TRAVERSE CITY — The object is just to get the foot in the door, then see what happens down the road.
The Traverse City Central and Traverse City West boys and girls ski teams are set to head to Marquette Mountain for Tuesday's regional competition, where all four squads have one main goal — qualify for the state meet.
Whether that's as the first, second or third place team at the regional is somewhat irrelevant as long as it involves a trip to the Division 1 state finals at Schuss Mountain on Feb. 24.
"The regionals is kind of a race that you'd like to win, but it's not really necessary," said Central coach Jerry Stanek. "The object is, for us, to ski well enough to qualify for the states."
West head coach Ed Johnson is taking the same approach, looking at Tuesday's meet as a qualifier.
"If we win it, great. If not, that's OK too, as long as we're in that top three and make it to the final event — then we're happy," said Johnson.
As far as the girls meet is concerned there shouldn't be much trouble for either of the Traverse City schools to attain a top three finish.
"From what I understand that will be pretty achievable. I certainly don't see that as an issue," said Johnson. "I think the Central and West girls will be right there. That's fun. That's exciting from the skiing aspect of our community, both of the Traverse City girls teams potentially the top two teams in the state. That's pretty cool."
West and Central have battled neck and neck all season, but West has won the last two times the teams have skied against one another. Central is the defending state and regional champion, with West placing second at last year's regional.
"I would think Traverse City West is a clear favorite," said Stanek. "Then we'll be fighting it out with the rest of the teams. I'd be surprised if we don't (qualify). All we have to do is ski like we've been skiing and we'll have no problems. Where the problems come in is if you lose a couple of kids. I have seen over the years a favored team that didn't make it because they didn't ski as well as they should have. I don't foresee that. We're taking the approach that our objective is to qualify for the states, then when we get to the states that's when we'll try to win."
Johnson said he doesn't mind being considered the favorite. He predicts a competitive meet, however, similar to the races the Titans and Trojans have had this year.
"It's one of those things where I think we've got at least a couple of teams — us and Central — that I think are going to be very close and very competitive," said Johnson. "I don't think we're in a spot where we're clearly the favorite and all we've got to do is show up and win. That's not the case at all. In the last couple of races we've come out on top, but we've got to finish the season."
Lily Lockwood, Molly Whiting, Devon Dotterrer and Maggie Dutmers have been leading the Trojans throughout the season. West has been paced by the likes of Morgan Culp, Ginevra Gabrielli, Claire Podges and Kitt Hornbogen.
Central's boys team should be a contender, with Stanek considering Marquette — the defending regional and state champion — the team to beat. The Trojans, who were second at last year's regional, have leaned on Lars Hornburg, Tyler Sepanik, Brendan Wells, Kurt Frick, Dirk Phelps and Zak Collins.
Austin Skibowski has returned from injury to lead the West boys team, which was third in the regional in 2013. Ben Friar and Evan Culp also have been mainstays in the Titans' lineup and all three have a shot to get to the state meet as individuals if West doesn't qualify as a team. Johnson isn't counting his boys team out, though.
"After doing a little bit more research on it there's still a pretty decent chance that we may sneak in there in that third spot," said Johnson. "We have to approach the day and see what the first run looks like; see who is out there. If there's some other teams that we don't know about that could really close the door for us. Otherwise, if it looks like we could potentially be that third place team, then we need to approach it from a team perspective and not shoot for getting individuals in. So the day could change depending on how the day goes in the morning."
While today is a travel day for the West and Central teams, St. Francis will be at Schuss Mountain competing as the Gladiators' regional begins a day before the rest of the state. Petoskey and Harbor Springs should be St. Francis's top competition among the 13-team event in Division 2.
Also in Division 2, Caberfae Peaks will host a regional meet on Tuesday, where Benzie Central and Cadillac are among the teams who are competing for their state finals spot.