Eagle Valley boys basketball comes back from 21-point deficit to defeat Basalt 59-57 in season opener
Coming off a regular season in which they only lost five games, the Devils boys basketball team wasn’t about to start 2022-23 with an 0-1 record. On Thursday night, Eagle Valley stormed back from a 32-11 deficit to win its season opener 59-57, on the road against Basalt.
“Just a ridiculous, crazy game,” head coach Justin Brandt said. Last season, the Devils went 18-5 before falling to Mesa Ridge in the state tournament. Having graduated a large proportion of the team’s athletic interior with the loss of multi-sport forwards Eric Hasley and Erich Petersen, Brandt and his crew tried to compensate by showing a full-court press coming out of the gates. The goal was to prevent Basalt, which was 7-13 last year, from exploiting the size differential.
“We were not focused to start,” Brandt said, noting that Basalt was able to break the Devils’ full-court press with ease. Thanks to some hot first-half shooting, the Longhorns screamed out to the early lead. Eagle Valley adjusted, dropping into its half-court defense.
“We built a wall and slowly climbed back,” Brandt said. The play of backup point guard Hugo Garcia, who flew back from visiting family in Spain on Wednesday, was instrumental.
“He just came in and changed the script. Just brought great energy and was dictating to his teammates,” Brandt said of Garcia’s apparent jet lag immunity. “He really carried us.”
At halftime, the coach preached about the need to create space for the team’s best shooters moving forward. His athletes responded. The 6-foot-5, sharpshooting Nikko Von Stralendorff went to work, collecting a team-leading 16 points. Branden Villalobos added 15.
“Just some huge buckets down the stretch,” Brandt said. ”Those two really carry us, set the tone in practice and work hard.”
Von Stralendorff accumulated most of his minutes last season at the ‘three’ position, but this year, he’s taken over some ball-handling duties as well. “If teams run him tight, he can take two dribbles and pull-up,” Brandt said of the move to being a secondary point guard. As the team’s tallest player, he’s an inside threat as well, and although he’s been given free rein to post up, Brandt believes he serves the team most in the open.
“He’s just so versatile in space, we don’t post him up directly.”
The star’s catch-and-shoot skills stoke fear into opposing defenses, and this year, Brandt said Von Stralendorff has worked to complete his game going into his senior campaign.
“He can get to the paint more. He’s a finisher around the rim,” the coach commented. “He hasn’t lost his shot by any means — he might be even a better shooter, but he’s definitely rounding his game out which is beautiful to see.”
Offensively, the graduation of Bryan Martinez has forced the Devils to scheme out new ways of getting into the paint.
“He was so good at penetrating and creating,” Brandt said of Martinez. “This year, we’re going to need our offense to create more, not just our personnel create.”
On Thursday, as the Devils eventually established an inside-out groove and consequently, open looks materialized. Gunther Soltvedt, one of the team’s better shooters, nailed a few clutch 3-pointers as the Devils — who return only three players with significant varsity minutes — completed the 21-point comeback.
“It was a great game,” Brandt said. “It was definitely a team win.”
Eagle Valley plays Colorado Academy on Dec. 8 at a neutral site before contesting a neutral set of tournament games against Grand Valley and Canon City on Dec. 15.
The ultimate Birds of Prey guide: how to watch, where to get autographs and much more
Race weekend is here, folks and we have your comprehensive guide on who to watch and where to watch them. Of course, there’s more than just skiing at the Xfinity Birds of Prey FIS World Cup event — and we’ve got you covered there, too.
How to watch
There’s at least three ways to take in the Birds of Prey event — we’re not counting the fourth option of streaming NBC’s coverage from your couch. If the World Cup comes to your backyard, you might as well go.
First, there’s Red Tail Stadium, where the Battle Mountain High School drumline will provide a pre-race processional each morning. If getting to the finish area is your plan, Ross Leonhart of the Vail Valley Foundation, the local organizing committee for the Xfinity Birds of Prey, recommends getting an early start.
“With the races starting a bit earlier this year, we really want to encourage people to plan ahead,” he said, adding that fans should allow for about one hour of travel time from parking the car to standing in Red Tail Stadium.
The BOP racecourse was built in 1997 in preparation for the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. It was designed by Olympic downhill gold medalist Bernhard Russi of Switzerland.
The course drops 757 meters, with an average gradient of 17 degrees and max gradient of 32 degrees.
The first BOP competition was Dec. 2-6, 1997. Italy’s Kristian Ghedina won the first race, the opening downhill on Dec. 4.
Daron Rahlves holds the fastest World Cup or World Championship race time ever recorded on the BOP course (1:39.59). HIs 2003 downhill victory brought an end to a 19-year American drought on U.S. soil — it was the first time an American male had stood on the top step of a World Cup downhill podium in the U.S. since Bill Johnson’s 1984 downhill win in Aspen.
The second option is to enjoy the action at the new live watch party set up on the ice rink in Beaver Creek Village. There will be a DJ to get the party started before the live race feed comes on, and spectators can enjoy food, drink and sponsor expos as well.
Finally, fans will also be able to enjoy ski-in, ski-out access to the stadium starting Friday via Red Tail Trail.
Due to Red Tail Trail being used by the ski racers each day to warm up before the races, the trail will not open to the public until 10 a.m. and will close at 1 p.m., Friday-Sunday. The intermediate run will be closed to the public on Thursday. Dally will provide a beginner trail out, with Birds of Prey Express Lift taking skiers and snowboarders back up the mountain.
Thus, spectators who would like to be at Red Tail Stadium to view the start of the races will need to use the free buses up to the stadium from Beaver Creek Village. Ski racks will be available at the venue, and spectators will have access to the Birds of Prey Express Lift (No. 9) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day of the races to exit the venue, or can ski or snowboard down from the venue via Dally.
“It’s a rare experience to be able to ski in and ski out to view the Xfinity Birds of Prey races,” said Ron Rupert, Chief of Race and Beaver Creek Resort Manager of Competition Services, in a Friday night press release.
“I want to share immense gratitude to all of the teams that worked diligently to pull off this experience. We can’t wait to welcome guests to Beaver Creek Resort for some electric ski racing this weekend!”
Beat Feuz, 35 SUI: 16 World Cup wins, 58 World Cup podiums, four World Cup downhill season titles, three World Championship medals, three Olympic medals, two Birds of Prey wins.
