Who's in the Burrow?

Forget March Madness: How About JO Obsession?

J3 Alpine Racers have begun their bids for podiums in Junior Championships at Squaw Valley this weekend, with SBST skier James "Scotty" Lebel already posting a first-place finish and SBA student-athlete Pieter Weemaes putting in a ninth-place effort in the Sugar-G.

The skinny skis are back on home turf, too, with SBA Nordic skiers fresh back after competing in the 2011 Nordic Junior Olympics in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The following  report of the Nordic JO experience comes courtesy of Head Coach Jeff Schloss. Thanks, Coach! There is also a Far West video floating around on YouTube by "fabioesfabuloso." Photos embedded in the Picasa slideshow below are generously supplied by Mark Nadell, aka "Captain Nordic," Far West Team Coach and action photographer extraordinaire.

This year's Nordic Junior Olympics featured a total of 380 racers - including eight from SBA who qualified to compete - from among the ten different divisions of the United States. The Far West Division took a total of 28 skiers. 

Proudly representing Sugar Bowl Academy were the followings student athletes: 
  • Seniors Austin Meng and Evan Dion (OJ category);
  • Sophomore Alec Wiltz (J1);
  • Sophomore Katrin Larusson, (J2);
  • First-year student-athletes Bria Riggs, Danielle Nivinski, and Camille Hartley (J2); and
  • J3 eight-grader Sam Zabell, who skied up into the J2 category. 
This year, all of the athletes stayed together in an “Olympic Village” at the Marriot in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota - this year's JO host city - and traveled the five miles to the race venue at Wirth Park by shuttle buses. 

The whole event had a much more urban feel than most ski races with a city of 2.5 million people surrounding the venue. The courses were first class and surprisingly hilly, and the snow conditions were excellent with Minnesota having one of their biggest winters in recent memory. 

The week-long race series consists of three individual races and a team relay on the last day, plus two training days on Tuesday and Thursday to allow for recovery.

The first race of the week was the skate sprint race. A 1.4 kilometer loop is raced in a preliminary round, and then the top 30 racers from each age group advance to head-to-head heats, with the winners moving on to semi finals and then finals. It is a long day with the top racers racing 4 different times around the course.  

Katrin Larusson was awesome this day, placing eighth in the J2 girls category and earning All-American status. Also super strong in the sprint was Bria Riggs, who advanced to the quarterfinals and finished 24th on the day. Austin just missed the heats by less than a second and finished 32nd. Danielle, in her first season of ski racing, was a surprisingly good 42nd, while Evan placed 49th, Alec 53rd, Camille 54th, and Sam 55th.

The next race was the long distance classic race, 5k for the younger skiers and 15K for the older racers. Race day dawned with new snow falling right at 32 degrees: a classic waxing nightmare!  The coaches were out testing all day and making changes to the wax every 15 minutes as temperatures fluctuated a crucial few degrees all day. 

Katrin again led the Far West team with a 9th place and her second All-American honors for the week. Austin struggled with some slick skis and fought hard for 29th. Sam had one of his better races of the week placing 55th in a field of much older and bigger racers. The experience he gained here will be invaluable for him down the road. For most of the rest of the SBA team, this was a rough race and their results were a bit back from the sprint day.

Friday was the interval start skate race.  Katrin finished 12th, less than one second out of the top ten, in the J2 5k. The competition is so closely spaced that a few seconds can be ten places even over the course of 5-10 Kilometers of racing.  Bria had another strong skate race placing 34th in the J2 girls.  Austin had another tough day, but Evan, Alec, Camille, and Danielle all improved over their classic races, and it was now time to focus on Saturday’s relays.

The Relays are arguably the most exciting events of the week and are the most important for team scoring. This year the relay was in the classic technique and teams were made up of 3 people each skiing 3 kilometers.  Katrin and Bria were teamed up with Laurel Fiddler from Mammoth (who will be attending SBA next year) on the top Far West J2 team. They skied a strong race and finished 8th out of 24 teams. Austin was on the top Far West OJ team and anchored them to a 10th place finish. Alec skied his best race of the week on his relay team and earned the 17th fastest split of everyone in his leg of over 50 racers. Sam earned a spot on the top Far West J2 team and skied a respectable second leg for his team. Danielle and Camille each skied on different relay teams and skied well and hard to finish the week on a very positive note.

It was a tough week of racing and SBA athletes raced hard, but also saw how fast some of the racers from the rest of the country are, especially the New England and Alaska teams. 

We were a young team this year and I think gained a ton of great experience. Katrin showed everyone that we can be in the very top of the nation. 

Of the 105 High Schools represented, SBA girls finished 9th and SBA boys finished 14th. In both cases we were the second placed ski academy behind Stratton Mountain School, and were ahead of Burke, GVMS, Gould, and all of the other ski academies. 

We know we can do better and are already getting psyched for JO’s 2012! Next year it will be at Soldier Hollow, Utah, a venue that suits us well because of its high altitude and hilly trails. We know we have a lot of work to do but we are excited and are already training for next year!


PS - Thank you, too, to Alex Wiltz for your many Tweets during the JOs!