High School Sports

West snaps Service title streak by sweeping boys and girls state ski championships

For the first time in three years, the team on top of Alaska’s high school cross-country ski scene isn’t Service. With strong finishes in Saturday’s relay races, the West boys and girls teams each claimed state titles to close out the 2023 Nordic skiing championships at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park.

“The girls and guys both won and that is just amazing,” said West junior Murphy Kimball. “We’ve been battling so hard against Service for the past two years and it feels good that everyone put it together at state.”

The Eagles were able to soar to the pair of first place finishes using unusual depth on both teams and a clutch performance on Friday that gave the boys a slight edge heading into the final day of competition.

After narrowly trailing in Thursday’s races, West came into Friday behind Service by just two seconds and were able to make up ground — and then some — thanks in large part to the performance of junior Hatcher Menkens, who won the freestyle race with a time of 24:50.7.

“We all went into it with a lot of motivation,” he said. “For me, my skis were really fast thanks to my coaches so I just got into the lead early, pulled away, and tried to hold that. It was definitely really scary and kind of a risk but overall I think it paid off and helped pull the team up and we all did really well.”

Not only did it mark his first time winning a state championship event, he said it was the first race he’s ever won.

Menkens was the anchor on the boys relay team Saturday and finished a close second to Service’s Elias Soule.


“It means a lot to us as a team to move past the Service reign and maybe start a West reign,” Menkens said.

Despite the narrow loss in the relay, Kimball said he was grateful the team was able to hang onto the lead to win it all in the end.

“We won as a team which is just great,” he said.

The West girls proved to be the cream of the 18-team crop through the three-day event, claiming first place in all three races.

“We started off with a good lead the past two days so today we were pretty confident,” West senior Sammy Legate said. “We didn’t need to win it by very much to win it all. We’ve always gotten second to Service so I’m really excited to get the championship for the girls.”

Sophomore Piper Sears was on the Eagles’ state team last year as a freshman when they finished second to the Service. She was elated to be on the winning side this time around.

“It’s always been a friendly rivalry between us back and forth and it’s really nice to win this year,” she said. “I think we’ve all kind of hit our peak at the perfect time to really emphasize the performance of the team as a whole.”

West’s Merridy Littell skiied the third leg of the relay and is also a sophomore. She is proud of the what her team was able to accomplish and looks forward to having more seasons of the same.

“All of us have been in the top 10 at least one of these days and the majority of us have been in the top 10 both days,” she said. “It’s been really amazing to see all of us work so hard for this common goal.”

The Eagles are sending all six varsity boys, all six varsity girls and two boys that didn’t even make the state team but will get to compete against the nation’s best nonetheless.

“Making our state team was harder than making the junior national team this year,” Menkens said. “A lot of people think of junior nationals as the culmination of all their hard work. To be able to have a team that’s really deep has been super helpful because we can rely on each other to pull through and win when we need to.”

While the Cougars weren’t able to extend their team title winning streak to four years in a row, they were able to keep their streak of having both the boys and girls Skimeisters from Service for another year.

Senior Aaron Power received the honor for a second straight year to cap off his high school career and freshman Olivia Soderstrom is getting hers off to a hot start with her first state title.

“It feels really special,” Power said. He said his coach, Jan Buron, keeps a list of all the state skimeisters since he started coaching. “And just to know that there’s so much history behind it that I now get to be part of is so cool,” he said.

Power was on the second leg of the winning Service relay team, and enjoyed being out on the trails for the final time representing the Cougars and competing against some of his long-time friends and opponent.

“Relay day is such a blast and it was great to get out there one last time for high high school and race against some of my closest friends that have been doing this with me for so long and so many years,” Power said.

Next year, Power is headed to the Ivy League to compete on the ski team at Dartmouth College.


For Soderstrom, the honor marks the latest in a growing list of accomplishments for the 15-year-old this season. She also placed first in her age group at the Besh Cup and will be competing at the junior nationals in Fairbanks next month.

“I’ve had a really good season so far this year,” she said.

Her top competition in Friday’s freestyle race that determined who’d be named Skimeister didn’t come another team but her own in senior Meredith Schwartz, who received the honor as a sophomore in 2021. She came first with a time of 19:45.4 which was exactly five seconds ahead of her upperclassman teammate.

“It was friendly competition the whole way and was nice because we were able to push each other the whole way,” Soderstorm said.

