture the state Skimeister Award since brothers Andy White (1981) and Ian White (1982), turned in a blazing leg to deliver a dominating victory.

In the girls race, Hoefler broke away from the pack about one kilometer into the first leg and teammates Tsaina Mahlen, Teagan Yutrzenka and Marion Woods more than protected the lead.

The Wolverines led Service by more than eight minutes going into the relay, but they skied like their lead was eight seconds. They never let up.

"We had a nine-minute lead or so and our coaches said 'You need a goal,' '' Mahlen said. "They told us to try to win by enough to make it 10 or 11 minutes. It sounds a little cocky, but there's a lot of good skiers out here. And this is our last high school race ever. It's kinda sad."

Mahlen, Yutrzenka and Woods are seniors, and Hoefler is a junior. None skied on South's 2010 championships team -- Hoefler was still in middle school, Mahlen and Yutrzenka were on the junior varsity team and Woods was attending Dimond.

"Teagan and I were in the same boat our freshman year," Mahlen said. "We both trained super hard over the summer and we were both on the state team the next year.

"You really do improve over the years."

Yutrzenka's development was impeded when she broke her neck in a 4-wheeler accident before eighth grade. She was in a neck brace for three months and was out of sports for a year.

In Friday's individual freestyle race, she was part of a three-skier lead pack for much of the way and wound up finishing third behind Woods and West's Lydia Blanchet. That raised Yutrzenka's spirits coming into the relay, although the mood always seem loose on the days there are relays.

"I like relays the most, because you all get to be together and everybody wins," Yutrzenka said.

And it's got a fun factor that individual races don't.

"You're all together as one team," said Hoefler, who, like her teammates, adorned her face with glitter before the race. "You all get to get dressed up and wear headbands and stuff."

Like trucker hats, even though the day called for something warmer -- the temperature was in the mid to high teens, but a stiff wind that never let up made it seem much colder.

The West Valley boys wore their hats backwards, not to look cool, but so the caps wouldn't fly off their heads. Because Troyer, Jonathan Koenig, Sayre and Donaldson were flying.

Sayre said West Valley didn't come to Anchorage thinking it would take home the state championship, but he said they thought they could be in contention.

"We knew we were really strong, but we also knew there's a lot of strong teams down here," he said.

The Wolfpack trailed Service after the first day of skiing but surged into the lead with a great day Friday, when Donaldson, Koenig and Troyer all finished in the top eight.

South took home the second-place trophy and Service finished third. South, the Cook Inlet Conference champion, produced the boys classic champion Thursday in Eric Backstrum but its quest for a sweep of the team titles was hampered by illness that limited the contributions of two top skiers.

South's girls compiled a three-day total time that was more than 10 minutes faster than runnerup Service's total. East, led by a terrific week of racing from Morgan Flynn, placed third, about 1:45 behind Service.

Fourth place went to Grace Christian, which recorded one of the best team finishes by a Class 3A school in recent memory.


Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.



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