Cross-country skiers can’t meet expectations, but show well at USSA Junior Championships
Steamboat Springs — Some of the skiers who competed in last week’s 2017 USSA Cross Country Junior Nationals went looking for titles, but for many more, the events were an eye-opening experience.
“I think from an athletic perspective, it was a great opportunity to feel the level of competition nationwide,” said Brian Tate, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s cross country director. “It took our skiers out of their neighborhood and allowed them to see a much broader spectrum of talent. It will allow our athletes to seek a higher level of performance during their next trip to the junior nationals in a year.”
Wyatt Gebhardt skied to fourth-place in the U18 division of the opening races March 6 in Lake Placid, New York. He finished the 10-kilometer freestyle race 33 seconds behind winner Gus Schumacher, of Alaska.
“Wyatt has been so dominant at the start of the season, but I think he kind of ran out of gas down the stretch,” Tate said. “It’s hard to stay hot from November through March. I think it was more important for Wyatt to be on top of his game in January and February this year — it was more important to qualify for Junior Worlds and to show well at those events.”
It wasn’t that Gephardt skied poorly — his finish was the best of the week for a skier from Steamboat Springs. But Tate said the Steamboat skier looked a step slower than he had all season. Tate said Gephardt was at the top of his game through February, but maintaining that pace for the entire season is nearly impossible.
This week, Gebhardt and his sister, Waverly, are competing in Europe as part of a U.S. contingent, so there is still plenty of skiing left for them.
Other opening-day top finishers included Chase High, who was 24th in the U16 boys 5-kilometer race; Evan Barbier, who turned in one of his best showings of the season with a 19th in the U20 boys 10-kilometer race; and Dasha Kuznetsova, who broke into the top-20, placing 19th in the U18 girls 5-kilometer race.
On March 8 Noel Keeffe and Nick Sweeney kicked off the Classic Sprint on a high note. Each recorded the fastest qualifying times in his respective U18 and U20 boys groups and entered the quarterfinals with the top seeds. But a bit of bad luck cost the Steamboat skiers on the final turn to the finish in the quarterfinals, where warming snow tripped up the favorites. Neither skier advanced from the quarterfinals.
Waverly Gebhardt highlighted the girls race by making her way through the finals en route to a fifth-place finish. It was a huge improvement for the Steamboat skier, who, after winning every regional freestyle race she entered this season, has been battling illness headed into the championships.
“This was one of the most challenging seasons for illness for our program,” Tate said. “We had 27 athletes who missed significant time due to illness.”
Waverly Gebhart could only manage a 42nd in the U16 girls 5-kilometer race opening day, but by the time the sprints rolled around, she was feeling better and growing stronger.
The Steamboat girls might have fared even better, but a late-afternoon snow squall impacted Sadie Cotton and Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals of the girls sprint. The new snow played havoc with the girls’ grip wax, and neither advanced out of the quarterfinals. Cotton finished 24th, and Kuznetsova was 29th in the U18 girls division. Meg Anderson raced to a 20th place in the U20 girls classic sprint.
Kuznetsova highlighted the Steamboat finishes with a ninth-place showing in the U18 girls division in the final solo event of the week, the 10-kilometer Individual Classic.
Steamboat’s Keeffe was 16th in the U18 boys race, Wyatt Gebhardt was 17th in the U18 boys race and Waverly Gebhardt was 15th in the U16 girls race.
The week came to a close with the three-person team relay. Steamboat’s Wyatt Gebhardt and Keeffe teamed up with Nolan Herzog to make up the Rocky Mountain U18 boys team that finished in fourth.
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