Mattias Mayer, 32, AUT: 11 World Cup wins, 44 World Cup podiums, four Olympic medals, three Birds of Prey podiums (2021, 2019).Had Thursday’s top downhill training run.
Vincent Kriechmayr, 31, AUT: 12 World Cup wins, 27 World Cup podiums, one World Cup season title (2021 super-G), four World Championship medals, one Birds of Prey win (2017 super-G).
Alexis Pinturault, 31, FRA: 34 World Cup wins, 74 World Cup podiums, six World Championship medals, six Olympic medals, two Birds of Prey podiums (2014, super-G and GS)
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, 30, NOR: 14 World Cup wins, 31 World Cup podiums, five World cup season titles (2016 and 2022 super-G, 2020 overall, 2022 downhill), two Birds of Prey wins (2021 downhill, super-G).
Marco Odermatt, 25, SUI: 13 World Cup wins, 32 World Cup podiums, two Birds of Prey wins (2021 super-G, 2019, super-G).
The ageless wonders:
Johan Clarey, 41, FRA: nine World Cup podiums, one World Championships medal (2019 super-G silver), one Birds of Prey podium (second place, 2019 downhill).
Steve Nyman, 40, USA: three World Cup wins, 11 World Cup podiums, two Birds of Prey podiums (second place, 2007 downhill, third place, 2014 downhill).
The American hopefuls:
Bryce Bennett: two-time Olympian; one career World Cup downhill win (2021, Val Gardena, ITA). Was 26th in Thursday’s downhill training run.
Travis Ganong: 2015 World Championship silver medalist in Beaver Creek, third-place in last year’s Birds of Prey super-G.
Ryan Cochran-Siegle: 2022 Olympic silver medalist (super-G).Was fourth overall in Thursday’s downhill training run.
River Radamus: Edwards skier was the fourth-place finisher at 2022 Olympics in giant slalom; 15th in super-G. 2019 World Junior champion (super-G and giant slalom), looking for first World Cup podium in Sunday’s super-G.
Kyle Negomir: 24-year-old SSCV alumnus had his first World Cup start at Beaver Creek on Dec. 2, 2018. The 2019 NorAm champion has looked strong in training after sustaining a season-ending downhill training-run crash in Dec. 2020.
On Friday, memorabilia hunters should plan to stick around after the first downhill event to grab autographs from Shaun White, members of the U.S. Ski Team, and Olympic heroes Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety. White will be hanging at the Celsius Igloo in Beaver Creek Village from 2:30-3:30 p.m. The five-time Olympian is a three-time half-pipe gold medalist — if you get his signature, follow Jim Carrey’s advice: “Might want to hold onto that one.”
Members of the U.S. Ski Team will be signing posters, helmets, ski poles and/or your baby’s forehead in Birds of Prey Way from 3-4 p.m. If you still want more autographs, stop by the Shred Dog Booth in Beaver Creek Village between 3:45 and 4:15 p.m. to meet five-time World Championship medalist and four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso. Then, head over to the GoPro booth to snag Ted Ligety’s autograph from 4:30-5:00 p.m.
Santa, Beers of Prey, live music and more
If ski racing isn’t your thing, it’s still worth trekking up to Beaver Creek. For those looking for the complete Christmas Instagram moment, grab a cup of hot chocolate and visit with Santa under the falling snow in Beaver Creek Village from 3-6 p.m. on Friday. From 4-6 p.m., Blink 90210 will light up the TINCUP Music Stage, and afterward, fireworks — beginning at 6:15 p.m. — will light up the night sky.
For more information on the weekend Birds of Prey picks, check out Carolyn Paletta’s piece in tomorrow’s edition of the Vail Daily. Saturday afternoon will be jam-packed. Ugly Rumor and Tonewood String Band are performing back-to-back starting at 2 p.m., Beers of Prey — your chance to sample limited edition, seasonal, fan-favorite brews — is from 2-5 p.m., and Warren Miller’s “Daymaker,” which features local athletes Brian Rice and Ava Keenan, is showing at the Vilar Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.
SSCV Nordic skiers enjoy fresh snow, fresh grooming and great ‘kick’ at Maloit Park
For cross-country skiers, few things surpass a bluebird sky and hard-blue wax conditions. On Thursday morning at Maloit Park, members of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Nordic ski team — fresh off a Thanksgiving week training camp in West Yellowstone — were thankful to log some Ks on their snowmobile-groomed home course with a simple Swix VR40 application underfoot for grip.
“It was the best classic skiing. Really cold and really good snow,” Will Bentley said of the team’s time at West Yellowstone, the iconic late-November skinny ski meet-up spot. Bentley and several teammates gathered around after finishing an easy classic ski workout Thursday and shared some thoughts on the previous week.
For years, U.S. Ski Team athletes and other sponsored, professional athletes have flocked to West Yellowstone and the Rendezvous Trails because of the area’s dependable early-season snow. Bentley said it was cool to be surrounded by high-level athletes, including the Bridger Ski Foundation elite team, which is coached by four-time Olympian Andy Newell.
Leif McGinley participated in a novice biathlon event during the camp. “I was 9-for-10 on my targets,” he said. Bentley won the U18 division of the annual tune-up 10-kilometer race held on the final day of the Thanksgiving week festivities.
When asked to give specific names, Bentley mentioned Steamboat Springs’ Trey Jones, who was a U.S. Junior Nationals runner-up last year and is one of the Rocky Mountain Division’s best skiers, only to have his teammates chide him, shouting, “Named!” Bentley was first out of all the U18 athletes, but also covered the course six seconds faster than Jones, who competed in the U20 race.
Rocky Mountain Nordic race schedule
Dec. 17-18: Crested Butte (classic individual/freestyle mass start)
Jan. 20-21: Soldier Hollow (freestyle sprint/classic mass start)
Feb. 3-4: Howelsen Hill (classic mass start/freestyle individual)
Feb. 25-26: Aspen (classic sprint/freestyle mass start)
March 4-5: Snow Mountain Ranch Youth festival
March 13-16: Fairbanks, Alaska
Jan. 2-7: Houghton, Michigan
The rust-buster, filled with collegiate and club athletes — a few of whom have World Junior championship starts on their resume — has the group feeling confident going into their first Junior National Qualifier (JNQ) in two weeks in Crested Butte. Prior to that, Bentley said some athletes may compete in the Sun Valley Super Tour stop next weekend. With snow in the forecast overnight, the more pertinent and immediate concern is whether Maloit Park, which will host high school races in January and RMISA FIS/USSS race Feb. 10-11, will be groomed for skiing after the incoming snow falls.
