Seven members of the Methow Valley Nordic Team (MVNT) traveled to Cable, Wisconsin, for the Junior National Championships March 7–12.
The skiers competed in their respective age classes against the best skiers from the 10 divisions across the United States, representing the Pacific Northwest Ski Association (PNSA).
“With nearly 400 skiers participating, competition was fierce,” coach Leslie Hall reported. “We arrived in Cable to some great skiing and winter conditions, but the weather changed drastically the afternoon before the first race and the skiers were faced with rapidly warming conditions.”
The classic interval start competition was on Monday (March 7). Conditions changed throughout the day and waxing conditions were difficult.
Eli Nielsen, the first MVNT skier to compete, placed 75th in the U18 10-kilometer race. He had been struggling with illness since his return from Youth Olympic Games in Norway and was not feeling completely ready to race, Hall said.
Claire Waichler and Ella Hall were the next MVNT competitors on the 5K course, finishing 15th and 16th respectively in the U20 field.
The U16 girls were up next, with Novie McCabe and Scholz representing the Methow Valley in the 5K event. McCabe finished eighth in her class. Scholz placed 44th in the U16 girls’ class.
Peter Aspholm and Emerson Worrell struggled with ski selection and illness recovery and ended up 56th and 59th respectively in the U16 boys’ race.
Because of deteriorating conditions, all events were changed to freestyle (skate) and the schedule was rearranged. Rather than compete on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, the skiers would race a distance race on Thursday, a sprint on Friday and hopefully some form of relay on Saturday. Hundreds of volunteers headed out to shovel snow and drain water from areas on the course.
That meant a freestyle distance race on Thursday. Nielsen felt a bit better but was still not up to his normal standards. He placed 71st in the U18 boys’10K race.
Waichler and Hall also raced 10K, with Waichler placing fifth in the U20 women (13th overall). Hall pushed hard for another solid race, finishing 13th in the U20 10k (26th overall).
Aspholm had come down with a cold and was not feeling too energetic, placing 60th in the U16 boys’ 5K freestyle. Worrell finished 61st.
The U16 girls were the last to go in the soft, wet conditions. Both McCabe and Scholz had good days. McCabe worked her way up throughout the race, ending in second place just 3 seconds from first. Scholz finished 15th in the challenging U16 field.
It was decided that the U20 skiers would skip quarterfinal heats so only 12 would advance in those age groups rather than the standard 30 that would advance in the U16 and U18 categories.
The U16 ladies went first on the fast 1.1K loop. McCabe was the only PNSA skier in the top 30, finishing 12th in the qualifier. She moved on to the quarterfinals, where she finished second. In the semi-finals, she skied another smart race and won that heat, putting her in the final along with the five other fastest young ladies. Her strategy didn’t work as well in the final and she was boxed in on an uphill but still finished in fourth place overall, coach Hall reported.
The only other MVNT skier to advance into the heats was Waichler, who placed 12th in the U20 qualifier. She advanced directly to semi-finals, where she finished in fourth, putting her into the B final where she raced for 7th to 12th place. Waichler finished in the middle of that pack for ninth place and another All American (top 10) finish.
The snow was rapidly disappearing, so the organizers came up with an innovative solution to the problem. They decided to run a modified “patrol” race, in which each relay team of three would begin together at 30-second intervals and the skiers would race on a 2K course to the top of Mt. Telemark, 1,700 feet at the summit. The teams were selected based on earlier results that week with the top five teams being awarded medals.
Waichler and Hall were the only two U20s from PNSA, so Uhuru Hashimoto moved up to join their team. The ladies had the faster snow and pushed well, finishing fifth for the U20 ladies. Aspholm and Worrell were paired with Nielsen, meaning they had to race up in the U18 category. The team finished 29th in the large boys’ field.
McCabe and Scholz both got to be part of the first PNSA U16 team along with Hadassah Lurber from Leavenworth. They finished fourth among U16 girls’ teams. McCabe narrowly missed being crowned Queen of the Hill in her age class. She had the second-fastest climb in her age group, less than 1 second behind the fastest girl.
Waichler and Nielsen are headed to Quebec for the Canadian Biathlon Nationals. The end-of-the-season potluck for the Team will be next Wednesday (March 23) at the Mazama Community Club.