Story last updated at 6:34 p.m. Thursday, December 26, 2002

2002 Sports in Review
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: sports

  Homer News file photo
Sarah Manalisay heads a ball during a Homer High School girls soccer game last spring. The Mariner girls had a landmark season, qualifying for the Alaska state soccer tournament for the first time in team history, one of many exambles that 2002 was a remarkable year for the athletes on the lower Kenai Peninsula.  
The Homer sports year of 2002 kicked off with a soccer championship of all things.

The Homer Soccer Association under-15 girls team took the Resolution Cup title, a statewide indoor soccer tournament held in Anchorage in early January.

The winter sports teams from Homer High School got the year rolling with mixed results.

For a while, cold weather gave Homer some decent ice on local lakes and ponds, but the Homer High School hockey team -- in its third year of existence and without a hometown rink -- struggled to find the winning formula.

photo:

  Homer News file photo
Homer High School running back David Drake heads up the sideline during a game against Soldotna last fall. Drake earned the Alaska state rushing title and set a school record for single season rushing yards.  
Working through the bumps and bruises, the Mariners got some gutsy performances out of their short roster but endured a 1-17-2 season.

The Mariner cross-country skiers put up some great results, including a number of ski meet wins from senior Syverine Abrahamson, who ended the season with a silver medal at the Region III meet and a pair of top-10 finishes at state. Andrew Peters also had some excellent finishes, including ninth-place at regions. The cross-country ski team as a whole sent 12 skiers to state.

The Homer High School basketball teams were both in rebuilding mode during the 2001-2002 season.

The girls hit the court without a senior starter and went through the growing pains that often accompany kids taking a sport to the next level.

photo:

  Homer News file photo
David Drake gives Mariner pitcher Johnny Taylor a hug in celebration of the Homer High School teampis first berth into the state baseball championship tournament last May.  
Going into the Region III tourney as the No. 8 seed, the Mariners were dispatched by defending-state-champion and eventual region champ Wasilla.

The boys, who lost six players -- two were starters -- to disciplinary troubles early in the season, found themselves looking to the leadership of juniors Adam Crum and Steven Stead.

There were some phenomenal basketball games at the small schools level among the District 3 teams of the Kenai Peninsula, particularly whenever rivals Seldovia and Ninilchik shared the hardwood.

While the Ninilchik girls' undefeated run (21-0) to an eventual third-straight state title was the top story in small schools hoops, the school in the tiny Russian Old Believer village of Nikolaevsk joyfully christened a new gym.

photo:

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Several swimmers from the Homer High School boys swim team work out on Tuesday as coach Bridget Kuhns had the Mariners punching through a 10,000-yeard endurance session. The Mariners will have the weekend off, though they will be holding a swim clinic fund-raiser on Sunday form 2-4 p.m. Anyone interested should call the Homer High Scohol pool at 235-7416  
Where the Nikolaevsk Warriors once played their up-tempo game in a shoebox of a gym -- 40-by-55-feet with no fan seating and gym walls marking the out of bounds -- their new facility was a shiny regulation court (50-by-84-feet) with plenty of room left over for bleachers.

The Ninilchik boys did their best to steal some of the Lady Wolverines' thunder, finishing second at the state tournament.

The Wolverines played through a triple overtime game in the semifinals, only to lose to Cook Inlet Academy in double overtime in the title game.

Homer Nordic skiers participating in the Tour of Anchorage grabbed nine age-group medals, including Pete Alexson's 19th-place overall finish in the 50-kilometer race.

photo:

  Homer News file photo
Homer High School's Ben Kuhns launches a running jump shot during the Region III tourney in March.  
As the winter season wound down, Homer athletes returned from the Arctic Winter Games with five gold, one silver and four bronze medals.

Spring, supposedly an outdoor sports season, got off to a slow start as late snow kept the track and field, soccer, softball and baseball teams of Homer High School battling to see who could use the gym to practice.

The Mariner boys soccer team was a young squad and fell short of making the region tournament, while the girls team, with a strong core of senior leadership, nearly pulled off a stunning region title, finishing as the runner-up and making state for the first time.

The track team sent three individuals to the state meet.

The Mariner teams of the diamond had excellent seasons, with the baseball team pulling off a state berth by winning its final two games.

photo:

  Homer News file photo
Ninilchik girls basketball coach Dan Leman wipes away a tear as the Wolverines celebrate their third straight Class 2A state title in Anchorage in March. Molly Bosick, middle, and Janelle Moerlein share the moment.  
The Homer High School softball team finished the season at 11-4 and also qualified for the state tourney.

The Kachemak Swim Club swimmers put a wrap on a strong 2001-02 season by dominating the Kenai Peninsula Championships.

The summer is a relatively slow time for sports, with the Homer citizenry heading out fishing, camping, sailing, kayaking, birding and biking, to name a few outdoors pursuits. There were rodeos, regattas, town softball tournaments and, of course, fishing derbies.

The Spit Run, arguably the premier footrace sponsored by a Homer newspaper, was won by Lalito Espinosa and Jane Wiebe in the men's and women's races, respectively.

The Homer Medical Clinic Nads won yet another softball title.

photo:

  Homer News file photo
A sled dog team gives a ride to a sled full of kids during festivities at the Kachemak Bay Marathon ski in March.  
In the fall, David Drake made headlines for the Mariner football team, running to a Homer High School single-season rushing record and a state rushing crown with 1,419 yards for the season. The Mariners of the gridiron started strong but lost a couple of key Northern Lights Conference games and fell short on their bid to make the playoffs.

The cross country team was keyed by the stellar seasons of Aleta Phelps and Monte Garroutte. The girls squad and Garroutte qualified for the state meet in Anchorage.

The volleyball team had its ups and downs but put together a solid season, taking third in Region III and finishing fifth overall at the state tournament.

Finally, with wrestling once again broken into small- and large-schools classifications, the 1-2-3A state tournament, hosted by the idle 4A Homer Mariners, brought more than 200 wrestlers into town for the small schools wrestling fiesta.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjan-notta@homernews.com.

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