After weeks — even months — of waiting and dryland training, the high-school ski season is finally underway.
The snow may have taken a little longer to fall this year, but that doesn’t mean the Hood River Valley Eagles aren’t prepared.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our skis on until after Christmas this year,” first-year head coach Jessica Gunesch said. “But we’re ready to go. We have some of the best skiers in the league, and our goal is to send both teams to state.”
With four members of the state-champion girls team and two individual state qualifiers for the boys team returning, Gunesch likes the Eagles chances.
“I’m confident that both teams can win the league,” said the 1995 Sandy High School graduate and former coach for the Mt. Hood Academy. “We have a lot to build on from the first race. The biggest thing right now is to get finishes.”
Three of HRV’s best girls skiers finished among the top 10 at last Saturday’s Mt. Hood Conference slalom race at Ski Bowl. Senior Candice Hoag took fifth, freshman Jessica McMorran finished sixth, and sophomore Shanna Cochran placed ninth. Senior Jodie Gates raced, but did not post a finish after falling on her second run.
“It wasn’t my best outing,” Gates said, “but it’s early in the season. I should be fine once I get in better shape.”
Gunesch said she will be relying on Gates and Hoag to keep the Eagles in the running with a tough Sandy team. HRV will also have to make up for the loss of the 2002 state combined champion, Lindsay McClure, who is skiing with the Mt. Hood Academy this year.
“Sandy is definitely the team to beat,” Gunesch said, “but we’re going to be strong as well. Jodie and Candice are two of the best skiers in the league, and we have a solid No. 3 (McMorran) and No. 4 (Cochran) to hold us in there.”
Rounding out the girls roster are sophomore Aileen Herlitz, and senior transfer student Lindsay Heppe.
On the boys side, the team will rely on senior Justin Wiley and freshman Tyler Nelson to keep them on track. The two co-No. 1’s will set the stage for a tightly bunched group of No. 3-5 skiers, led by 2002 state qualifier Luke Pennington, sophomore Alec Asbridge and freshman Fletcher Hukari.
“Our boys team is very competitive by nature,” Gunesch said. “You just put ‘em on skis and point them down the mountain. They know what to do to put us in a position for the league title.”
As with the Mt. Hood Conference girls field, the boys favorite is also Sandy, which is led by Cooper Raasch, Kevin Todd and Josh Kanable. All three finished in the top four at last weekend’s race, but were surrounded by Wiley in third place and Hukari in fifth. Additional results were not available at press time.
Two more skiers, freshmen Kyle Griffith and Tony Guisto, will attempt to earn their varsity stripes this year and help the Eagles realize their state dreams.
“We have a pretty deep guys team,” Gunesch said. “They can beat Sandy. They just need to believe in themselves.”