After a long ski season, the Mariners' weathered Nordic ski team describes the season's finale at state in one word: Relieved.
In the last leg of her last race of the season, junior Cassidy Soistman says all she could do was focus on finishing.
"I couldn't wait to be done," said Soistman.
The Mariners Nordic ski team placed 13th for boys and girls overall against 22 other high school teams from around the state. The three-day state meet was held at Kincaid Park in Anchorage.
"State was a good experience for our team of young skiers. They handled the pressure well and all had good performances," said Head Coach Eric Groth.
Anchorage and Fairbanks schools brought the competition to the meet. It was a degree of competition the Mariners had not seen yet this season.
"The Anchorage schools are pretty deep. State was the only chance for Homer to race against these schools and to see the next level of competition and what it takes to achieve," said Groth.
Homer's only other opportunity to compete against the larger Anchorage schools usually comes during the Lynx Loppet two-day meet held in mid-December. Aside from the State Championships, Lynx Loppet is the largest Nordic ski race in the state. This year's race was canceled due to poor conditions.
Groth said he wishes his team had more opportunity to race against the Anchorage schools, which would have the potential of giving his team a better edge when it comes time for state.
Even without that edge, Mariner skiers pulled their weight last weekend.
Junior Brian Rowe took 15th out of 119 skiers in the 7.5 km classical race on the first day of the meet. Rowe's placement is the best a Homer High student has done at state in a number of years -- a "supreme achievement," said Groth.
According to Rowe, his race was a close match between a few of the Kenai Peninsula competitors he has been racing against all season long.
"Luke (Michael) from Soldotna started 15 seconds behind me. When he caught up with me I stayed with him. Close to the end of the race I was able to pass him and got back those 15 seconds from him," said Rowe.
With Barae Hirsch barred from competing due to noncompliance with a school rule, Soistman took the reins to lead the girls team finishing 33rd overall out of 100 skiers. It was an improvement over her 2012 state overall placement of 45th.
"I wasn't expecting to do this well. I didn't get as much preseason training as I would have liked, so it was a surprise to me. I really worked on my technique and classic skiing which I think put me fairly far ahead," said Soistman.
Freshman Aspen Daigle, not far behind Soistman, made a good show in her first state competition.
"My goal was to make it into the top 50 and I accomplished it both days. I surprised myself on the second day and got 30th," said Daigle.
Instead of being intimidated by the competition from the Anchorage schools, Daigle said the heightened competitive level was motivating.
"It was super inspirational to watch the top skiers. I can't wait to improve and do better next year," said Daigle.
Graduating senior Lydia Arndt, in her first state meet, admitted to feeling nervous when it came to racing against the big teams, but didn't let that ruin her experience.
"I am happy with how I did. It was great to go to state in my senior year. I feel like I have really developed as a skier throughout the last four years," said Arndt.
Arndt joined the Nordic team to learn how to ski her freshman year. The experience of starting the team as a new skier has given her an interesting learning curve, she said.
"I spent my first two years learning the basic techniques of skiing. The last two years have been about learning how to race and endurance. I now finally enjoy skiing because I feel like I have become a well-rounded skier," said Arndt.
As a competitive swimmer in the fall and skier in the winter, Arndt is taking the spring season off from sports to concentrate on scholarship applications for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she will be attending in the fall with the prospects of studying music education.
As for the rest of the team, the 2012-2013 season ends with relief. Before the snow melts, plans are already being made for next season as the young team grows another year older and another second faster.
Groth hopes to return for another season with the Mariners.
"Coaching has been a learning experience for me and I thank the kids for allowing me to learn the ropes on them. It's a reward and a challenge," said Groth.
Angelina Skowronski is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.