CBNT athletes take on nation’s best in Lake Placid last week

Finn Veit named All-American

By Than Acuff 

The Crested Butte Nordic Team (CBNT) had four athletes competing in the Nordic Junior Nationals in Lake Placid, New York from Monday to Saturday, March 11–16, and the team stood up to the task posting impressive results and setting the tone for the future.

Lake Placid is a storied venue, home to the Winter Olympics for one, and provided a tremendous setting for the competition with new courses set since CBNT head coach Ben Theyerl was last there. 

“I raced there before but they built some new trails since then,” says Theyerl. “They’re amazing, the best in the country. They demand that you know how to perform every part of Nordic skiing.”

The team had a variety of expectations heading in. For u16 skier Brie Bender, it was her first foray to the big show. For u18 athlete Sophia Bender it was her second trip to the show, while u18 teammates Finn Veit and Sawyer Ezzell were the most experienced with the atmosphere among the crew.

“For Brie we just wanted her to go in there and learn,” explains Theyerl. “For the others they could continue to learn but also had something to shoot for.”

Racers were met by a classic March winter storm when they kicked off the week with the 7.5-kilometer skate race on Monday that got snowier as the day continued for the u18 skiers.

“Conditions at Lake Placid can famously be surly,” says Theyerl. “We started off with winter which was cool.”

Brie opened her first Junior National experience with a 60th place finish. Sophia had a tough start in her u18 opening race but Ezzell opened her final Junior National as a CBNT skier in great form to post a 19th place finish among the u18 skiers. It was Veit that stole the show for the CBNT athletes as he charged on a course that suited his strengths.

“It’s a really hilly course and Finn is great at climbing and on the downhills,” says Theyerl.

Veit skied his way to a ninth place finish to be named an All-American in just his first year racing u18.

“That’s our first All-American in a while,” says Theyerl. “It was pretty cool because it wasn’t any more spectacular than the races he’s had all year and that’s a testament to how well prepared he was.”

They returned to racing on Wednesday for the classic sprint event. Ezzell led the CBNT skiers on this day as she made the most of her qualifier time trial to post the sixth fastest time and advance. The bad news is, sixth put her in a quarterfinal heat with one of the top four qualifiers as well as someone who may happen to pop a tremendous race in a heat and that’s what happened as Ezzell’s sprint day ended in the quarterfinals.

“She ended up in a heat with a girl that eventually podiumed,” says Theyerl. “She still learned more about how to ski these really competitive sprint heats and came away thinking her best race is still ahead of her when she races in college.”

The other CBNT skiers did not make it out of the qualifier race but took another step toward success when they most likely return to Junior Nationals next season.

Then, in classic Lake Placid fashion, the temperatures rose and in came the rain for the 10-kilometer classic races on Friday as the course went from refrozen wet snow, to slush, to downright primeval conditions turning a Nordic race into a fight for survival.

“Probably one of the more gnarly days I’ve seen out there,” says Theyerl.

Ezzell was in the mix on the first loop to get in with the top 12 skiers and then on the second loop worked her way into a fight for fifth place but got swallowed up like so many other racers in a sloppy turn at the bottom of a downhill. She stood back up though and fought her way back for a 13th place finish. Sophia suffered a similar fate but recovered to finish 31st in her first year as a u18. Veit pulled his way into the top 10 lead pack and was on course for a great finish until the racer in front of him went down pushing Veit off course. He returned to action after losing several spots and closed it out with a 20th place finish.

“It was tough but it gave him confidence in his classic skiing,” says Theyerl. “They will all remember that race not for results but how nasty it was. Other racers quit when they went down but all of our kids skied well and that’s a testament to their mental toughness.”

The week finished off with even nastier conditions on Saturday for the team relays. All in all, Theyerl believes it was a great week and one that no one will forget and an experience to build on.

“Part of the Junior Nationals is the experience, and they got the full breadth of what skiing can be like,” says Theyerl. “To have encouraging results this year sets the tone moving forward and that’s the whole point. To continue the journey.”

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