Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic skiers shine at U.S. senior national championships in Houghton, Michigan
Three girls place in the top-15 in the 10-kilometer classic mass start
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Nordic ski team has returned from four days of racing at the U.S. senior national championships in Houghton, Michigan (Jan. 2-7). Head coach Eric Pepper said that overall, it was a good week.
“We had some top performances out of those who have been going really well all season. We had some others gain really good experience racing against very high quality competition at sea level,” he said.
While Wednesday’s double-pole-friendly classic sprint didn’t provide as many opportunities for the altitude-trained SSCV skiers to rev their aerobic engines, Friday’s 10-kilometer classic mass start race did.
“The classic mass start was a very good day for us,” said Pepper, adding that with the course’ flat opening kilometer and fast downhill to follow, getting out quickly in a field of 135 boys and 109 girls was paramount.
“We knew this, we talked about it a lot and we did very well executing that and staying out of trouble.”
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SSCV alumna Haley Brewster, skiing for the University of Vermont, finished second overall in 32 minutes, 51.1 seconds. Rose Horning (32:56.8) was third and the top U18, her sister Adele (33:09) was fifth and SSCV teammate Emma Barsness (33:47.3) placed 15th in a field composed of numerous NCAA athletes and several of the country’s top juniors.
“Having those girls up front together seemed to really help all of them and they just really enjoyed the day,” said Pepper.
“These races were certainly a great opportunity to show many college coaches what I am capable of,” said Adele Horning, who said she focused on effort, mindset and technique process-goals during the week, but did accomplish one key outcome goal by pre-qualifying for the U.S. Junior Nationals in Fairbanks this March.
“When talking with my coach previously in the week, he had mentioned that, to pre-qualify, I would likely have to get to-10 in this race. I hoped for this, but thought it might be out of my reach,” the Lake County high school senior continued. After double-poling outside the tracks at the start and avoiding a pile-up on the first major downhill, Horning said she was left out of position.
“Then, on the first hill, I put it all out there and made contact with the front group,” she detailed. Horning was able to pull alongside her sister, Rose, in fourth, and even held a podium place for large portions of the last lap.
“I was a little disappointed because two girls passed me near the end of the race, but I gave everything I had and was thrilled with the result.”
“The most exciting part of this race for me was getting to be racing with Adele,” Rose stated. “We were able to work together and push each other the whole time.”
Capped by her third-place finish, Rose Horning opened a few international doors.
“Rose just booked herself a heck of a calendar coming up,” Pepper commented. She will compete alongside former SSCV skier Brewster again at the World Junior Championships in Whistler, Canada at the end of the month. She also qualified for the U18 Nations Cup races in Jyvaskyla, Laajavuori (Finland) two weeks later. Finally, she earned a spot on the 2024 Youth Olympic Games team in Gangwon, South Korea.
“So from a purely results outcome perspective I don’t think we could have asked for much more for her,” Pepper said. “Having the opportunity to go to those places and partake in those races is going to be great.”
“Even throughout the week, I was not expecting to qualify for Junior Worlds,” the younger Horning stated. “I had not even considered youth olympics, so when I found out I qualified for the trip I was speechless. Overall this week could not have been more exciting.”
On the boys side, Will Bentley churned out another stellar performance with a 16th overall placing racing as a U16 in the U20 race.
“Will has had a really strong season so far. He was fantastic in early December and again in Houghton he was very good. You don’t see many U16 boys show up at races like that,” Pepper said.
“When you are looking at a U16 going up against U18s and U20s, that is a big task. He just loves that part and seems to really thrive the higher the level of competition. So, while he came up a bit short of some big goals he set for himself, he skied really well and I was very impressed.”
“Andrew (Lombardi) and Reiner (Schmidt) also skied really well as first-year U18s in a race that has some much intensity and is really hectic throughout,” the coach continued. Schmidt and Lombardi placed 87th and 104th, respectively.
The final event of the week, Saturday’s skate sprint, proved more challenging.
“It seemed like the U20 field was very strong this year and you have a lot of college racers in that group,” Pepper said. “So for our group made up of almost all high school aged skiers those races were a pretty big ask.”
Rose Horning and Izzy Glackin qualified top-30 to race in the heats, with Horning going as far as the semifinals. SSCV didn’t have any boys qualify.
“It was a great week of racing in Houghton,” Glackin stated in an email after the races. “All the best Nordic skiers from around the country were there. It gave us all the chance to see where we stack up against the best.”
When asked if he sensed any extra inspiration amongst the athletes as they raced alongside the country’s best senior athletes in several of the races, Pepper said it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
“For some, that can be really exciting and for some it can be intimidating and we probably had a bit of a full spectrum going on,” he said. “Part of racing and gaining experience to me is normalizing that sort of thing and just getting that ‘I belong here’ sort of feeling.”
“I think the biggest difference with having the senior athletes at these races as well was the level of competition,” added Adele Horning. “Every fraction of a second counted, which was definitely exciting.”
“We had an amazing group of athletes and coaches at these races. My skis were perfect for every race, and the team was very supportive. I loved getting to celebrate my successes with such an amazing group of teammates,” Rose Horning said.
Up next for Pepper’s squad is the “SuperQ” at Soldier Hollow, a Junior National Qualifier (JNQ) which uniquely features all five western divisions. Pepper said he is looking forward to seeing his athletes who sat out Houghton get a chance to race again after the five-week gap between the opening JNQ in Crested Butte last month and the events at the 2002 Olympic venue.
“It is going to be really fun to get back out there and see what we have learned these last few weeks,” he said. “Overall we feel good and are ready to go.”