“Yes,” the group chorally responded before finishing their workouts.
“We’ve got (coach) Dan (Weiland) already set up with the snowmobile,” Bentley added.
Winter prep previews: Western Slope League wide open as Vail Christian boys basketball kicks off season
Usually, when a team returns two players with meaningful varsity minutes from the previous season, the current group gets written off. For the Vail Christian boys basketball team, which kicks off its season with a pair of home games Friday night (7:30 p.m. against Lake County) and Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. against Clear Creek), that assessment isn’t really a fair one.
Even after graduating eight seniors from a 15-9 team that lost to No. 1 Yuma in the 2A Region 1 championship, Sheldon Kuhns, entering his 23rd and final season at the helm, believes his talented, young group of players can contend in the wide-open Western Slope League.
“We hope to contend for a league championship,” Kuhns, the only coach in program history, said. “The goal is to be playing our best basketball in February for playoff run.”
Sure, it hurts to lose leading scorer Leo Rothenberg, leading rebounder Sean Boselli and the team’s best defender in Vinny Nowicki, but it’s the collective loss of depth that will need to be addressed if the Saints are to succeed this season.
“We could do a lot of different things — full court pressing, etc,” the coach said of last year’s bunch. “Until we build that depth back again, we’re somewhat limited. I still think we have a chance to be pretty good this year, it’s just going to be a little bit different approach.”
The Saints will be led by sharpshooter Quinn Downey, who’s worked over the summer to rally the troops and round out his own game.
“He’s a stud,” the coach said. “His leadership ability has come out now that he’s a senior, and I think he’s become a more complete player on the defensive end and (with his) ball handling. He’s refined his game. He’s not just a catch-and-shoot player on the wing. He’s a complete player.”
Another key piece will be Theo Moritz. “When all those seniors graduated, he really had a breakout football season and I think you’re going to see the same thing in basketball,” Kuhns predicted of the 5-foot-10-inch guard.
“I think the door’s open for us to do some special things this year because we have good leadership and opportunities for younger guys to step in and make us better than we were.”
Perennially characterized by guard play, the 2022-23 Saints will add some height down low in three-sport athlete Jack Prior and 6-foot-6-inch post Philip Shchetinin.
“They really add size that we’ve been lacking the last few years,” Kuhns said. The Saints will also benefit from the addition of Will Neumann and André Skweir, two all-around guard/forwards Kuhns describes as “plug-and-play” guys.
“Will is the guy who can replace Vinny’s defense prowess. He’s a really good shooter, too. He’s a complete basketball player,” Kuhns noted. “Andre’s very interchangeable — can play the perimeter, down in the post — a really good athlete and when he becomes 100% (from an injury from last year) I think he’ll be a big difference maker for us.”
Going out on top?
Kuhn — who has coached every game in Vail Christian’s history except its first four and grew a program that attained eight wins in its first four seasons to one that has gone 18-6, 17-7, 17-5, 8-5 and 15-9 in the last five — doesn’t want the season’s narrative to be some Kobe Bryant retirement tour.
“I don’t want to make this season about Coach Kuhns’ last year. This is about this year’s version of the Vail Christian boys basketball team,” he said.
“Everybody wants to end their career like John Elway, but to me, wins and losses aren’t going to define my career. It’s been always about the team and building relationships and doing the best to our ability on the floor, and I want to continue that this year. Be about the team, guys getting better, and doing everything we can to win a championship.”
With the departure of league-power Meeker and another mainstay in Cedaredge to the 3A ranks, the 2A Western Slope League is up for grabs.
“That changes our league. They’ve really been the class of our league,” he said of the Cowboys. “They were the big dog forever.”
Kuhns thinks Plateau Valley and Vail Mountain School could be solid contenders, but hesitates to make any hard and fast predictions. The Gore Rangers, for instance, will have to adjust to life after Cole Pattison.
“He’s really hard to replace — he’s a special guy, both offensively and defensively,” Kuhns commented. “They had some solid guys at the younger level. They’re well-coached — Caleb’s got a good thing going over there, he knows what he’s doing. We won’t see them until February. I expect by then, they’ll be pretty solid.”
Pleased with the chemistry his own team has shown in preseason scrimmages, Kuhns believes his team is well-positioned to develop as the year progresses.
“Hopefully we can get a couple wins early and build that confidence,” he said. “I think we really have a chance to improve as the year goes on. Get better every game.”
River Radamus: Finding the fast current
At this point, River Radamus probably expects cliche headlines. Not one, but two stories have used “A River Runs Through It” on the former multi-time Youth Olympic and World Junior champion’s progression from SSCV prodigy to international star. Coming into the 2022-23 season, however, the up-and-coming bright spot in U.S. men’s Alpine skiing has ambitions — on and off the slope — worthy of more than glittery literary devices.
In a deep international GS field fused together by “old guard” skiers like Alexis Pinturault, Mathieu Faivre, Tommy Ford and Zan Kranjec and the dominant new generation — led by Marco Odermatt, Lucas Braathen and Filip Zubcic — Radamus knows he hasn’t done enough to prove his name belongs with the rest of the rising stars.
“They’re bringing a new energy to the field and really pushing the sport forward. I’d like to think that I’m part of that, but the reality is that I haven’t been there and done that,” he said, adding that for much of the year, his resume was the only one in the top-15 lacking a World Cup podium.
“So, still I feel a little bit like I’m on the outside looking in, but I feel primed to be able to compete for those medals and push myself into that top, elite group of the GS field.”
The 24-year-old Edwards skier progressed from 49th in the 2019 giant slalom cup ranking to 28th in 2021 and 15th last year. His two early-season sixth-place marks — one at Soelden and another at Alta Badia – were a prelude to his breakthrough fourth-place finish in Beijing, where he missed the Olympic podium by 0.26 seconds.
“You know I think there’s a bittersweet element to it, knowing how close I was,” he said of that day.
