North Tahoe Lakers strike alpine gold with 3 state titles, sweep boys and girls team competition
The North Tahoe alpine team was best in the Tahoe Basin League all season long.
This week the Lakers boys and girls capped off the year by three-peating as the state’s top alpine teams at the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association State Championships.
North Tahoe’s haul included a trio of individual state championships, as well as a sweep of the team state titles for the boys and girls in slalom, giant slalom and combined.
“I’m so proud of the kids. They really came together as a team and showed incredible depth,” said Assistant Coach Gretchen Sproehnle.
“Aside from really performing well, they have always had fun. They came out and had a good time, and kept it light and fun. That’s really what it’s all about … I’m proud of every single one of these kids.”
The Lakers struck gold on the first of two days of competition, claiming team wins and an individual championship in slalom at Sierra-at-Tahoe. Conditions proved difficult on a pair of courses that soon became rutted, but North Tahoe junior Maddie Roberts managed to outduel a deep field of racers to claim first place by nearly three seconds.
“I’m happy with the way that I skied, especially because there’s some really good girls out there,” said Roberts. “Aliza (Neu), I used to ski race with her for Squaw and she was always so good.”
Standing atop the course for each run, Roberts said her strategy was simple.
“It was kind of like, ‘OK you can do this, you’ve skied in worse. Just go out there and send it,’’ she said.
Roberts finished the morning with a combined time of 1 minute, 30.74 seconds.
Teammate Aliza Neu was second with a combined time of 1:33.43. Truckee’s Emma Spillman was third with a combined time of 1:34.66, followed by North Tahoe’s Kacey Benjaminson with a combined time of 1:36.78, and Incline’s Brenna Ritchie in fifth place with a combined time of 1:39.39.
On the boys’ side, Whittell senior Gunnar Barnwell fought his way down the two courses to capture the individual slalom state championship with a combined time of 1:26.77.
“It was pretty bumpy, so I figured I’d ski it pretty mellow — ski it pretty safe,” said Barnwell. “I’m pretty stoked. One of my really good friends, Payton (Norton) my teammate last year, he’s won state several times, and so I figured I’d try to keep the Whittell legacy going.”
Norton swept the slalom and giant slalom events as a senior last year.
The North Tahoe boys combined to win the school’s third straight slalom state championship as a team.
Max Kelly led the way, finishing with a combined time of 1:27.12 for second place. Trent Carter was third with a combined time of 1:29.44. Toby Gajar was fourth with a combined time of 1:32.45, followed by Thomas Mercogliano with a combined time of 1:33.64, and Oliver Fralick with a combined time of 1:36.15.
Jason Roth, who finished in eighth place with a combined time of 1:36.67, led Truckee.
Conditions on the second day of racing were worse than Monday’s. Instead of the slalom courses that became rutted out by morning’s end at Sierra-at-Tahoe, skiers had to contend with snowfall, crosswinds, and soft snow on the giant slalom courses at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
“That’s just ski racing though. It’s a part of the sport,” said Sproehnle. “You can’t have perfect conditions and perfect courses every single time. Everybody’s strengths come out in different types of courses and conditions, so again, it just shows their versatility.”
Incline’s Ritchie navigated the conditions better than any skier to open the morning’s competition. Ritchie posted the fastest first run to begin the morning, crossing the finish line with a time of 37.47 seconds.
North Tahoe’s Neu, who finished with the second fastest first run at 37.82, obliterated the course in her second run, finishing more than a second faster than any other skier to defend last year’s giant slalom state championship.
“It’s the last race of the season. I got excited and wanted to win,” said Neu. “I actually didn’t know what place I was in up top. I was just like, ‘I’ll ski as hard as I can, and hope for the best.’”
As a team, the North Tahoe girls won the giant slalom, and combined state championships this year. The Lady Lakers have now won the past three giant slalom and combined sate championships. The North Tahoe girls were also this year’s academic champions, finishing with a 3.82 GPA.
In boys’ racing, a North Tahoe freshman picked a good day to notch his first high school alpine victory.
The Lakers’ Gajar posted the second fastest time of the morning during the first runs, finishing just behind teammate Carter.
A timing malfunction during Gajar’s second run nullified what would have been a solid result, and sent the freshman skier back to the top of the mountain in an attempt to knock off Carter, who sat in first place after finishing his second run.
After several other skiers made their way down the course, Gajar again got his opportunity.
“I was like, ‘Alright, let’s just do it again. Now I know the course, might as well just ski faster’” said Gajar, who went on to post the fastest second-run time of any skier to capture the giant slalom state title. Gajar finished 0.10 ahead of Carter to take the win.
As a team, the North Tahoe boys captured first place, marking the fourth consecutive year the Lakers have won giant slalom. North Tahoe also won combined for the third consecutive year.
“I’d like to acknowledge our seniors. We’re really going to miss them next year,” said Sproehnle on this year’s team. “And then we have some great up-and-coming freshmen and sophomores too. We’re looking forward to continued excellence.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.