Poor Sam Sterling. Not only are his South High skiers fast, they have good memories.
The Wolverines captured the boys and girls state titles Saturday at chilly Kincaid Park, and that means some challenging days loom for Sterling.
"He made a bet with us that if the girls win state, we get to dye his beard or shave it," South junior Annika Flynn said. "And if the boys win too, we get to do both.
"That was our motivating factor."
The South girls sailed to their second straight state championship, forging a lead of more than three minutes over runnerup Service in three days of racing at Kincaid. West placed third, nearly seven minutes behind South.
South's boys took a 47-second win over defending champion West Valley to claim their first state crown since 2010. West was third, seven minutes behind the Wolverines.
For Sterling, the triumphs are sweep sorrow. If the girls have their way, he'll accompany Team Alaska to the U.S. Junior National Championships in Vermont later this month with a neon pink beard.
The Wolverines won't go for the razor until everyone is back in Alaska, Flynn said.
Because of the format of the state meet, three schools savored state titles Saturday.
Victories in the relay races went to the Service girls and the West Valley boys. The Wolverines placed second in both races, but they had built such big leads during Thursday's and Friday's individual races that they had time to spare in the relays.
The Service team of Taryn Hunt-Smith, Ryan Terry, Sage Romey and Emma Tarbath topped the girls 4x3-kilometer mixed-technique relay in 36 minutes, 43.3 seconds. South's team of Janey Hoefler, Irene Bembenek, Flynn and Anna Darnell were second in 36:59.
West Valley's team of Tristan Sayre, Jonathan Koenig, Joe Bue and Max Donaldson flew to victory in the boys 4x5-K relay in 52:20.8. South's Tanner Ramey, Matthew Hoefler, Hunter Wonders and Seiji Takagi was second in 52:59.
"There was a lot of pressure," Takagi said. "We had a 11/2 minute lead but we knew West Valley had a really good relay team and a superb anchor (in Donaldson)."
West Valley cut South's 90-second lead in half with its come-from-behind relay win.
Service was in the lead thanks to strong classic legs by Jake Bassett and Matthew Muffoletto, but Bue put West Valley in the lead with a fast third leg. Donaldson, who on Friday earned the boys Skimeister title, widened the gap with the fastest anchor leg of the day.
South was in third place going into the final leg, but Takagi reeled in Service's Conner Truskowski to put the Wolverines in second place.
"Our goal was to stick with (West Valley), and it really helped having that Service guy," Takagi said. "I didn't see Max for a long time."
The Service girls led the relay from start to finish.
Classic skiers Hunt-Smith and Terry posted the fastest times in the first and second leg, respectively, to give the Cougars a lead of more than 90 seconds. That was more than enough cushion for freestyle skiers Romey and Tarbath, who had the third- and fourth-fastest times of their respective legs.
Teams from Bartlett and North Pole brought up the rear in both races -- and in fact, both of Bartlett's teams and both of North Pole's teams were lapped before they even started their final leg.
But give the Golden Bears and Patriots credit for being there at all.
Bartlett's skiers trained on their own for a full week at the beginning of the season before the school hired a ski coach. And North Pole didn't get its coach until the day the season started.
North Pole seniors Caitlyn Elgin and Daniel Iles said they've had a new coach every year they've been in high school. This year it's Charles Patten, who Iles said has experience coaching running but not skiing. "He hasn't actually skied with us," Iles said.
At Bartlett, senior Heather Lindsey probably deserves a stipend along with a varsity letter for her efforts to keep the Golden Bears on skis this season. She helped run the first week's practices and, more important, kept the heat on Bartlett administrators.
For about two weeks, Lindsey said, she kept the issue alive by questioning administrators about their plans.
"I kept asking, 'Hey, do we have a coach yet?' 'Hey, when are we going to do something?' " she said. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
Ultimately, teacher Kelly FitzGerald and intern Brooke Alexander answered the call for help. "We just love skiing, and we wanted our kids to have the opportunity," FitzGerald said.
The Golden Bears brought a team of eight skiers to the state meet -- enough to field a girls relay team and a boys relay team.
"I really, really wanted to have a relay team for my senior year," Lindsey said.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
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