West vs. Service: heading into the ASAA/First National Bank State Ski Championships over the weekend there was an air of anticipation for a showdown between the two powerhouse ski programs.
The hundreds of fans lining the trails at Kincaid Park witnessed standout performances and plenty of drama over the weekend. And in the end, a West Eagles sweep.
Service had been on top. Both the boys and girls teams owned three-year state championship streaks and this year’s squads were loaded with returning and new talent. West has been on the rise and their deep boys and girls rosters got better with every race, culminating with a sweep at the Region IV meet.
The three-time defending champion Service boys led West by a mere two seconds in the team standings after the 7.5 kilometer classic race on Thursday.
The Eagles turned in a historic performance in Friday’s 10 kilometer freestyle race. West junior Hatcher Menkins won the skate event in 24 minutes, 50.7 seconds and the Eagles placed an unprecedented six skiers (Menkins, Blake Hanley, Cole Flowers, Murphy Kimball, Liam Chisolm, Ethan Eski) in the top nine positions. It was a statement performance that put West nearly two minutes ahead of their rival.
If the Cougars, who brought back nearly everyone from last year’s team, had any hope of a Saturday comeback, it would be placed squarely on the shoulders of Aaron Power. The 2022 and 2023 State Skimeister was slated to ski the second classic leg, and after his dominating performance in Thursday’s classic race, the Eagles knew they couldn’t let him break away.
West junior Blake Hanley went head-to-head with the Cougars’ star skier in the second leg with a clear mission: keep him close. Hanley did just that, hanging with Power the entire leg, and all but ensuring West the title.
“I was just trying not to get dropped,” said Hanley afterward, “He’s so strong. I knew he was going to throw down a good leg, and if I could stay with him, I would be in a good position.”
The West boys would go on to win their first state title since 2018 with a three-day time of 4:02:00.1 to top Service (4:03:53.0), which in addition to Power, received strong performances from Justin Lucas, Skyler Amy, and Elias Soule.
South (4:15:07.7) finished third with freshman Vebjorn Flagstad turning in a sparkling debut for the Wolverines.
The Service streak was snapped but the Cougars did earn one consolation by taking the team relay over West by a ski length when Soule, the anchor leg skier, edged out West’s Menkens. Given how the two teams had battled all year, all meet, and for every leg of the relay, a photo finish was the only fitting way to conclude the 2023 state meet.
“We fought hard,” said Soule. “They’re (West) an incredible team; we battled hard ‘til the end and it came right down to the finish … definitely one of the most fun races I think I’ve ever done.”
Like their male teammates, the West girls used similar depth to overwhelm their Service rivals.
While Cougars teammates Meredith Schwartz and Olivia Soderstrom battled for Skimeister honors, a flock of Eagles were close behind all weekend, with six (Berit Meyers, Piper Sears, Merridy Littell, Zoe Rodgers, Sammy Legate, Lauren Dorris) placing in the top thirteen in the overall individual standings.
“We have crazy depth to our team and a lot of goal oriented athletes who take their sport seriously,” said West head coach Joey Caterinichio, “Having all twelve (girls and boys) athletes achieving a podium is rare if not a first for the state meet.”
All that depth paid huge dividends for the West girls. Even with one of their top skiers, senior Sammy Legate, under the weather, the Eagles had plenty of fire power to end the Cougar’s three year title streak.
“As this is my senior year, it felt outstanding to come together as a team and beat Service,” said Legate. “It had been a tough fight between Service and West for the past few years, so ending my high school skiing career with a big win was exciting.”
West (3:20:31.0) finished over five minutes up on Service (3:25:48.5). East (3:30:46.8) recorded their best finish at State since 2008, finishing third, with top-ten performances from senior Marley Ireland and freshman Rosie Conway.
“We, the coaches, are proud of the entire team, said Caterinichio. “It’s special winning one Championship but winning two Championships, where both teams get to be celebrated and celebrate each other is amazing.”
The biggest drama on the girl’s side was in the race for Skimeister, with Soderstrom edging her teammate Schwartz by a mere .7 seconds for the honor given to the state’s top skier at the State meet based on combined times over the first two races.
“I think it’s really cool to be a Skimeister as just a freshman,” said Soderstrom. “I think only like one other person might have done that, so it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
She credits her success to being part of a strong program and being pushed by the senior, Schwartz. “We train together quite a bit, she’s a little faster than me, so she helps push me,” Soderstrom said of Schwartz, the 2021 Skimeister.
The teammates pushed each other so hard, they separated themselves from the pack early on in Friday’s 7.5 kilometer freestyle race, and the battle was on. Soderstrom needed to gain back the four second lead Shwartz held on her after Day 1. As the race progressed the powerful freshman slowly built a lead but even after the teammates and training partners finished, it took some time to confirm which one of them would be crowned the meet’s top skier.
“I knew that I was going to have to push really hard if I wanted to get the Skimeister, or even close to it,” she said. Soderstrom
Power, who was a top-ten finisher at state all four years of his high school career, joins an elite group of boys who have won multiple Skimeister crowns. That list includes household names like Gus Schumacher, Scott Patterson, Eric Strabel and Rob Whitney.
“It feels really special,” said Power of being a two-time Skimeister. “I know my coach has this list of Skimeisters dating back to when he first started coaching and to be part of that recorded history feels super cool, being up there with some really notable names.”
Power plans to ski for Dartmouth University next year. He concludes his high school career as one of the most decorated skiers to come out of the storied Service program, and while a team championship eluded him his senior year, he has no regrets.
“I knew it would be tough from the get-go,” he said. “I’m really proud of this team and myself, and all the work we’ve put in to get this far.”
Credit West for making it tough on Service. And credit Service for providing West with the motivation. Iron sharpens iron.
“They push each other all season and the friendly rivalry especially with Service adds to the success,” said Caterinichio. “Wanting to outperform a historical powerhouse like Service kept all the team and our coaching staff on our toes.”
Now other schools will be looking to outperform the boys and girls of West. With a team of over 80 skiers and lots of that depth returning, they’ll be shooting for some title streaks of their own.
“Hopefully we can start a dynasty,” said Hanley.
Boys Top-Five Teams (summed time from Thursday, Friday, Saturday): 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.
Boys Top-Ten Individual (summed time from Thursdays’s classic race and Friday’s freestyle race):
- Aaron Power, Service, 47:44.2 (Skimeister)
- Blake Hanley, West, 48:21.3
- Murphy Kimball, West, 48:28.4
- Wells Wappett, Lathrop, 48:30.4
- Cole Flowers, West, 40:37.3
- Hatcher Menkens, West, 48:37.3
- Vebjørn Flagstad, South, 49:05.6
- Ethan Howe, East, 49:05.7
- Liam Chisolm, West, 49:17.8
- Justin Lucas, Service, 49:37.4
Full boys results here.
Girls Top-Five Teams (summed time from Thursday, Friday, Saturday):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.
Girls Top-Ten Individual (summed time from Thursdays’s classic race and Friday’s freestyle race):
- Olivia Soderstrom, Service, 39:13.1 (Skimeister)
- Meredith Schwartz, Service, 39:13.8
- Emily Erickson, Dimond, 39:49.1
- Berit Meyers, West, 40:30.5
- Marley Ireland, East, 40:30.9
- Piper Sears, West, 40:39.8
- Merridy Littell, West, 40:43.3
- Amaeli Kam-Magruder, Dimond, 41:01.8
- Zoe Rodgers, West, 41:03.4
- Rose Conway, East, 41:05.0
Full girls results here.
– Arielle Himelbloom contributed to this article.