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Alaska State Cross Country Championships


Team totals (Day 1)

1. West 1:20:28.7; 2. Service 1:23:17.7; 3. Dimond 1:23:59.7; 4. East 1:23:59.9; 5. South 1:24:57.8

Individuals 5K classic race (Top 10)


1. Emily Erickson, Dimond, 18:53.0; 2. Marley Ireland, East, 19:08.2; 3. Meredith Schwartz, Service, 19:23.4; 4. Olivia Soderstrom, Service, 19:27.7; 5. Amaeli Kam-Magruder, Dimond, 19:45.8; 6. Samatha Legate, West, 19:58.3; 7. Berit Meyers, West, 20:02.0; 8. Piper Sears, West, 20:06.5; 9. Rose Conway, East, 20:11.5; 10. Zoe Rodgers, West,20:21.9.

Team totals (Day 2)

1. West 1:21:53.7; 2. Service 1:22:42.5; 3. East 1:26:28.5; 4. Dimond 1:27:22.5; 5. West Valley 1:27:34.9

Individuals 7.5K Freestyle race (Top 10)

1. Olivia Soderstrom 19:45.4, Service; 2. Meredith Schwartz 19:50.4, Service; 3. Merridy Littell 20:10.4, West; 4. Berit Meyers 20:28.5, West; 5. Piper Sears 20:33.3, West; 6. Zoe Rodgers 20:41.5, West; 7. Zarah Laker-Morris 20:46.2, West Valley; 8. Rose Conway 20:53.5, East; 9. Lauren Dorris 20:55.2 West; 10. Emily Erickson 20:56.1, Dimond

Final team totals

1. West 3:20:31.0; 2. Service 3:25:48.5; 3. East 3:30:46.8; 4. Dimond 3:31:58.6; 5. South 3:33:41.7; 6. West Valley 3:35:01.2; 7. Colony 3:47:15.7; 8. Soldotna 3:53:35.4; 9. Chugiak 3:54:17.7; 10. Kenai 4:08:41.8

4 x 3 Km Mixed Relay race (Top 10)

1. West 38:08.6; 2. Service 39:48.3; 3. East 40:18.4; 4. Dimond 40:36.4; 5. West Valley 40:58.6; 6. South 40:58.9; 7. Colony 44:13.7; 8. Chugiak 44:27.2; 9. Soldotna 44:48.3; 10. Kenai 46:46.3

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Team totals (Day 1)

1. Service 1:34:37.7; 2. West 1:34:39.2; 3. West Valley 1:40:58.2; 4. South 1:41:28.6; 5. Colony 1:42:34.7


Individuals 7.5K classic race (Top 10)

1. Aaron Power, Service, 22:19.1; 2. Justin Lucas, Service, 23:18.1; 3. Wells Wappett, Lathrop, 23:18.7; 4. Blake Hanley, West, 23:26.3; 5. Murphy Kimball, West, 23:27.5; 6. Cole Flowers, West, 23:40.0; 7. Ethan Howe, East, 24:00.5; 8. Hatcher Menkens, West, 24:05.4; 9. Kieran Kaufman, West Valley, 24:09.9; 10. Vebjorn Flagstad, South, 24:11.2.

Team totals (Day 2)

1. West 1:39:43.9; 2. Service 1:41:38.7; 3. South 1:43:56.7; 4 Colony 1:45:40.0; 5. East 1:48:56.8

Individuals 7.5K Freestyle race (Top 10)

1. Hatcher Menkens 24:50.7, West; 2. Vebjorn Flagstad 24:54.4, South; 3. Blake Hanley 24:55.0 West; 4. Cole Flowers 24:57.3 West; 5. Murphy Kimball 25:00.9, West; 6. Owen Young 25:01.2, South; 7. Liam Chisolm 25:01.9, West; 8. Skyler Amy 25:02.2, Service; 9. Ethan Eski 25:02.3, West; 10. Ethan Howe 25:05.2, East


Final team totals

1. West 4:02:00.1; 2. Service 4:03:53.0; 3. South 4:15:07.7; 4. Colony 4:19:37.7; 5. West Valley 4:22:54.0; 6. East 4:26:50.6; 7. Dimond 4:28:34.1; 8. Homer 4:34:48.4; 9. Eagle River 4:42:12.6; 10. Chugiak 4:46:27.8

4 x 3 Km Mixed Relay race (Top 10)

1. Service 47:36.6; 2. West 47:37.0, 3. South 49:42.4; Colony 51:23.0; 5. West Valley Boys 51:41.7; 6. Dimond 52:04.4; 7. East 52:36.9; 8. Homer 53:55.5; 9. Eagle River 54:29.8; 10. Chugiak 54:34.5

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Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.