Nordic skiing | Far West juniors hold their own in Utah and#8216;Super JOQ’ | SierraSun.com

Nordic skiing | Far West juniors hold their own in Utah and#8216;Super JOQ’

Kara LaPoint
Special to the Sun

Submitted PhotoAuburn Ski Club racer Brandon Herhusky fights to the finish in the men's J3 classic race at Soldier Hollow last Friday. Herhusky finished second in the race.

This past weekend, 33 Far West junior Nordic skiers from throughout Northern California and Nevada joined forces to compete against the top junior skiers across the Western United States at the and#8220;Super JOQand#8221; in Midway, Utah.

Five Western regions were represented at the event, which included more than 600 individual racers. The races took place at Soldier Hollow, the site of the 2002 Olympic Games and the future site of this year’s Junior National Championships, set to take place in March.

Amidst the stiffest competition they’ll face all season prior to March’s national championship event, the Far West contingent showed that they are primed and ready to compete with the best, turning in some of the top results of the two-day event.

In Friday’s classic races, Far West athletes earned five podium finishes. In the 2.6-kilometer J3 race, Auburn Ski Club’s Hannah Halvorsen topped the women’s field by more than 12 seconds to earn her first victory on a western regional stage. In the men’s race, ASC’s Brandon Herhusky and Sugar Bowl Academy’s Skyler Mullings kept the momentum going, finishing second and third, respectively.

In the older juniors’ 1.3-kilometer classic sprint race, eight Far West juniors moved on from the preliminary round to the head-to-head heats, by turning in one of the 30 fastest qualifying times in their respective age groups.

Far West juniors qualifying for the heats included: Bria Riggs of SBA, third among J2 women; ASC’s Dylan Syben, SBA’s Sam Zabell and North Tahoe High School’s Peter Holmes, 10th, 17th and 27th, respectively, among J2 men; SBA’s Katrin Larusson, Laurel Fiddler and Cassidy Cichowicz, 13th, 16th and 27th, respectively in the J1/OJ women’s field; and ASC’s Patrick McElravey, 16th in the men’s J1/OJ race.

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In the heats, Riggs and Larusson made their way from the quarterfinals to the semifinals and into the and#8220;Aand#8221; final in their respective races, and each came away with an impressive podium finish. Riggs placed second in the J2 women’s race, while Larusson finished third in the J1/OJ race.

Syben also moved through the quarterfinals and semifinals, earning a spot in the and#8220;Band#8221; final to finish 11th among J2 men.

Additional Far West finishes after the quarterfinal heat included McElravey ninth MJ1; Cichowicz 14th FJ1; Fiddler 17th FJ1; Zabell 17th MJ2; and Holmes 28th MJ2.

Saturday brought the mass-start distance freestyle events, and while Far West earned fewer podium finishes on the day, several skiers improved their results significantly from Friday.

Halvorsen turned in another dominating performance to earn her second victory for the weekend in the 3-kilometer FJ3 race, while Herhusky and Mullings again finished second and third, respectively, among J3 men.

In the 5-kilometer J2 men’s race, ASC’s Julien Bordes turned in a strong ninth place, just edging out Holmes, who finished 10th to cap off a solid debut of racing outside the Far West region. Syben was Far West’s next MJ2 finisher, placing 16th.

Among J2 women, ASC’s Gabrielle Rinne was Far West’s top finisher in 32nd, just in front of teammate Skyler Flora, who finished 33rd. SBA’s Danielle Nivinski was Far West’s third finisher, placing 36th.

In the men’s 15-kilometer J1/OJ race, McElravey again led the Far West squad, placing 17th (10th MJ1). He was followed by North Tahoe’s Shane Christian (45th MJ1); ASC’s Alex Kopytko (52nd MJ1); ASC’s Branden Deeter (57th MJ1); and SBA’s Joe Piercy (77th MJ1).

In the women’s 10-kilometer J1/OJ field, Fiddler, no stranger to the regional and national stage, turned in one of her top career performances, finishing sixth, just two seconds shy of the podium. Larusson and Cichowicz rounded out the top-three Far West finishes, placing 18th FJI and 20th FJI, respectively. Among the field’s OJ racers, ASC’s Melanie Swick finished seventh.

Overall, last weekend’s results were some of the strongest Far West has turned in as a team in several years of attending the and#8220;Super JOQand#8221; event, coaches said.

and#8220;This was definitely one of the strongest showings that we’ve had,and#8221; head Far West coach Ben Grasseschi said. and#8220;The depth of our skiers has really increased.and#8221;

But what’s more than the strong showing, Grasseschi said, is that the experience the juniors had at Soldier Hollow provides both preparation and confidence for Junior Nationals, the most important races of the year for Far West’s competitors.

and#8220;This trip was super motivating, and a learning experience for nearly every single kid,and#8221; he said, and#8220;because they’ve learned about top-notch racing and race preparation, and now know what they can still work on before Junior Nationals.and#8221;

Grasseschi said racing at the Super JOQ enables Far West athletes to make a and#8220;step upand#8221; to the next level of competition, as some of the nation’s best junior racers, and the best in the West, are represented there. Additionally, the athletes got a chance to familiarize themselves with the trails and venue ahead of Junior Nationals.

Next up, the Far West juniors head to Mammoth for their second of three Junior National qualifier events, which determine who will represent the region at Soldier Hollow at the championship in March.