Historic day for Vail Mountain at state ski meet
Vail, CO Colorado
LEADVILLE, Colorado ” At Vail Mountain, the Gore Rangers like to keep championships in the family.
That’s exactly what happened on Thursday at the state Nordic meet in Leadville.
Vail Mountain’s historic day concluded with both the boys and girls’ teams winning the team championship in classic. Two different sets of siblings captured classic team titles, and one brother added to his family’s legacy. For the boys, it was their second-straight classic team championship.
The boys topped Aspen, 171-164, and the girls beat the Skiers by almost the same score, 173-165.
That meant that Sally and Tony Ryerson, Kaitlin and Lauren Zdechlik and yet another Woods, this time Sean, wore gold medals after the race.
Woods’ accomplishment might be the most unique. He topped a talented field to win the individual gold. Last season, his brother, Chris, pulled off the same feat in classic.
“It’s definitely really cool,” Sean Woods said. “It’s keeping the title in the family. (Chris) is really happy for me.”
The Woods family has a chance to put a stranglehold on the classic title. Sean is only a junior.
“At first, it really didn’t hit me,” Woods said. “A couple hours later, I was kind of like whoa. It was really cool. I’m really happy right now.”
To be more clear, Woods is both ecstatic and exhausted. After building a 20-second lead during the first half of the race, Woods couldn’t afford to take it easy with Battle Mountain’s Conor Wallace and teammate Tony Ryerson close behind.
Luckily, Woods is used to big races. Last year, he won the Skimeister award, but decided to drop the alpine events to concentrate solely on Nordic.
“I really like Nordic skiing,” Woods said. “It’s a passion for me.”
His winning time of 15 minutes, 36 seconds was nine seconds ahead of Wallace.
“You could tell Sean was feeling good,” VMS coach Karl Hochtl said. “He went strong. When Sean’s on, he’s on. He’s tough to beat.”
The same could be said for the entire VMS team. Tony Ryerson overcame a cold to finish in third place in 15:49.8.
Rob Fitz couldn’t have picked a better time for the best classic race of his life. The senior nearly cracked the top five, but settled for sixth to give the Gore Rangers the team title.
“It felt really good (to win),” Ryerson said. “Sean had an awesome race. I managed to ski well being sick. Rob had a really strong classic race.”
Wallace’s performance also deserves kudos for the Huskies. After falling behind Woods by 20 seconds at the start of the race, Wallace nearly came back to take the title.
“Conor was able to close,” Hochtl said. “He just couldn’t do it soon enough, especially with it being a 5K.”
The family theme continued in the girls’ race. Sisters Lauren and Kaitlin Zdechlik not only helped VMS to the team championship, they found themselves in a battle for second place behind Vail Christian’s Jessica Linder.
Kaitlin, a senior, edged her little sister in a time of 19:23.4. Lauren claimed third for the Gore Rangers.
“It was really cool,” Kaitlin said. “It was so fun to have her right behind me. Everybody that knew us were like, ‘Oh my gosh, congratulations.’ I’m really excited for her.”
Don’t forget about freshman Sally Ryerson. She and her brother, Tony, can compare their titles for years to come. Ryerson took seventh in a time of 20:53.
VMS wasn’t done with Ryerson’s performance. The Gore Rangers strong day included Betsy Batts in 12th, Bridget Moffet in 13th and Amelia Ortiz in 18th. Even though their times didn’t count toward the team score, VMS’ depth is impressive.
“It really goes back to how hard they’ve worked over the course of the year,” Hochtl said. “You think back to the beginning of the season and you watch what’s happening on a day like today. It’s fun to see that progress. That’s why you coach.”
Part of the reason for VMS’ success is its relaxed attitude. While their classmates on the boys’ side push each other hard every chance they get, the girls just simply enjoy skiing together.
“On Wednesday, we had a bunch of fun,” Kaitlin Zdechlik said. “We just skied and had some fun. I encouraged them to not worry about (state) too much because it can get a little nerve-wracking.”
Skate race today
The best part about VMS’ sweep in the classic? It’s that the Gore Rangers get a chance to do the same in skate. The guys will once again be tested by Aspen, especially with the Skiers’ talented Scott Lacy expected to race after not competing on Thursday.
VMS is the favorite in the girls’ race to claim its second title. Currently, the Gore Rangers sit in second place behind Middle Park in the overall team title (alpine and Nordic).
For now, at least, the Gore Rangers are satisfied with their historic first day at the state meet.
“It was definitely a great day for VMS,” Tony Ryerson said.
Gore Rangers zip through slalom
The Nordic athletes weren’t the only ones finding success at the state meet on Thursday. In the slalom race at Ski Cooper, VMS put three girls in the top 26 to take fourth place.
Katharine Irwin led the charge in 10th. She finished with a combined time of 1:21.61. Eva Spaeh (15th) and Kim Newton (26th) also did well.
“They all dropped a couple of places on their second run,” VMS coach Ross Sappenfield said. “They are very excited for giant slalom tomorrow. Katharine is a GS specialist. All four of the girls, with Kathleen Moore, love the GS.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.