Vail Christian’s Linder wins state classic title |

Vail Christian’s Linder wins state classic title

Special to the DailyVail Christian's Jessica Linder pulls her way to a win in classic Thursday at the sttae meet in Leadville. With the good medal, Linder becomes the first Saint to win a state title.

LEADVILLE, Colorado ” Vail Christian’s Jessica Linder took a nap Thursday afternoon, and she had earned it.

Linder powered her way to a win with a time of 18 minutes, 50 seconds in Thursday morning’s state-meet classic Nordic race, edging Vail Mountain’s Kaitlin (19:23.4) and Lauren Zdechlik (20:09.9) at the Leadville Colorado Mountain College.

Linder is a state champion, and to settle a little confusion in Saints Nation, yes, she is first Vail Christian athlete of any sport to earn that title.

“My mom (Clarine) kind of mentioned it to me that I might be the first, but I wasn’t sure,” Linder said. “It’s great, but I have a ton of respect for athletes like Rachel Glandorf. They were my mentors and their plaques are on the wall in my school.”

And soon Linder will have her own plaque.

While Vail Christian’s history is relatively brief compared to other local high schools, there have been some amazing female athletes to wear the blue and silver, headed up the aforementioned Glandorf. The Class of 2005 alumna needs really small print on her plaque in Edwards to cram in all of her athletic accomplishments ” state track medals, all-keague and all-state honors. Glandorf, as well as former teammate Leslie Peterson, had tremendous moments at the state track meet, winning two silver medals each.

But Linder is the first Saints to climb to the top step.

And she wasn’t the only Vail Christian athlete making history. Under the trend of small is the new big ” Vail Mountain won both the boys’ and girls’ Nordic team titles Thursday ” the Saints’ trio of Ian Hamina, Ryan Vlaar and Eric Gallagher all cracked the top 20 to finish fourth in the state, the school’s best team finish on snow.

Race strategy

With the state meet at 10,000 feet, Linder did not want to spend her energy too early. Facing the majority of the uphills in the first half of the race, she wanted some power left to take advantage of the final 2.5 kilometers.

Another interesting factor was the interval start with racers beginning every 30 seconds. While that’s not unusual in Nordic skiing, Linder didn’t have any idea where she was in comparison to her rivals, who had scattered start times.

Midway though the race, Dan Weiland, who has coached at the Vail Nordic Center for years and is a former state Nordic champ himself, barked out Linder’s split times. According to Weiland, she was 25 seconds ahead of the field.

A lead is always good, but not a foregone conclusion.

“One you get your split, you have to push extremely hard,” she said. “You know that the other girls are out there pushing as hard or harder than you. That’s where you can get too comfortable and lose the race.”

Linder did feel she was fast, as planned, through the downhill portions during the second half of the race, but there was also the mental factor. The final part of the course had the finish line within sight, but the racers still had one more loop to do before crossing the line.

“At that point, it’s mentally difficult to stay concentrated,” Linder said. “I got it back on that last loop.”

Linder crossed the finish line understandably exhausted, and then the waiting game began. She felt she had a good race. But a veteran of Nordic skiing, she knew that her competitors could have picked up time on the faster half of the course.

Weiland radioed Vail Mountain coach Karl Hochtl to tell Linder than she had won the race by 30 seconds, but that was still unofficial. It wasn’t until the certified results went up after 30 agonizing minutes later that Linder knew she was the best in Colorado.

“It’s my senior year and I’d been kind of looking to get this,” Linder said. “I don’t know if there’s really a word to describe winning this. I was tired, got to the (results) sheet and did a ‘Yes,’ and did a little dance.”

“I just think this just shows how hard she’s worked, her work ethic, the way she’s worked on her technique and her motivation,” Saints Nordic coach Ana Jeronimous said. “She is just so drive and this represents what she’s worked for.”

The Saints actually finished seventh as squad at Thursday’s Nordic state meet with just two skiers ” three racers score for team points. Lettie Fickling finished 28th in 23:42, giving the Saints 100 points to finish ahead of Lake County, Evergreen, Clear Creek as well as Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley.

Hamina leads boys to fourth

The Vail Christian boys Nordic team hadn’t raced together all season, proving that dress rehearsals are highly-overrated.

While Hamina, Vlaar and Gallagher all qualified for state at various points in the season, assorted school tests, activities, illnesses and other Nordic races prevented the trio of Saints from racing on the same day during the regular season.

The trio got together Thursday and all cracked the top-20 for fourth place with 135 points, only behind established programs VMS, Aspen and Nederland.

“It was awesome,” Hamina said. “It was the first race we raced together this year when someone wasn’t missing. Last night in our goals (meeting), we said that we wanted all of up in the top 25, and it happened.”

Hamina took 12th in 17:50.1, while Vlaar was 17th (18:43.1), followed by Gallagher in 19th (18:53.8).

“They deserve all the results they get,” Jeronimous said.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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