BLAZING START — Unalakleet freshman Wassaq Nanouk Jones, 343, leads the field on Thursday at Unalakleet’s First Hill Ski Course, in the 34th Annual Western Interior Ski and Biathlon Championships’ 6.4-kilometer high school skate ski race.

WISA championships held in Unalakleet

By Keith Conger
The color pattern on the awards ceremony podium was predominately made up of Galena Hawks’ blue and gold during the three-day 34th Annual Western Interior Ski and Biathlon Association (WISA) Championships in Unalakleet from March 24-26. Still, eighth-grader Ayuu Roesch and her junior high teammates made sure to crash the party by adding a splash of Unalakleet Wolfpack black and gold to the color scheme.
Roesch’s gold medal win in the 4.8-kilometer junior high skate ski race on Thursday, in 19 minutes, 37 seconds, helped lead her Unalakleet squad to the team trophy in the junior high girls division. In addition, Roesch’s second-place finish in Friday’s 4.8-k junior high girls biathlon, put her in position to earn the junior high girls Skimeister Trophy, which is awarded to the top overall performer in each division.
The championship’s final event on Saturday was a two-person, 3.2-k team sprint relay. That race would act as the Skimeister tiebreaker between Roesch and fellow Unalakleet eighth-grader Ourea Busk, who forced a tie-breaker by winning the biathlon on Friday (19:37). Roesch claimed the award by posting the fastest junior high girls relay split, nipping Busk by nine seconds.
A third Unalakleet eighth-grade girl, Violet Jack, earned bronze in biathlon by shooting “clean” (hitting all 10 targets) to join Busk and Roesch on the podium. Jack continued a streak of accuracy that saw her knock down a perfect 30 for 30 shots during regional and state competitions this year. In addition, she and fifth-grader Alexandrea Ivanoff teamed up to establish the fastest junior high girls relay time and secure the team trophy for the Wolfpack girls.
Galena racers earned the remaining team trophies and Skimeister Awards. The only non-Hawk athlete other than Roesch to reach a top individual podium spot during the championships was Unalakleet eighth-grader Trevin Soderstrom, who turned in a gold medal performance in the junior high boys ski race (17:03).
The Galena high school boys didn’t relinquish a podium position all weekend. Senior Skimeister Caedon Merriner took the individual gold medal each day (19:33, 16:04). Junior Finn Hornfischer and sophomore Preston Kopp took second and third for the Hawks in both individual events. In addition, Merriner and Hornfischer won the 3.2-k high school boys team relay (09:04) and helped the Galena boys win the team trophy.
Senior Sable Scotton of Galena earned the high school girls Skimeister Trophy by winning gold medals in the high school girls ski race and biathlon (25:19, 20:04). Hawks sophomore Jade Thurman teamed with Scotton to form the only high school girls team. Nome senior Clara Hansen and Unalakleet freshman Cedar Busk earned silver and bronze each day in the high school girls ski races and biathlons.
The team sprint relay also decided the junior high boys Skimeister Award. Soderstrom and fellow eighth-grader Clint Kopp of Galena entered the final day tied after Soderstrom’s win in the skate ski race and Kopp’s win in the biathlon (17:54). Kopp’s relay split edged Soderstrom by three seconds, giving him the Skimeister Trophy.
Galena’s seventh-grader Gerald Malabon teamed up with Kopp to establish the fastest junior high boys relay time (11:09) and helped secure Galena’s third team trophy of the 2022 Championships.
Merriner, Scotton, Roesch, and Kopp earned their first WISA Skimeister Trophies.
White Mountain seventh-grader Xevera Shanigan joined Hansen as the only athletes on the podium other than skiers from Galena or Unalakleet. Shanigan placed third in Thursday’s ski race.  
White Mountain won the Sportsmanship Award, and Nome won the Cloud Cup given to the top team with six or fewer athletes. Nome’s top finishers were Hansen and seventh-grader Talan Johnson, who placed fifth in the junior high boys biathlon, and eighth in the skate ski race.
WISA biathletes shoot with elevated heart rates at 4.5-inch diameter targets from 50 meters in the prone position using .22 caliber target rifles. High school biathletes do not use a rifle rest. Hitting 10 of 10 shots and earning “I Shot Clean at WISA” medals were Trevin Soderstrom, Unalakleet; Gerald Malabon, Galena; Ourea Busk, Unalakleet; Ayuu Roesch, Unalakleet; and Violet Jack, Unalakleet.     
The 2020 and 2021 WISA Championships were canceled due to COVID. Sixty athletes from Brevig Mission, Galena, Koyuk, Nome, Unalakleet, Wales, and White Mountain attended the 2022 event.
WISA was formed in 1987 to give Bering Strait Region athletes a chance to compete against other rural athletes from around the state. All off-road-system schools can attend the annual event. Typically, the championships rotate between western and interior Alaska venues. Since its inception, skiers and biathletes from 33 different sites have attended. Regions represented have included the North Slope, Northwest Arctic, Bering Strait, and Yukon-Kuskokwim.
The 2022 WISA Championships were an Arctic Winter Games qualifying event for biathlon and skiing. The 2023 Arctic Winter Games will be in Wood Buffalo, Alberta, from January 29 to February 4. The Arctic Winter Games is an Olympic-style event for youth who live north of the 55th parallel. Competitions are held in 20 different sports. Team Alaska is joined by five Canadian teams and contingents from Russia, Greenland, and the Sami people of northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
WISA has been awarded six spots on Team Alaska’s Arctic Winter Games biathlon unit and two on Team Alaska’s ski squad. The top athletes meeting AWG age and WISA requirements for participation are Finn Hornfischer, Galena (Junior Ski Biathlon); Preston Kopp, Galena (Junior Snowshoe Biathlon); Cedar Busk, Unalakleet (Junior Ski Biathlon), Violet Jack, Unalakleet (Junior Snowshoe Biathlon); Ourea Busk, Unalakleet (Juvenile Ski Biathlon); Clint Kopp, Galena (Juvenile Snowshoe Biathlon); Ayuu Roesch, Unalakleet (U14 Ski Team); and Trevin Soderstrom, Unalakleet (U14 Ski team).    


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