Local athletes head to Whitehorse

22nd annual Arctic Winter Games start Sunday


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The 700-mile trip from Eagle River to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, site of the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, won’t be foreign to Team Alaska’s speedskaters.

Whitehorse is the closest town with a short track to Eagle River’s McDonald Center, which houses the only short track in the state, according to Team Alaska speedskating head coach Peter Haeussler, of Chugiak. The seven-member team is familiar with Whitehorse’s rink and its competitors, he said.

“A lot of kids are looking forward to going to Whitehorse,” Haeussler said.

The 22nd annual international competition between Arctic countries starts Sunday, March 4 and runs through March 10.

Haeussler, who will be coaching his fourth Arctic Winter Games, said the speedskaters get along so well they are being housed together this year, as they have in the past.

“In many ways, the speedskating group is kind of a big family,” he said. “We all sort of know each other.”

Teams help one another out during the competition, Haeussler said.

“Although they’re competing hard on the ice, everyone is super friendly toward each other,” he said.

Many of the Chugiak-Eagle River participants will be competing on ice. Three speedskaters hail from Eagle River. Those include brothers Adam and Matthew Blackely and Madeline Corbett.

Clare Cook, Zoey Zerguson, Jiale Turner, Xinghua Turner and Ashlynn York, all of Eagle River, will each be competing in figure skating.

Haeussler said Adam Blackely has a good chance to earn an individual medal and his fellow boys juvenile relay team could also reach the podium.

This will be the first Arctic Winter Games for Chugiak High senior volleyball player Mollie Matthis.

“It’s exciting to be on the team,” she said.

After hearing positive feedback from friends, Matthis said she wanted to participate this year.

While Matthis has played with her fellow Midnight Sun Volleyball Club teammates, the rest of Team Alaska will meet for the first time Friday, March 2 — just two days before the competition starts. That doesn’t worry Matthis at all.

“It’s really fun to play with girls you’ve never played with before,” she said.

Matthis said she’s looking forward to seeing the level of competition opposing countries bring to the Games.

Three Chugiak residents — Cole Abarr, Grace Gilliland and Victoria Parsons — will compete in the ski biathlon. Chugiak’s Simond Gilliland is the ski biathlon coach.

Mariya Gilliland, of Chugiak, is participating in the snowshoe biathlon.

Competing in Nordic skiing will be Eagle River High junior Hannah Stevens and Mirror Lake Middle School eighth grader Roan Hall.

“I’m very excited about it,” Stevens said after placing seventh at the state high school championships on Feb. 25. “My coach says I have a very good chance of medaling.

Chugiak’s Sue Fleurant, and Eagle River’s Jackie Klecka and Brian Sorenson are all playing soccer.

Participating in the Dene Games will be Adrianna Johnston and Brian Walker II, both of Eagle River.

Four Eagle River locals will be hitting the dog mushing trail in Whitehorse. Alea Robinson and Hali Young will be competing, while Ron Kilian and Lois Rockcastle will serve as coaches.

Haeussler said Alaskans are fortunate to have the chance to compete in the Arctic Winter Games.

“It’s an incredibly unique opportunity for kids in any sport,” he said. “There’s nothing like this in the Lower 48.”

The competition offers athletes a chance to meet others that live at high latitudes, Haeussler said.

“For some kids, it really expands their horizons,” he said. “It’s really very special.”

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