“It’s a huge stepping stone. It showed me that I really belong there and have the ability to compete for medals in the future. I’m taking the confidence from that and I’m also super hungry lining up into the next World Championships this year and down the road to the next Olympics. I think that there’s lots of positives to take from it,” he continued before articulating perhaps the main one: he’s ready to ride in the discipline’s fast current.
“I think it also put everyone else on notice that I have the ability to compete there,” he said.
“I truly feel like I’m primed to have the best season of my career.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same
There have been some paradoxical realities characterizing Radamus’ first post-Olympic offseason. While the ousting of his coach the past few seasons, Forest Carey, whom he said “has been invaluable to me,” was rough, the personnel change didn’t dramatically alter the system surrounding his training or racing. Of his new head coach, Ian Gardner, Radamus stated, “He’s also probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with.” All in all, the shake-up has been minimal in terms of his Alpine Xs and Os.
“I think our team is still working really well,” he said. “It’s a continuation for sure. Forest has been Ian’s mentor through the years as well, so there’s a consistent vision and care for the athletes. It’s always tough seeing Forest being let go, but I still trust our coaching staff and I still think we have a great atmosphere right now.”
Another novel perk for Radamus, courtesy of his breakout 2022 season, was increased factory service and access from Rossignol. This year, the sponsor will pay his technician and grant the skier specialized service and access to its vast resources. “I’m let in a little bit more on the ski development side to find out what exactly works for me,” Radamus explained, adding that it’s a blessing and a curse.
“I think it’s something that’s incredibly valuable, but I think I have to keep it in check,” he said. “I have so much more access to find out what setups work out for me, but it’s sometimes overwhelming. I think I spent a lot of time in the prep period worrying about what the skis were doing as opposed to what my skiing was doing. And I think I have to find a balance in that and make sure my technician controls that part and the data bears out what skis were best as opposed to my input. It’s overwhelming to deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
In a world where equipment can be the difference between extremely meaningful hundredths of seconds, Radamus explained the main advantage of increased factory access in terms of performance comes down to skier-ski synergy. In other words: anyone can make skis fast, but they have to work for the individual, too.
“Once you’re on the World Cup level, it’s not that anyone has truly faster skis than you; it’s more about the construction of the ski and how it connects with the skier,” he explained. “The better you get, the more options you get to fine-tune the feel of the ski. More constructions that are stiffer in the tip or more flexible through the middle, longer, shorter — all these different factors that can connect better with each individual skier.”
Hearkening back to the offseason theme of incongruity, Radamus understands the balance between nerding out — or freaking out — from a tech perspective, at the expense of focusing on fundamentals.
“I’ve always been of the mindset to find something that works well enough and focus on the skiing,” he said. “I think the ski construction can count significantly and matter a great deal if everything else is fully in touch. If your fundamentals are off, it won’t matter what skis you’re on.”
He’s had time to work on those fundamentals, as well as sharpen his speed events, at Copper Mountain, where he’s been stationed since returning from the Soelden giant slalom on Oct. 23.
“I haven’t had a lot of time on snow on the big boards this summer, so it was really valuable to me to get full-length speed training and get to carve it up with the big speed boys,” he said. “The super-G and the downhill training there is probably the best in the world right now.”
Though giant slalom remains the primary focus, he plans on getting in more super-G racing — “where it makes sense” — this year.
“It’s always fluctuating and it all depends on how early races go,” he said. “I think I’ll have a better chance on the more technical tracks than the ‘glidey’ ones, so we’re targeting those and slowly trying to expand without losing any of the GS ability.”
“I think that the U16 age is a really vital one. Kids are often just getting into high school and the sport suddenly becomes much more expensive and cost-prohibitive with out-of-region racing, more gear and more specialized coaching,” he said.
“It’s much more of a year-round process once you get into high school and that’s why we see the biggest drop-off in enrollment in our sport. So, my goal with the Arco River Radamus Foundation is to make sure that those athletes who have the ability and are on track still see it as a viable option to continue pursuing the sport through the FIS ages.”
“We’re planning to finalize (with the World Cup Dreams Foundation) through the next couple of weeks, build momentum through the season and then give our first grants out before the next season starts,” Radamus said. As for the name — ‘arco’ is an Italian reference to every skier’s raison d’etre: the perfectly carved turn.
“It’s something that sticks with me. It’s what it’s all about,” Radamus explained. “The reason I connect with skiing is the beautiful feeling of a perfect turn. That’s what I’ve always come back to and it’s always driven me. It’s the root of our sport and it’s what I want the goal to always come back to.”
Hoping to please the home crowd
Examining the lay-of-the-GS land, Radamus can’t help but get amped up.
“I think GS is in a really exciting place right now,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever been more competitive and high level than it is now. On any given day, there’s probably 15-20 skiers who could podium. That’s really exciting and unnerving, because you’re never settled into a spot.”
He made it into the top 15 four times (not counting the Olympics) last year, “but it’s never a given,” he noted. “You always have to go out and fight because there are so many hungry people who want to take your spot.” His showing in Soelden this fall was emblematic of that reality.
“It’s strange. It makes you feel like you may have stagnated in some way, having done better at a race the year before than you did this year, but truly, I’m not that concerned,” he said of his 26th-place finish (he was sixth in 2021).
“In every way, I think that I’m a better skier now than I was this time last year. Sometimes results come and sometimes they don’t. I think conditions like what we had this year in Soelden are things I still need to work on,” he continued, pointing out how soft, springy snow has been a kryptonite he’s known about since the end of last year.
“That’s still a weakness of mine that I need to improve to execute on a daily and weekly basis throughout the season.”
Based on his speed training at Copper, Radamus received a bib for the Lake Louise super-G on Nov. 27. Though he was a DNF, he’s optimistic about his next shot at the event at what he considers to be a more favorable, technical Birds of Prey course, on Dec. 4 at Beaver Creek.
“I think the super-G at Beaver Creek more suits my skills,” he said. Last year, Radamus had two DNFs on his hometown slope. He’d like nothing more than to redeem himself.
“Birds of Prey is obviously the one that I want to have success at more than any other track. There’s nothing like racing in your own backyard,” he said. His reflection on last year’s performance, however, wasn’t totally saturated in disappointment.
“I feel really proud of the preparation and the way I addressed the event,” he said. “I pushed as hard as I could and I was on top-15, top-10 pace in both of the super-Gs. Ultimately, that’s what I want more than anything — to know that I gave everything I had every time I get out of the start gate, and I think I did that there.”
