Nation’s top Nordic skiers battle at Auburn Ski Club
The top young Nordic racers from across North America have been competing this week at Auburn Ski Club as one of the marquee competitions for up-and-coming cross-country racers, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross-Country Junior National Championship, returned to Donner Summit for the first time in five years.
Following Sunday’s opening ceremonies, which brought hundreds of racers and spectators to The Village at Squaw Valley, the championships got underway Monday morning with 5- and 10-kilomter classic races.
Nearly 200 female skiers, representing 10 different divisions, got things underway on a bright, warm day at Auburn Ski Club. Racers competed on a 5-kilometer course that had received a few inches of fresh snow from last weekend’s storm.
“The snow was really nice,” said women’s U20 champion Anna Parent. “It was a bit hard and slippery — it was good.”
Parent, a junior in high school from Canmore, Alberta, Canada, said competing at Donner Summit’s elevation played a big part in her strategy going into Monday’s event, which featured a field of 29 skiers.
“The elevation is significantly different. I definitely felt the elevation for sure,” she said.
Parent’s hometown of Canmore sits at around 4,800 feet, while the trails at Auburn Ski Club are at an elevation of roughly 7,200 feet.
“I went out nice and slow,” said Parent on her strategy. “I paced the hills, and then I went really hard on the flats, which I thought paid off because if you go really hard over the hills at high elevation, you’ll just die.”
Parent, who competes for Canmore Nordic Ski Club, finished Monday’s race with a time of 14 minutes, 53.4 seconds to claim a junior national title, and said the result is the highlight of her 2019-20 season.
“I came here because I wanted to prove myself in the U.S., because my goal is to get a scholarship for NCAA (Nordic racing),” she added. Canmore, who is in the Truckee-Tahoe area for the first time, said her goal is to attend the University of Denver.
Pearl Harvey, of the Intermountain Division (Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Western Wyoming), took second place with a time of 15:13.2. Johanna Craig, of Great Lakes Division, took third place with a time of 15:18.3.
Sugar Bowl Ski Team & Academy’s Grace Cisler led local skiers out of the Far West Division, claiming 21st with a time of 16:56.1.
The girls’ U18 division featured 94 skiers, and was won by Nina Seemann, of the New England Division’s Stratton Mountain School. Seemann finished the 5-kilomter course faster than any other female, regardless of age group, to claim first place with a time of 13:58.8.
Seemann, who grew up in the Tahoe area and competed for Auburn Ski Club until moving to the East Coast, went on to take first in Wednesday freestyle sprints, adding to her haul of junior titles.
“It’s so exciting. This is my home course. I’ve lived out here my whole life. It’s just so awesome to be back home,” said Seemann, a junior at Stratton Mountain School. “I know these courses so well I could ski them blind. It’s so fun for me to be able to race a course I’m so confident on.”
Stratton said sprinting isn’t her strong suit and that Wednesday’s slushy conditions are something she often struggles with during competitions.
“I’ve always hated these conditions,” she said. “Today, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do it.’ It was all mindset. It just came together today.”
From there, a pair of Rocky Mountain Division racers, Emma Reeder, of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, and Kate Oldham, of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, took second and third, respectively. Reeder’s time of 14:28.7 edged Oldham by 0.1.
Auburn Ski Club’s Lily Murnane posted the fastest time of any local racer, finishing in 14th place with a time of 15:26.1.
In girls’ U16 racing, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Samantha Smith brought the Intermountain Division another podium finish by claiming first place with a time of 14:09.0. Sofia Scirica, of the New England Division, took second with a time of 14:53.7. Elsa Perkins, of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, was third with a time of 14:54.3. Sugar Bowl’s Hayden McJunkin finished 25th out of 74 skiers to lead the area’s skiers with a time of 16:41.1.
Smith went on to claim first place in Wednesday’s round of freestyle sprints.
Alaska, New England skiers shine
Skiers from the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center put together a dominant showing in the U20 male division, posting the four fastest times of the morning on the 10-kilometer course.
Ari Endestad led the team with a time of 26:02.3 for first place. Everett Cason (26:11.4) was second, followed by Kai Meyers (26:13.7) and Garrett Butts (26:21.1).
Auburn Ski Club’s Nikolas Burkhart led the area’s skiers with a time of 27:3.1 to claim 10th place out of 53 racers.
Meyers would come back strong on Wednesday and outduel his teammate and roommate, Endedstad, down the home stretch of the finals to claim first place.
“It means a ton,” said Meyers. “Last year, we’re coming into the finish line about 100 yards away, in the semifinals, and I got knocked over. It feels good to get over that hump.”
In U18 racing, Will Koch, of the New England Division, took first place on the 10-kilomter course, topping the field of 101 racers with a time of 25:03.4. Koch had the fastest time of any male skier, regardless of age.
Alaska Division’s Alexander Maurer was second with a time of 25:25.9, followed by Walker Hall, of the Pacific Northwest Ski Association, in third place with a time of 25:43.1. Hall went on to claim first place in the freestyle sprints two days later.
Auburn Ski Club’s Phoenix Sanchez was the fastest local in the 10-kilomter race, claiming 40th with a time of 27:59.9.
The final event of the day was the boys’ U16 5-kilomter race. Park City Ski and Snowboard’s Wes Campbell took the national title with a time of 13:36.1. Jack Lange, of the New England Division, was second with a time of 13:39.3, followed by Alaska Division’s Aaron Power in third place with a time of 14:04.6.
Auburn Ski Club’s Matthew Deluna led the local racers with a time of 14:57.7 to take 24th place.
Freestyle sprints champions
Aside from those that landed on the podium in the classic race and in the sprints, Methow Valley Nordic Team’s Gretta Sholz sprinted to a win on Wednesday, taking the title in the women’s U20 division.
In U16 boys’ racing, Green Mountain Valley School’s Trey Jones captured the sprints junior title.
Remaining events canceled
U.S. Ski & Snowboard announced Thursday that it is canceling all remaining domestic events, including the final competitions of this weekend’s junior nationals, due to ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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