More athletes punch ticket to Junior Nationals
[ by Than Acuff ]
Following some heroic efforts across the board from the Crested Butte Nordic Team (CBNT) at a Junior National Qualifier (JNQ) in Steamboat Springs February 3-5, it looks like four athletes are now qualified for the Junior Nationals with a couple more on the cusp as they head into the final JNQ of the season in Aspen later this month.
The Steamboat course has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde feel to it as a majority of the climbing is within the first four kilometers of the five-kilometer loop, with the final kilometer almost all downhill.
“The distinguishing thing is it climbs right at the beginning of the race,” explains coach Ben Theyerl. “It’s really tough a majority of the course but the final one kilometer is all downhill.”
The two days of racing started with the 15-kilometer classic mass start race for the older athletes and a five-kilometer interval start classic race for the younger ones, posing a new challenge for the older skiers.
“It was the longest distance ever for some of the skiers,” says Theyerl. “But we went into it being positive about the challenge.”
CBNT skier Sawyer Ezzell continued her phenomenal season of results in Steamboat embracing the 15-kilometer course and the challenge of some of the older u20 skiers in her race. Ezzell went out with a lead group of u20 skiers from the start and soon found herself just behind them but in front of everyone else. She maintained her pace through all three laps on the course to win the u18 age class and finish fourth out of the collegiate racers.
“She had a very open mind going in and wasn’t going to let the distance play tricks with her,” says Theyerl. “On her third lap she gave this head nod that said, I got this.”
Ruby Pendy finished the punishing race in 15th place and Katie O’Neill placed 20th while Oliver White placed 17th in the men’s u18 race.
Finn Veit led the boys u16 CBNT crew placing fourth in the five-kilometer classic with Jake Pendy placing eighth and Flint Hoyt 31st. Meanwhile, Sophia Bender placed eighth in the girls u16 race and Aubrey Laird 20th.
The CBNT wasn’t done though as the younger crew from the DEVO team was in Steamboat as well led by winning efforts from Ben and Gabe Larson that first day.
The team then returned to racing action the next day for the five-kilometer skate races. Ruby finished her weekend with a 13th place finish in the u20 five-kilometer race to wrap up a great weekend for her.
“Ruby loved the course and had a great weekend of racing,” says Theyerl.
Ezzell recovered from her 15-kilometer classic race win to then finish in fourth place in the u18 skate race while Piper O’Neill finished in 14th and Katie in 15th.
Bender skated her way to a fifth-place finish in the u16 girls race with Laird finishing in 21st and Veit and Jake rallied their way to impressive results in the boys u16 race. Veit, who already has a spot at Junior Nationals, finished the day with a podium coming in third place while Jake fed off Veit’s effort on course to come in ninth place.
“Jake punched his ticket to Junior Nationals with that result,” says Theyerl. “I think he surprises himself with how fast he is.”
The Larson brothers led the CBNT youth movement again, this time in three classes, as Ben, Gabe and Simi Larson all won their races.
“They all came back from a tough day of racing the day before to race well,” says Theyerl. “That shows mental fortitude.”
The team has this weekend off from racing so plans are for a backcountry ski one day and then hit the resort the next. They then will head over the mountains for their final JNQ of the season in Aspen February 25-26.
“The continued goal is to stay focused on the next race and have fun with it,” says Theyerl. “Keeping it positive as we go into some high stakes racing.”