He can’t promise locals a podium finish, but he can assure them, like a kayaker steering into the fastest-moving rapids, that he’ll go all-in with an aggressive approach.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “And I can’t guarantee where I’ll end up, but I’ll definitely be giving everything I got.”
If he ends up on top of the podium, there’s probably a good headline out there somewhere.
Shiffrin looks to keep streaks going at Killington World Cup races
If John Madden had to describe the Mikaela Shiffrin-version of a turducken, he’d probably say something like, “Now, now, you see what we got here is (draws random lines across the T.V. screen) a regular winning streak wrapped in a really, really big winning streak, baked inside an all-time record.”
The American star, home — sort of — for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, is bringing a couple of streaks and a few different record attempts into the Killington World Cup on Saturday (giant slalom) and Sunday (slalom).
First of all, she’s 2-for-2 this season, having swept both slaloms in Levi (FIN) last weekend. Further, the Vail Valley native has won all five slalom events ever held at the Vermont resort, located just two hours down the road from Burke Mountain Academy, the Olympic champion’s old stomping grounds.
“She has won every single year and we are going to see if she can again,” Kristel Killary, communications manager for Killington, told MassLive.com on Thursday. “She is such a favorite. When she comes down the course, the energy from the crowd is amazing. You don’t have to look up to know she is coming down.”
As for other potential record-breaking moments — well, let’s just say the guy at Elias Sports Bureau tasked solely with keeping track of Shiffrin’s records (and soon-to-be records) is already longing for April. Last week, she tied Vreni Schneider (1984/85-1994/95) and Renate Götschl by winning at least one race in 11 consecutive seasons. The big one, though, remains the pursuit of Lindsey Vonn’s all-time women’s World Cup wins record (82) and Ingemar Stenmark’s overall mark (86).
Killington World Cup schedule
10 a.m. ET – Women’s giant slalom (run 1) – Killington, Vermont, streaming on Outside
1 p.m. ET, Women’s giant slalom (run 2) – Killington, Vermont, streaming on Outside // Peacock/ broadcast live on NBC
Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022
10:15 a.m. ET, Women’s slalom (run 1) – Killington, Vermont, streaming on Outside
1:15 p.m. ET, Women’s slalom (run 2) – Killington, Vermont, streaming on Outside// Peacock/ broadcast live on NBC
One thing is for sure, Shiffrin — though she’d be justified to do so — isn’t resting on her laurels.
“As soon as you cross the finishing line the clock resets and when you wake up tomorrow you have to earn it all over again,” Shiffrin posted on social media after arriving in the U.S. this week.
Winter prep previews: Battle Mountain Alpine and Nordic skiing
It’s not very often a title-winning team brings everyone back the following season. For the defending girls state ski champions at Battle Mountain, it’s at least half-true coming into the 2022-23 season.
“Our goal is to continue to be at the top of the podium and have another successful season for both the boys and girls teams,” said Jeff Apps, head Nordic coach. Apps returns his entire girls team, including state skimeister champion Lindsey Whitton as well as Haley McKenzie, Presley Smith, all-state classic skier Addison Beuche, Molly Reeder and Bella Willliams.
“This is a growing year as we lost a few key players to graduation and experience is growing within our team,” Gilbert said. “We will work hard to compete across the disciplines and with the full horsepower of our Nordic team, we will strive to defend our girl’s state title.”
Gilbert expects perennial power Summit to be strong again, as well as Aspen and Grand on the Alpine side specifically. Gilbert is hoping the team’s process-driven goals will foster accountability and ownership.
“This year is about culture and commitment,” the coach said. “Ski racing is a fun sport with a lot of joy, while at the same time it challenges our personal limits. We are focusing on a team that supports, commits and grows together.”
All-time state ski championships
Girls (School, titles, most recent)
Summit – 21 (2015)
Aspen – 10 (2021)
Battle Mountain – 6 (2022)
Middle Park – 6 (2010)
Lake County – 4 (1996)
Durango – 1 (1976)
Vail Mountain – 1 (2017)
Boys (School, titles, most recent)
Summit – 20 (2022)
Aspen – 11 (2021)
Durango – 9 (1976)
Battle Mountain – 8 (2016)
Lake County – 5 (1984)
Middle Park – 4 (1999)
Vail Mountain – 2 (2017)
The boys have also graduated a few key athletes in Will Bettenhausen, state skimeister champion Seamus Farrell and Zander Armistead. Gilbert plans to lean on Jakub Pecinka, Henry Regrut, Andrew Conley, Theo Kreuger, Maddy Brown, Ruby Randall and Whitton in 2022-23.
The team’s home slalom race on BearTrap at Beaver Creek is Feb. 10. For the Feb. 16-17 state championships, the Huskies travel to Copper Mountain. The Nordic team won’t host a race this season, but on Jan. 28, VMS hosts a wave start classic race at Maloit Park. The state championships are set for Feb. 16-17 at Frisco Nordic Center.
Feb. 9, Gold Run Nordic Center – individual start skate
Feb. 16-17 – CHSAA State Championships, Frisco Nordic Center
The boy’s Nordic team took a bit of a hit with the loss of Sullivan Middaugh, who placed second in the state skate race and third in the state classic race last year, but still returns seven state skiers — Jacob and Zach Lindall, Kyle Ross, Theo Krueger, Luca Isom, Sawyer Blair and Miles McKenzie.
“We also will have a very strong and deep team that has many athletes that have yet to reach their top-performing goals,” stated Apps.
With races beginning the first week of January but wrapping up mid-February, the competition portion of the calendar is relatively short.
“We have six weeks of training and then it’s game on,” said Apps, who is pleased to have Innes and Lisa Isom and his son Christian Apps on his coaching staff. “This coaching team is a “dream team” as I have the opportunity to coach alongside my friends and my son!”
Colorado High School Ski League Alpine Schedule
Jan. 6, GS, Loveland
Jan. 12, SL, Beaver Creek
Jan. 19, SL, Howelsen Hill
Jan. 27, GS, Keystone
Feb. 3, GS, Aspen
Feb. 10, SL, Beaver Creek
Feb. 16 – State GS, Copper Mountain
Feb. 17 – State SL, Copper Mountain
“Each year there are always some surprises and some expected returning strong skiers,” Apps said regarding the statewide outlook. “Some schools have a rebuilding year and some will continue to be strong. Looking forward to another awesome ski season.”
