BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Traverse City Central girls hope to end a string of five consecutive runner-up finishes at the Division 1 state ski finals today at Boyne Mountain.
“Our goal is to win,” Trojan coach Jerry Stanek said. “That’s what we’re here for. I think our girls are well aware of our record the last five years. They understand this is a team event, not an individual event. If they ski like that, they’ll be fine.”
The Trojans, led by Madison Ostergren and Shannon Weaver, have been unbeatable this winter. But they were last year, too, when Traverse City West beat them for the state championship.
West will be one of Central’s main competitors. The Trojans beat the Titans by 17 points at the regional.
“Obviously, the big challenge is Central,” West coach Ed Johnson said. “I have a lot of respect for them. They have a great program. We know all those kids really well. I wish them the best, too. But we saw it happen last year. They beat us every race we were in, then we took them at the state meet. You just never know.”
Ostergren and West’s Monica Hessler were regional champions. Ostergren and Weaver went one-two in the giant slalom. Hessler took the slalom and tied teammate Morgan Culp for fourth in the giant slalom. Culp has steadily improved to give the Titans a solid one-two punch at the top of the lineup.
“They’re both in good spots right now,” Johnson said. “They’re peaking.”
Clarkston won the boys state crown a year ago. The Wolves will be the team to beat again today.
“I watched them on the hill (Sunday),” Johnson said. “They’re a tough bunch.
“But if a mistake is made at the right time, hey, Clarkston’s not invincible. It could go to any one of four schools and we’re one of those.”
Another is Central.
“We’re feeling good about our chances,” Stanek said. “Clarkston is good. But Marquette is solid, West is solid and we definitely think we have a chance to win it.
“I don’t think Clarkston is as strong as last year. They have three very good boys at the top, but they’re not overpowering like last year. They were strong one through six last year. I don’t think there really is any team here that will dominate.”
Marquette won the Boyne Highlands regional earlier this month, edging Central 65.5 to 68. West was third with 77.
West’s Finley Clark won the slalom.
“He’s peaking, he’s confident,” Johnson said. “I think he could do really well.”
Johnson is also looking for Matt Lowe to bust out.
“He hasn’t shown his true abilities yet,” Johnson said. “It could be today. I know what he can do. I’ve seen it in training. He can ski side by side with Finley.”
Central will be at full strength with the return of Kalvis Hornburg, who’s been idle for three weeks with a lower back injury.
“He’s feeling better,” Stanek said. “He trained with us Saturday and looked good. But we’ll have to see what happens once he starts (racing).”
Most teams arrived at Boyne Mountain over the weekend and trained there Sunday. Central elected to train Saturday at Schuss. The team will leave here this morning by bus.
“I like to give them the day off (before the meet),” Stanek said. “I like to keep us on the same schedule. We’re close enough (to Boyne). It’s only an hour away.”
Johnson said conditions should be fast today.
“It’s rock, icy hard,” he said.
The Division 2 meet today will be held at Marquette Mountain. The St. Francis-Elk Rapids girls co-op team qualified after placing third in the regional behind Petoskey and Harbor Springs.
Co-coach Ben Ferris said those two teams will be tough to beat.
“Anything can happen on a state finals day,” Ferris said. “But Petoskey is obviously the favorite.”
Freshman Carlee McCardel leads St. Francis-Elk Rapids. She won the giant slalom at regionals.
“The girls are skiing better than they’ve skied all year,” Ferris said. “Whatever happens, it’s going to be the best they could have done.
“We’ll leave it in their hands and let them put their skills to work.”
Ferris likes the Marquette Mountain venue for a state meet.
“It has a lot of different fall lines,” he said. “You go from flat to steep to flat. The terrain is much more varied than we see here. They’ll (skiers) have some tempo changes, some direction changes and probably some rhythm changes because that’s what the terrain is going to dictate. It’s a great hill.”