Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 1:16 PM on Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mariner ski team packed with talent

BY Hal Spence
For the Homer News


Homer News file photo

Skiers from Soldotna, Kenai and Homer participate in last year's Homer Invite.

Mariner skiers take to the slopes at Lookout Mountain on Friday and Saturday for the Homer Invitational Cross Country Ski Meet, hoping rain predicted for this week doesn't foul the course too badly.

"Just schedule a race in Homer if you want to see coastal weather," joked Head Coach Jan Spurkland, who is starting his sixth year as coach of the Mariner skiers. Actually, he added, the variability of Homer's winter climate coupled with its hilly terrain may give Homer skiers a fitness edge.

"Outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks, we have probably the most technically challenging courses. That plays a large role in the versatility of our skiers. Honestly, I think the weather does too. I'm always impressed with willingness of kids to come out in all kinds of weather. They'll go out in 36 degrees and raining, and one week later zero degrees and freezing cold. They are accustomed to it. They are very flexible."

Homer Invitational

At Lookout Mountain

Friday: The varsity boys race starts at 1 p.m., followed by the varsity girls, and then the junior varsity boys' and girls' events.

All races will be 3-kilometers.

Saturday: Events will be mass starts, with the girls' varsity starting at 11 a.m., followed by the boys at 11:30 a.m., the junior varsity girls at 12:15 p.m. and the boys at 1 p.m.

Last February and March, the Mariner boys' team finished first in Region III and sent six skiers to state where they finished seventh overall. The girls finished fourth at regions and 15th at state where six girls competed.

This year's team has a host of experienced seniors, having lost just one boy from last season's team state squad. That fact, coupled with the skiers' attitudes, has Coach Spurkland expressing confidence and optimism about the new season.

"I honestly expect Homer team results to be as good as or better than they've ever been," he said this week. "There is such a collection of talent on the team this year. They are all good skiers."

Skiing in Alaska is like football in Texas. In other words, it's kind of in the blood. Spurkland, a collegiate and post-collegiate competitive Nordic skier himself, said the top three high school teams in Alaska are essentially the top three in the country.

"It is that good up here," he said.

The team roster has 42 names.

"You know, in a school of just over 400 kids to get 10 percent to come out for the ski team is great," Spurkland said.

Though the Mariners will lose 14 departing seniors in May, more than that number of freshmen joined the team this year. The team also includes a couple of juniors and 10 sophomores.

"We have the biggest team we've had since I began coaching," Spurkland said, adding that participation is a testament to the Homer sporting environment. Competitors these days often come to high school already knowing how to ski, a big change from several years ago when some team members were learning how to ski in high school.

"I honestly think it is because of the programs that are in place before kids get to high school," Spurkland said. "There are a lot of learn-to-ski programs, and good ski coaches who are turning these kids on to skiing at a really young age."

This year's crop of seniors is providing exceptional leadership, Spurkland said.

"They've been around the block several times," he said. "They know the system; they're comfortable. They are great role models for the younger skiers who are coming up."

Skiers to watch this year, he said, include seniorss Andre Lovett, who was borough champion last year and third at regions by mere fractions of a second, and Parker Sorenson, who was fourth at regions, as well as sophomore Brian Rowe, who placed sixth at regions.

Among the girls, seniors Kaya Morelli, Alaine Miller and triplets Emily, Katie and Marie Schmidt should lead the way, along with Mady Gerard, Spurkland said.

"There will be a lot of eyes on Homer." The boys and girls teams should be "knocking on those top one or two spots," he said.

Spurkland is joined by coaches Tim Blackmon and Samantha Schloesser, along with volunteers Deland Anderson, Shelly Laukitis, Catie Bursch, Paul Gutzler, and Jan's wife Megan Spurkland, a longtime coach herself and the mother of their 6-month old son, Fischer.