It’s tempting to say the Service Cougars are back considering the show they put on this week at the Alaska high school cross-country ski championships. Truth is, they never went away.
On the final day of the three-day championships at Kincaid Park, the Cougars won both relay races to pull off a sweep of the team titles Saturday. It was the fifth time Service has swept the team titles under coach Jan Buron and the first time since 2007.
But it’s not as if the Cougars have been missing in action since 2007. The boys have won four team titles since then, including this year, and the girls won four in a row from 2006-09 before returning to the top this season.
The Cougars led the team standings after all three days of racing. After his skiers grabbed early leads Thursday, Buron said the plan for the next two days was simple: “Just go harder,” he said. “No secrets here.”
Service’s success included a Skimeister award for junior Alexander Maurer, who won both individual boys races and then cemented his status as Alaska’s best high school male skier Saturday with an anchor-leg effort that lifted the Cougars to victory in the boys 4x5-kilometer mixed-technique relay.
The Service boys were in second place after three legs. Down 1.5 seconds to West Valley, Maurer turned in the day’s fastest skate leg to carry the Cougars to an 11.6-second victory over the Wolf Pack. Chugiak was a distant third.
The team of Maurer, Joel Power, Aaron Power and Hayden Ulbrich won the race in 51 minutes, 25.2 seconds. Maurer and Aaron Power each posted the fastest times of their respective legs, with Power pacing the second leg with a classic-technique time of 13:21.6 and Maurer completing his freestyle leg in 12:12.1.
The relay’s other fastest legs came from West Valley’s Josh Baurick, who finished the first classic leg in 13:11.0, and Dimond’s Peter Hinds, whose 12:22.1 was the fastest freestyle time in the third leg.
The Service boys finished with a three-day-total time that broke the four-hour barrier. Team scores consist of each team’s top five individual times from both Thursday’s freestyle race and Friday’s classic race, plus its relay time. The Cougars total time of 3 hours, 59 minutes, 56.8 seconds put them more than three minutes ahead of runner-up West Valley (4:03:38.7). Chugiak took third place in 4:09:12.9.
The Service girls enjoyed an even bigger margin of victory, posting a three-day total time of 3:11:41.0 to beat West Valley (3:16:34.7) by nearly five minutes. West was third with a time of 3:18:00.7.
In the 4x3K girls relay race, the team of Neena Brubaker, Marit Flora, Tatum Witter and Garvee Tobin was in second place after each of the first two legs, but Witter put the Cougars in the lead in the third leg and Tobin kept them there in the anchor leg.
Service won in 38:49.1, more than 20 seconds ahead of West (39:10.4). West Valley was third (39:38.2).
The fastest legs came from Chugiak’s Adrianna Proffitt in the first leg (10:06.4), West Valley’s Kendall Kramer in the second leg (9:32.1), Witter in the third leg (9:07.8) and West’s Ivy Eski in the fourth leg (8:59.0).
Kramer’s time was 50 seconds faster than any other time recorded in the second leg, which came as no surprise. Kramer earned her third straight Skimeister award by dominating the meet’s two individual races.
Instead of heading back to Fairbanks with her teammates, Kramer is headed to Germany on Sunday to join the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships.
Kramer is one of five Alaskans on the team. The others are Gus Schumacher, the 2018 and 2017 Skimeister for Service who continues to train with Buron and the Alaska Winter Stars club; Zanden McMullen, the 2019 Skimeister for South who skis for Montana State; Luke Jager, a West grad who skis for the University of Utah; and JC Schoonmaker, a UAA sophomore from California.
Kramer is a senior, so her Skimeister reign ends with this season’s triumphs. Maurer is a junior who is part of a big group of skiers returning for the Cougars.
The boys will return four of the six skiers who competed at state — Maurer, junior Joel Power and freshmen Aaron Power and Paul Hlasny. Ulbrich and Matthew Terry are seniors.
Tobin is the only senior for the girls. Witter is a junior, Flora, Brubaker and Zoe Chang are sophomores, and Meredith Schwartz is a freshman.
Schwartz and Aaron Power were the highest-finishing freshmen in all four individual races at the state championships — Schwartz was 10th in both girls races and Power was sixth in Friday’s boys race and seventh in Thursday’s.
With so much talent coming back, don’t expect the Cougars to go away any time soon.
ASAA/First National Bank state ski championships
Girls team scores -- 1) Service 3:11:41.0; 2) West Valley 3:16:34.7; 3) West 3:18:00.7; 4) Dimond 3:35:02.9; 5) Chugiak 3:35:13.6; 6) South 3:36:14.2; 7) Eagle River 3:38:17.2; 8) Palmer 3:40:03.7; 9) Soldotna 3:43:37.0; 10) Colony 3:49:15.0; 11) Homer 3:50:25.5; 12) Kenai 3:51:16.2; 13) Grace Christian 3:59:02.7; 14) Bartlett 4:48:21.5.
Boys team scores – 1) Service 3:59:56.8; 2) West Valley 4:03:38.7; 3) Chugiak 4:09:12.9; 4) West 4:14:13.7; 5) Dimond 4:14:36.1; 6) Palmer 4:23:26.3; 7) Soldotna 4:25:33.4; 8) Lathrop 4:28;23.6; 9) Colony 4:31:58.0; 10) South 4:31:59.7; 11) Grace Christian 4:38:46.0; 12) East 4:42:12.8; 13) Kenai 4:53:02.2; 14) Eagle River 5:09:21.3.