Anna Baker: When hitting for average isn’t enough
Bases loaded. Final inning. Final game.
Up-to-bat and trailing, league-power Palisade (17-4 at the time) hopes to avoid a senior night home upset. Whack! A member of the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs drills one to shallow right-center field. If it falls safely in front of Eagle Valley’s charging centerfielder Anna Baker — whose bevy of knee-slide catches will elicit a “Rock of Ages” reference during softball coach Jason Vargas’ season-celebration banquet speech — Palisade is poised to at least tie the game. If the senior outfielder makes the improbable catch, the much-improved Devils walk away with a program-defining victory.
Baker, the game’s unquestioned defensive stalwart and arguably the offensive player of the night, too (stat line: 2-for-4 and a pair of RBI’s), lays out for the ball and corrals it into her glove. Upon hitting the field, however, it pops loose.
The image of the ball jolting from its once-secure home paints an appropriate picture of the 17-year-old’s own high school career.
Her story goes beyond winning the 2022 Western Slope League player of the year on a team she joined 15 months ago (after moving across the state mid-pandemic), or being on the region-sweeping VMS tennis squad last spring — or getting straight-A’s. It’s about a player her coaches and teachers call a young ‘light’ — on the field, in the classroom, and on the court — who chose to navigate the classic ‘new-school-new-friends’ conundrum as well as COVID-19’s novel challenges with a timeless compass: belief and hard work.
Rare breed, uncommon motivation
Eagle Valley physics teacher Steven Schachtner was watching students complete an assignment when he noticed an irregular social phenomenon for 2022. The girl who joked with him earlier in the year for being ‘friendless’ had made quick work of his worksheet — but that was normal.
“Rather than reaching for her phone like most students, she would quiz a fellow student in vocab for their English class,” Schachtner recalled of Anna Baker’s habitually uncommon behavior.
“She holds herself to a very high standard and works hard to achieve her goals. These qualities are rare nowadays. Beyond Anna’s undeniable creativity and intelligence, her very nature establishes a level of compassion and civil discourse throughout the class,” he continued. “She has the rare ability of truly listening to another and engaging them in productive collaboration.”
The summer of 2021 move from Canon City — responsible for Baker’s temporary loneliness — weighed on her dad, Pat, who remembered the “tear-filled” drive directly from the state tennis tournament Anna had qualified for (in her first year trying the sport) to the family’s new Eagle home.
“You can imagine that moving for a 10th grader, away from her home and friends where she was rooted and connected, was an extremely difficult situation and burden to bear,” Pat said.
“I was very distraught,” Anna reflected. “The move was really hard, obviously, especially as a teenage girl.”
On the diamond, Anna quickly forged friendships with her new teammates, according to Eagle Valley head coach Matt Kreutzer, who credited the smooth transition to her pupil’s character.
“Anna is one-of-a-kind. She has a light that shines so bright it’s contagious,” he said.
“Her character is so strong, she makes others around her better people. She is an amazing young woman and someone you just want to be around.”
Fellow coach Jason Vargas concurred, remarking how his first impression of the centerfielder was, “this is one happy girl.”
“If she swung at a bad pitch, she would laugh at herself. Just her stepping onto the field was done with a certain level of humility and of course, a smile,” he said.
“Her smile definitely rubbed off on the team and the coaches.”
Baker switched to a happy-go-lucky mindset when she first pulled on a Devils uniform, a conscious decision after leaving her old life behind.
“I just kind of realized that I don’t have to make myself sick worrying about my performance. I’m going to be the best I can be. I decided I could control what I can control, and I can control my attitude about the game, so I’m going to have the best attitude about the game,” she said.
“I’m not going to worry about the rest because it’s in God’s hands and the glory is going to him whether I do well or not.”
Kreutzer said the five-tool player brought “a strong work ethic, enthusiasm and great attitude” to his team, which was coming off of a 2-14 2020 mark. In her junior year, the Devils went 9-12. This season, after a slower start offensively, Baker’s potent stick provided reliability from the batting order’s third position. Nowhere was that more evident than against Rifle, a team Eagle Valley hadn’t beaten in six years until this fall.
“She put on a hitting clinic,” Vargas described of Baker’s 3-for-4, two doubles and four RBI-effort in a seven-run comeback win.
“Going into that game, none of us thought there was even a chance to beat them,” Baker admitted. Before taking the field, the team was inspired by pitcher Mattie Hobbs’ words: “Guys, I really want to beat them — we gotta beat them.”
“I think we just went in there with a determined mentality,” Baker continued. “I think we were really good at being the underdogs (this year). Even just coming back from a loss, we were very good with our mental game.”
Throughout its winning season, Eagle Valley benefited from Baker’s astute angles chasing down fly balls, and of course, her trademark slides.
“She played stellar defense all year long and came up with gigantic plays in big games against our league opponents,” Kreutzer said. “That’s the key to being named player of the year in the western slope.”
In overcoming an untimely move and battling the first COVID-laced prep quadrennial, the senior’s resiliency and pursuit of success is a welcome breath of fresh air. Her foundational philosophy of excellence, however, is maybe her most unique quality. When asked what drives her to do things like extra studying — when her homework is finished and GPA sits comfortably at a 4.0 already — Baker’s response is immediate and grounded.
“Honestly, I’m a very strong Christian and I base all my principles off of the Bible and I believe that when you’re working for something, it’s like you’re working for God,” she said. In a society saturated by those who’ve settled for, as the old baseball phrase labels, “hitting for average,” Baker’s deepest desire is to absolutely maximize her talents.
“I want to do my best in everything I try because it’s like I’m doing it for God,” she continued in a 1 Corinthians 10:31 vein.
Even the tumultuous move had a silver lining, she said, as it catalyzed her convictions and set in motion a tangible spiritual shift that bled directly into her perspective on athletics.
“The hardship and how much it hurt to leave, I think that’s what brought me closer to God and ultimately that’s what changed my attitude about things,” she said regarding her faith.
“I was just like, ‘it doesn’t really matter how well you do. Everything is fleeting. But what matters are the girls around you and how you perceive yourself. Just being happy and being a good sport…. so that people can see that’s how you deal with things, I guess.”
