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Truckee nordic racers take state title

Photo by Mark NadellTruckee senior Matt Gelso takes off at the start of the skate race on Saturday. Gelso won the state championship by finishing more than a minute ahead of his closest competitor.
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There’s no hiding in a pursuit race. It is a race, or in this case, races, that test the speed and technique for both classic and skate cross country skiing. The pursuit is one of nordic racing’s most exciting and demanding events.

Similar to the continuous pursuit held at North Tahoe High School a couple of weeks ago, the 2006 state championship at Auburn Ski Club last weekend included both techniques, only this event stretched over a two-day period.

On Friday, all high school racers competed in a 5-kilometer (3 mile) classic event, with the skiers starting individually at 15 second intervals in a race against the clock. On Saturday, the athletes raced the freestyle (skate) technique event, another 5-kilometer race around the same two-lap course.



The twist for Saturday’s race is that the racers were sent off at intervals that equaled their time behind the leader from Friday’s race. The two times were then essentially combined, and the first person to cross the finish line in Saturday’s race was declared the winner and state champion.

Fresh snow and cold temperatures greeted the racers on Friday afternoon, making waxing for grip more straight-forward than in previous years.



It has been three years since the state championship was won by a freshman, when Truckee’s Maisha Goodpaster and Matthew Gelso both took the top spots in 2003.

This year it was Truckee freshman Bernie Nelson who drew notice during Friday’s classic event, as she proved that she was going to be the one to beat in the freestyle race the next day.

Nelson started strong, gaining more than 15 seconds before the first lap was even completed, then stayed out in front to win on the first day by more than a minute. Her long-time rival, Sophie Leonard of Mammoth High, had to settle for a comfortable second place, 27 seconds ahead of two-time state champion Maisha Goodpaster of Truckee. Leonard, who is stronger in the skating events, and Goodpaster, a strong classic skier, knew it was going to be difficult to catch Nelson in the skate race. Lurking closely behind Goodpaster was Leonard’s teammate, Dayna Stimson, who finished just two seconds back.

Saturday dawned cold and snowy, with everyone hoping their glide wax was up for the task of getting around the 5-kilometer, two-lap course as fast as possible. Nelson, of course, was the first competitor sent off. But a timing glitch caused her pursuer, Leonard, to start a mere two seconds after her, not the 62 seconds that it should have been.

Although the timing issues would be cleared up later, it certainly gave Nelson a scare throughout the first lap, thinking that Leonard might have made up such a time differential that quickly.

“I heard people yelling at me on the course, but I was pretty focused and didn’t really hear what they were saying,” Nelson said. “But when I went through the stadium after the first lap, I heard the announcer and started to understand better.”

Once Nelson figured things out, she settled down and cruised to a comfortable victory 46 second ahead of Leonard, who ended up with the fastest time of the day. Mammoth’s Stimson completed the podium for the girls, with Gabrielle Joffe, of Marin Catholic, and Goodpaster making up the rest of the top five.

The varsity boys race on Saturday was a guessing game ” as in, guess who’s back from the World Junior Competition in Europe? The answer: Truckee senior Matt Gelso. The next question: Would he be too tired from his travels? No way.

The top-ranked athlete in the nation in the Junior 1 division, Gelso scorched the field on Friday, winning by more than a minute. That set the stage for a second-place showdown between Truckee’s Spencer Wood and Tyler Wright, who needed to make up 21 seconds on Wood in the second day’s race.

Gelso had gone two years since his last state championship.

“Two of my goals this year were making World Juniors and winning the state championships,” Gelso said. “I knew I’d be missing some high school races because of traveling, but I really wanted to win states because I hadn’t done it since I was a freshman.”

With Gelso out in front and the rest of the field chasing him, the race for second place was the exciting competition of the day. Wright methodically made up the 20-second deficit on Wood, and it was obvious on the final lap that it would come down to the sprint finish.

Wright used his long strides to barely nip Wood by less than a second at the finish line, making it a clean sweep for Truckee on the state championship podium. Danny Rodrigues, of Nevada Union, and Andrew Armstrong, of Bishop, made up the rest of the top five.

In the junior varsity division, Truckee’s Emily Stewart continued her late-season strong showing, winning her division by almost two minutes over her next closest competitor, North Tahoe’s Carly McCready. Truckee’s Gina Krauss was third.

For the boys, the absence of overall JV league champion Andrew Pado cleared the way for North Tahoe’s Tom McElravey and Bishop’s Bryce Tiernan to take the top two spots, with third place going to Truckee’s Blake Heckendorn.

Saturday also marked the state championship race for the middle school division ” a 4-kilometer (two lap) skate event that Alder Creek dominated.

In an unprecedented occurrence, the Truckee middle school took a remarkable 17 of the top 20 spots combined in the boys and girls division, including the top five girls.

Alder Creek’s Sophie Aaron has been the skier to beat this season, as she gave up her top spot only in the Truckee High Relays in January en route to winning the league individual title. But Saturday’s championship race belonged to Alder Creek’s seventh-grader, Annika Taylor, who let Aaron lead the way on the first lap only to take over at the halfway point and never look back on her way to her first state championship victory. Completing the top five sweep for Alder Creek was Allene Kennedy, Cami Straw and Annika Deurlington. And in a preview of next year, six of those top nine Alder Creek skiers still have at least another year in middle school.

The boys division was much more of a cut-and-dried affair, with undefeated league champion Russell Kennedy going out strong and immediately eliminating any doubt of an upset. Kennedy soon put it into cruise control and finished with a comfortable win 55 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Miles Heapes of North Tahoe Middle School. Heapes, however, had to dig down deep, as he was closely challenged by Alder Creek’s Ryan Zusy, who was determined to move up from his traditional third spot in the standings. Derrick Bohlman and Carson Lindsay of Alder Creek completed the rest of the top five finishers.

Although the CNISSF season is now complete, there are many more important junior and adult races coming up soon. The Junior Olympics for many of the top high school athletes begins March 6 in Houghton, Mich., and there are still a few important races left on the local schedule, including the Great Ski Race and the California Gold Rush.

Up-to-the-minute details and results on all local Nordic racing events can be found on http://www.farwestnordic.org.


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