BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — With the three-peat achieved, the Shenendehowa girls alpine ski team is now focused on a repeat.
The Plainsmen picked up its third consecutive Section II title at the Feb. 11 championships at Gore Mountain, easily outpacing second-place Saratoga Springs, 23-59. From that competition, four Shenendehowa girls — plus boys skier Evan Scriven — qualified for the Feb. 23-24 state championships at Whiteface Mountain, where the Plainsmen will have the opportunity to defend the team state title the school won in 2014.
“That’s definitely our goal,” said Plainsmen senior Kirsten Kruk, who finished in second place in the slalom and fourth in the giant slalom at sectionals. “To win states again would be incredible, especially as a senior. Going out with that bang would be amazing.”
“Last year, we weren’t expecting to win at all [at states], so, this year, I’m most excited about going back there and trying to pull that off again,” said Shenendehowa’s Julia Smith, last year’s overall individual state champion.
Smith — who is the same age as most juniors, but competes as a senior and is set to graduate this year — finished in first place in the slalom and second in the giant slalom to qualify to defend both her individual and team state titles.
Smith finished No. 1 overall in Section II and Kruk was second. The two Plainsmen had spent most of the 2014-15 season trading wins before Smith captured the sectional title.
“It was super exciting because I’ve been wanting to win sectionals all year,” said Smith. “Well, with either me or Kirsten [winning], I would have been happy.”
Rounding out the Shenendehowa girls foursome headed to the state championships are eighth-grader Melissa Taggert and junior Sarah Petro, who finished seventh and 10th overall at sectionals.
Both Kruk and Smith are longtime skiers. Kruk said she began as a 2-year-old, chasing after her mother and aunts on the slopes; meanwhile, Smith got into skiing to mimic her older sister, Rachel Smith, who passed away this past September.
Julia Smith said skiing this winter has been a welcome distraction from grief. The sport has always been something she has loved, even during her first attempts at it when she struggled.
“I was never any good at any sports,” she said. “But when I started skiing, I found a really great group of friends. Initially, I’d get second out of two people [in races], but I loved it.”
Now, both Kruk and Smith are far from beginners. The state championships will be the final scholastic competition for each girl, and collecting another state title for the Plainsmen is what the duo — plus Petro and Taggert — is trying to deliver.
“I hope we can go back and win for Shen,” Smith said.