“I honestly can say now that I would not want it any other way,” she continues, spelling out her theology behind the worn adage, ‘everything happens for a reason,’ before concluding, “I’m really happy here and I’m glad we moved.”
While there are many facets to Anna Baker, the clear heartbeat has rubbed off on those around her.
“She is a testament to the way her parents have raised her,” Kreutzer noted. “Anna always gives her best in everything she does and she puts in the work. The more work you put into something, the more you get out. She has been taught to never give up, stay persistent, and always give her best.”
Baker, who said she spent “half of her childhood” watching her older brother and two older sisters play sports, cites her dad, who received an MLB tryout at 16, as her main sporting role model. She remembers playing catch together after dinner and getting a night-before crash course on bunting before her first varsity tryout.
“I know it’s important to him and I thought it was really cool that softball could be important to me, too,” she said. “He was really my main idol I guess.”
“Kimberly and I believe that in most instances, our kids have turned out well in spite of us rather than because of us,” Pat humorously stated.
A fitting finish
“I just remember feeling a buzz all game because we were actually not being beaten by Palisade — we were holding them,” Baker recalled of her final softball game ever. The senior’s shortlist of colleges includes Pepperdine University, Colorado State University, Colorado College and the University of Utah — tennis, her favorite sport, is still in the cards, but she’s closed the last softball chapter.
With two outs and the Devils’ lead on Palisade hanging in the balance, Baker tracked what would end up being the final fielding play of her career. As it lofted between first and second base, she went into an all-out sprint.
“I remember thinking, there was no way I’m going to get this if I don’t leave my feet,” she recollected. Her half-dive, half-slide led to an initial reception, but the ball suddenly shook out. On the ground, Baker saw it floating above her body for a slow-motion second, then smashed it against her stomach with her free, bare hand, securing the ball — and the outcome.
Shaking from excitement, she lay for an extra moment, waiting for the umpire’s official call. It came, awarding the Devils with a season-ending league win.
“That was just an incredible end to an incredible journey with softball,” she beamed, clearly content. “It’s my favorite sport season ever.”
With every distressing story on how the last few years have negatively impacted young people, and for the many instances where it’s perhaps true, the Anna Bakers of the world provide a positive hope for teachers, coaches and others who pour their time and energy investing in kids.
“I can’t say enough about this young woman,” said Schachtner. “I am sorry she had to overcome the hardships associated with moving at such a tough time, but I am so glad she came into all of our lives here at Eagle Valley High School. She is the type of person that makes wherever she is a better place.”
“I remember hearing coach Matt (Kreutzer) say at one point during the season that if there was one person he’d like his daughter to be most like, it would be Anna,” Vargas added. “ I can’t say that I disagree.”
The Devils were an RPI sliver away from the playoffs. Even so, for Baker, it isn’t just about winning awards. After all, numerous Front Range players over the years have possessed gaudier numbers and led undefeated teams to state titles. Her real modus operandi isn’t based on the world’s standard, though. Instead, it’s rooted in what she feels is an unshakeable source of purpose.
“I try to do my best everywhere because that’s honorable to God,” she said. “And I’m just trying to bring all the glory to God that I can with the abilities that he’s given me.”
Vail Mountain School senior Kjersti Moritz prepares for rookie season on U.S. Ski Team
Kjersti Moritz is forgiven for not appearing in the student section at Switchbacks Weidner Field last Saturday as the Vail Mountain School boys soccer team claimed its first state championship. The Gore Ranger senior had work to do.
“I wish,” she sighed. “I was here.”
‘Here’ is Copper Mountain, where Moritz has been stationed the last month, training with the U.S. Ski Team. She’s been making turns since Oct. 21, the start of the first of two 2 1/2-week long training blocks. Last Wednesday, the rookie D-Team member sat down with the Vail Daily at the U.S. Alpine Ski Team’s media day in East Village to chat about training, goals and her inability to choose — still — between soccer and skiing.
After claiming a first, second and third in the giant slalom, slalom and super-G, respectively, at the U18 National Championships in Vail, Moritz came out of the 2021-22 season knowing she needed to get stronger.
“I’m on the smaller side, so I’m already at a disadvantage,” she said. “So I need to pump up the strength to do well this year.”
She spent June in Park City with the D-Team and had another “big block of training” in September. Throughout, she diligently stuck to the U.S. team’s strength program at the Sonnenalp gym. Her fall at Copper has consisted of on-snow training from 6-9 or 9-11 a.m., commuting to VMS for school, and returning for evening strength sessions. When the lights go out at the women’s D-Team condo, which she shares with fellow VMS student and D-Team athlete Kaitlin Keane, it’s easy to fall asleep, especially after witnessing the hard work in the gym pay off on snow.
“I feel like my movement and my awareness is a lot better,” she said. “I just feel like I’m able to control my body more, if that makes sense.”
Her other weakness is less tangible, but perhaps just as important. She admitted, “I can be really hard on myself if I’m not doing so well.”
“It’s just hard for me because I’m so competitive,” she said. “I just hate falling behind or not doing my best.” Moritz addresses the mental-perspective side of skiing by reminding herself it’s OK to occasionally have a bad day.
“There’s so many more days,” she said, describing her internal monologue on the rare occurrences where she doesn’t find herself on the podium. “The season’s long. Career’s long. So I just kind of remind myself that it’s a long game.”
Her goals, with a healthy mix of process and product, reflect those ideals.
“I just want to get really comfortable on my skis so I can ski on any terrain, any type of snow,” she said of her first priority. “Objective-wise, I want to make World Juniors and hopefully get a top-10 or top-5 there.”
While her schedule is still a little under construction and will likely be made month-to-month, Moritz is aware that consistency at the upcoming NorAms and her early-January European competitions will factor into the selection process for the WJSC in St. Anton (AUT) Jan. 17-26.
Of course, come spring, she’ll trade skis for shinguards and try to make a run at a 3A state soccer championship with her twin sister Liv, who recently committed to playing soccer and skiing at the University of Denver, and the rest of the Vail Mountain School girls team. To put it simply: both sisters love — and excel at — both sports.
“It’s kind of complicated,” Kjersti said of her relationship with soccer and skiing. “I really love both and I honestly kind of can’t choose. It’s just I think I’m better at skiing, so that’s why I put a little more time and effort into it right now. I can’t speak for her, but I think (Liv) probably values the soccer a little more than I do.”
