You betcha: Perkins podiums at Junior National cross-country ski meet
SSCV’s U16 girls lead Rocky Mountain Division on second day of competition
In Minnesota, only one phrase expresses the universally satisfying feeling of a warm cup of cocoa after a day spent in sub-zero windchills: Uff da! When SSCV Nordic coach Dan Weiland came into Theodore Wirth Lodge after eight hours of waxing, testing and re-waxing skis in the bitter elements, an arduous effort which helped propel four of his U16 girls into the top 11 at Wednesday’s U.S. Junior Nationals sprint classic, he could have used another one of the North Star State’s signature phrases: You betcha.
“That was a good result for us today,” were the words he elected to use instead as he answered some post-race questions while sipping a mocha.
The familiar pair of Lucy Perkins (third) and Rose Horning (fourth) led the way.
“Being able to actually get on the podium was very exciting,” exclaimed Perkins. After qualifying in the top 30 of the 77-skier field, both athletes navigated quarterfinal and semifinal rounds before lining up together in the “A” final. Perkins found her lane early in the 1.3-kilometer course.
“From then on it just kept going my way,” she summarized, noting her strategy of hammering the final steep uphill. During the ensuing speedy downhill and banked left turn, Perkins thought of her teammate who was coming along her left side.
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“I knew Rose was there and both of us really want it,” Perkins admitted. “I knew it was going to be super hard, but either way I was going to be happy with whatever it came to.”
The training partners have swapped podium positions numerous times during the season. “I feel like the fact that we’ve had quite a few of these sprints-to-the-finishes together kind of prepared us,” Horning chuckled.
After what she described as a “rough qualifier,” Horning cruised through her quarterfinal round before avoiding a fall in the semifinal, moving from fifth to third to snag the lucky loser slot. Not the quickest off the line, the Leadville-based athlete was aiming to push all of the transitions.
“Over the tops of hills and that sort of thing,” she outlined. “And also skiing the downhills really well, which seemed to work.”
With a grandpa visiting from Maine, the medal-winning performance was extra special.
“I was really excited,” she said.
In the B-final, Cassidy Wright and Gracen Kennedy took seventh and 11th place, respectively. “It was really good,” Kennedy said.
“The skis were very good,” added Wright. “It was extremely fun.”
Monday’s individual start freestyle was disappointing for SSCV athletes and staff, with Sarah Bivens’s fifth place in the U20 division (21st in the combined U18/20 race) and Horning’s 11th being the highest marks of the 15 athletes along for the trip. Reiner Schmidt led the U16 boys in 19th.
“Overall as a division, we were a little bummed,” admitted Weiland. “We just expected more considering the talent that we know we have here.” After Wednesday’s results, the mood’s increasingly optimistic.
“It’s the first race, it’s a long week. Now, we’re coming a bit into our own. It sets up really well for the classic mass start race on Friday,” he said.
One challenge for the elevation-trained athletes has been figuring out pacing at closer to sea level. “The hardest one for us to do is an interval start distance race,” explained Weiland. Racing alone, athletes lack a compass to gauge their efforts. “You have no idea — you feel like you’re flying. In the sprint race, everyone is there. You can kind of compare.”
Kennedy has enjoyed the cardiovascular advantage, however, stating, “We’re not really limited to our lungs — it’s more our muscles out here.”
“It’s a lot different, but it’s really fun,” added Wright.
The novel nature of a deep and star-studded national stage may have also contributed.
“Monday’s race was surprising in a sense,” said Perkins.
“You come out of the races (in Colorado) being on top and then you come here and everyone’s on top. So, just getting that experience of ‘oh, wow, everybody’s fast here.'”
Both Perkins and Horning raced at U.S. senior nationals in January, but as youngsters going against adults and collegians, the pressure is off. “You’re young so you don’t have too much expectation,” Perkins said.
“You’re there to learn,” added Horning.
Though the longest day is behind them, the coldest probably isn’t. Friday’s temperatures will hover between the negatives and teens. Still Weiland believes it’s all downhill from here.
“If you can get through a classic sprint, that’s always the hardest day,” he said.
“For us as a club that was amazing.”