“It was cool to see everyone’s progression from the Crested Butte JNQ”[ by Than Acuff ]
Seventeen total athletes from the Crested Butte Nordic Team, 11 from the comp team and six from the DEVO team, jumped into the bigger pond of Nordic racing making the annual pilgrimage to Soldier Hollow, Utah for a Super Qualifier Friday and Saturday, January 20-21.
Soldier Hollow is one of the premier Nordic racing venues having hosted the Nordic events at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and continues to host top level Nordic races each year.
The CBNT headed there to compete in the annual Super Qualifier, an event that attracts nearly every Nordic team west of the Mississippi except for teams from Minnesota. The races offer the more experienced CBNT athletes an idea of how they match up against their peers in the west and show the newer skiers what is possible in their Nordic future.
“We’re getting experience racing against a good chunk of the nation,” says CBNT head coach Ben Theyerl. “It puts us up against a much more competitive field.”
In the end, a couple of the CBNT skiers showed they are much more than just strong skiers from a small team, and everyone proved that their progression for the season is right on track when they head back into the Junior National Qualifier (JNQ) season in the Rocky Mountain Division.
The weekend opened on Friday, January 20 with sprint races on a 1.7-kilometer loop. While the word sprint connotes something akin to a 100-meter dash, Theyerl points out it’s much more than that.
“It’s more like running an 800,” explains Theyerl. “You can’t go full gas from the start, you have to save some for the sprint at the end.”
The sprint races open with a qualifier heat from which the top 30 times advance. Given the fields in each age class were 100 skiers strong, simply making it out of qualifiers is a feat in and of itself. Make that cut and you sprint 1.7 kilometers again in the quarterfinal round. The top two advance from there to the semifinals and then line up again for a shot at either the A final or the B final.
Finn Veit opened his weekend of racing with a bang. After qualifying in the u16 boys’ race, Veit went on to then place second in his quarterfinal saving a little for the semis.
“He was really smart in that race to hold up and bring it into the semis,” says Theyerl.
Veit ran into trouble in his semifinal heat getting boxed out in one section of the course but still punched his ticket to the B final, which he won, to finish seventh place overall.
Sophia Bender racing in the u16 class and Sawyer Ezzell up against fellow u18/u20 skiers were the other two CBNT athletes to make it out of the qualifying round but were eliminated in the subsequent quarterfinals.
“Sophia is newer to the sprint heats races and came away from it with more experience while Sawyer surprised herself even qualifying for heats,” says Theyerl. “The kids realized they are good sprinters, not just cardio kings. There’s no reason we can’t be good at sprinting as well.”
The local skiers then rested up and lined up Saturday, January 21 for a series of classic races with the u18/u20s skiing a 10-kilometer course and the u16 athletes racing a five-kilometer course.
Veit carried his momentum from the sprints into his classic race showing little signs of fatigue to finish in second place overall.
“He’s got the intuition of knowing where to be and when, and then when to push it,” says Theyerl.
Ezzell defied the odds as a first year u18 racer in her 10-kilometer race taking a page from the u16 race strategy to pick and choose her battles throughout the course. Using the hill to make her move, Ezzell skied her way into a 10th place finish.
“She did a great job on the last lap staying with her group,” says Theyerl.
Theyerl touts the effort of all of the CBNT skiers over the weekend as Jake Pendy finished in the top 10 among Colorado skiers in the u16 race and Piper O’Neill cracked top 50 in the u18/u20 age class.
“That’s really the benchmark we’re looking at for a Super Qualifier,” says Theyerl.
In addition, Theyerl was impressed with the effort of a number of his athletes at their first Super Qualifier race of their fledgling Nordic careers.
“They went out and beat a bunch of kids and showed how much work they’ve put in,” says Theyerl. “It was cool to see everyone’s progression from the Crested Butte JNQ. Everybody made steps in a positive direction.”
With former head coach Molly Susla in town this week to help inspire, the team prepares for their next JNQ in Steamboat Springs Friday and Saturday, February 3-4. They wrap up JNQ racing in Aspen at the end of the month. Current overall standings have four CBNT skiers with a lock on making it to Junior Nationals, two more who are in a good spot to qualify and three CBNT athletes on the bubble looking to punch their ticket in the next two races.