Queens of the Hill

Armed with experience, talent, Placer girls aim for a second straight state crown
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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The Placer High ski team settled into a rental house in McCloud Saturday night, enjoying its first family style dinner of barbeque chicken, mashed potatoes and asparagus in the temporary abode at the base of Mount Shasta. Despite the comfort food and homey environment, Haley Meyer was nervous. The senior, one of four Hillgals who dominated Central Division II competition again this winter, could be racing her final competitive events this week when the Placer girls aim for their third banner in four years at the California-Nevada Interscholastic Ski and Snowboard Federation Championships. “I realize that this could be my last race, possibly forever, and when I think about it as my last race, I want to look back on it and say I did my best,” said Meyer, who formerly raced for Sugar Bowl Academy, a private college preparatory academy that doesn’t compete in high school meets. Three straight seasons of knee surgeries prompted Meyer’s transfer to Placer, where she joined junior Karly Kenworthy and sisters Paige and Lanae Rothe on the division’s most dominant squad. “She’s been a great addition,” second-year coach Matt Conley said. “She’s provided a lot of good camaraderie amongst the top young ladies on the team.” After another undefeated division schedule that featured multiple 1-2-3 finishes, the Placer girls have their sights set on another state title. “We’re really excited about it,” Meyer said. “We are pretty sure of ourselves, but hopefully we’ll be able to do what we think we can. We’re all pretty excited about it. We think we can bring home a banner. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and my injuries make me a little more nervous,” she added. “This is my only year at Placer so I want to have that memory. It would be nice to have people remember me for being part of something.” These Placer girls all hit the mountain as youngsters, entering the high school ranks as seasoned racers. “The key to their success is they’ve been skiing a while,” Conley said. “Being involved in Auburn Ski Club and Sugar Bowl Academy allows them to become stronger skiers at a younger level.” The girls return to the state meet as one of the favorites alongside El Dorado, Mammoth and Nevada Union. “The Placer girls are really good,” said Sheldon Criss, the North Division I coordinator and coach of Shasta, host and defending combined state champion. “They nailed it last year. That’s just awesome what they can do.” Conley anticipates a heavy podium presence this year. “We have a very good chance of putting three young ladies in the top 10, with the possibility of having three in the top 5, if everything works correctly,” he said. “That would be awesome. For Haley and Paige to do that their senior year, it would just be momentous.” Conley is also excited about his boys’ chances this week. Sophomore Julian Faulkner and senior Travis Tidd will race both disciplines, while junior McCall Falkenstein will compete in giant slalom and junior Kyle Wells in slalom. The girls and boys combined to finish fifth last year, but the Hillmen have more depth and experience. “We all have our own personal goals, but we openly discussed tonight we want to hopefully win combined boys and girls to get first as an entire team,” Paige Rothe said. Rothe topped the GS field at last year’s state championships before crashing during her second slalom run, spoiling what was shaping up to be one of the best overall performances. “It was super disappointing,” she said. “I just choked in slalom. I was not happy. Hopefully I can make up for last year.” Kenworthy is the defending overall state champion, cruising to the slalom title and placing fourth in giant slalom a year ago. Colfax coach Jeff Scott has seven skiers racing this week, including defending state slalom champion Max Schopfer, who will only compete in giant slalom this year. Schopfer, a senior, was the only area skier to earn all-state honors on the boys side. Junior Drew Anderson will race slalom, while junior Nicole Bajka, senior Allison Gutierrez, junior Dylan Laidlaw, sophomore Nicola Lorang and senior Ross Thomson will compete in both races. “All seven have gone over the past three years at one time or another,” Scott said. “Their goals are set real high. Providing they can all stay on their skis as a team, we should do fairly well. I hope they’ll get a podium appearance. They definitely have the potential to do it.” Bear River sends five skiers to the state championships to compete in both disciplines. Katie DeLaveaga and Kaitlyn Dwelle are state veterans. Delaveaga, a senior, makes her fourth appearance and Dwelle, a junior, has competed at two previous state meets, narrowly missing a top-10 finish last year at Mammoth Mountain. All three boys — Tyler Craig, Scott Dwelle and Tyler Marshall — are first-time racers. “We’ll just see what happens,” coach Janis Serrano said. “It’ll be a good experience for them to see the really top-notch racers.” Action kicks off Monday on a giant slalom course Criss said “should be challenging but not overwhelming.” The skiers will compete in slalom Tuesday before turning the mountain over to the snowboarders for giant slalom Wednesday and slalom Thursday. Team scores are calculated from the top three times for two slalom runs and two giant slalom runs.