Kjersti plans on taking a gap year after graduation, but has been recruited to ski and play soccer at Middlebury, where she is waiting to hear if she has been accepted. In fact, soccer was actually what drew her to the Vermont school.
“I’m not even on the team and when I visited, they treated me like one of their teammates,” she said.
The twins might get at each other’s throats from time to time, but deep down, they have each other’s backs.
“We’re definitely very competitive with each other, so sometimes it can be tough,” she said when asked how they manage different seasons of sometimes relatively disproportional successes. “But, at heart, we just want the best for each other and it’s a good dynamic.”
Making the cut … again
In regard to being nominated to the U.S. Ski Team this spring, Moritz said, “That was definitely a huge goal of mine last year and even two years ago … I made the criteria but I was too young.”
Enthralled by World Cup action from a young age, Moritz idolized and pedestalized U.S. Ski Team athletes as she grew up racing for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. When the overwhelming plethora of USST-emblazoned Kappa jackets, sweatshirts, pants and other dri-fit options arrived on her doorstep, it was certainly special.
“It’s kind of a lot,” she said of all the Team USA apparel, of which her current favorite is a fuzzy white sweater.
“Watching all the USST members when I was younger I was like, ‘Oh my gosh they have such cool jackets and they’re so lucky,'” she continued. “So, it’s kind of cool to think I’m there now.”
Cloaked behind her soft-spoken demeanor and natural poker face hides a fierce competitor, but Moritz humbly downplays everything, saying, “Of course I was excited, but it wasn’t like a huge, huge deal.”
At Copper, where her rookie teammates have brushed shoulders with the likes of Federica Brignone — “she’s so nice,” Moritz said of the Italian Olympic and World Championship medalist — the 17-year-old has realized the Super Bowl of skiing she grew up watching on TV is just made up of regular folks.
“It’s cool to see that they’re normal people and are just really good at skiing,” she said of the Norwegian, Austrian, Italian and American elites she’s shared the hill with over the last several weeks of training.
“I don’t know. I think, growing up watching the World Cup, it’s always seemed like this huge deal. I’ve just learned from being around all these people that they’re all doing the same thing. No one’s doing something that’s totally different.”
Then again, the way Moritz sees it, this isn’t the top rung on the ladder — it’s just the next step. In essence, her real epiphany is that even in climbing to new levels, she still belongs.
“Yeah for sure,” she answered when asked if she’s derived any confidence from her reflections.
“I can compete with them.”
From ultra late to ultra great: Genevieve Harrison needed to leave the organized endurance sports world before she could find her place in it
Eagle trail-runner Genevieve Harrison’s life has kind of been one big ultra.
Fully immersed in the USA Triathlon world at 17, she dropped competitive sports altogether by 19. Harrison transferred schools, studied art history, got into sustainable farming, became a teacher, got married, and then, having doubled her time in the world — and brought two lives into it — became a professional athlete.
“I absolutely love it and I feel like I’m much more grounded as a 35-year-old as I was when I was 17 trying to compete on a world stage,” she said, blithely brushing over countless details surrounding her improbable, decade-plus-long gap between walking away from sport and then getting paid to do it.
Then again, perhaps the most poignant 100-mile finish-line epiphany is the introspective discovery of some specific, quiescent personal gift. For the 35-year-old breakout long-distance star — an oxymoron which betrays the thematic symbolism being hinted at — the detection of a dormant disposition for the ultra-running enterprise itself, not just as a convenient metaphor, was the salient realization.
“I guess in a nutshell, I started competitive sports at a really young age and wasn’t sure where it fit in my life,” Harrison summarized of her unlikely athletic Odyssey. “And I’ve kind of grown into looking at sport in a more mature light.”
Last month, Harrison led an American sweep of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc Puerto Vallarta 100-mile race in San Sebastián del Oeste, Jalisco, Mexico, finishing the brutal course — which ended up being closer to 115 miles — in 35 hours and 26 minutes. The win qualified her for the 2023 UTMB World Series Finals in Chaminox, France, widely considered to be the most prestigious ultra-trail race in the world.
American women, including Leadville resident Courtney Dauwalter (2019, 2021), have won the race’s last three iterations, and though her humility represses any lofty, result-based expectation, it’s fair to assume Harrison is a reasonable contender to extend the streak to four.
“I’m not really sure where I fit in,” she said modestly when asked how she stacks up against the world-class field awaiting her next summer. “I won’t know until I try.”
The latter mantra emblematizes a greater truth about Harrison’s late ascension to her sporting summit: the timing of one’s athletic pinnacle sometimes runs against the “conventional physiological progression” grain. And often, it involves taking a different trail altogether.
Harrison followed her parents into running at a young age, competing in high school track and cross-country before heading off to Westerville, Ohio, to attend Otterbein University. She balanced running and classes with USA Triathlon competitions during her first year.
“It was a lot for a freshmen in college to try and organize; I was overwhelmed at the time,” she recalled. “I knew I was good at hurting in running, but I wasn’t sure that’s how I wanted to spend my university years.”
She quit organized sports and transferred to CSU, continuing her art history studies while traveling to work on farms.
“I was kind of surrounded by people who were interested in good-practice farming and just became very interested in where our food comes from,” she said. Her lifelong love of travel coincided with both her art history passion and her work with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which she did in Italy and later Missouri and Colorado.
In 2014, she met her husband, Jon, who got the impression his future wife “had no interest in competition.” But August days spent at her parents’ new house, conveniently along the Leadville 100’s final 2 miles, had already planted a seed. “I was always surrounded by this race,” she said. “So I was like, ‘I could try that.’
“As we pursued mountain peaks and long-distance adventure over the years, I think she realized that her previous training and racing experiences put her in a unique spot to be able to compete for podiums across an array of disciplines, whether it be uphill, downhill, short distance or long,” Jon said regarding Genevieve’s evolving relationship with sports.
“The most unique thing about ultra running is that the wisdom borne of failures and experiences can be the greatest asset,” he continued. “I think seeing so many successful “older” athletes gave her the courage to give it an honest effort.”
“Obviously, there’s a learning curve there,” Genevieve stated. That there was indeed.
Her first two Leadville 100 attempts were DNF’s. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. In 2017, she crossed the line in 28 hours, 48 minutes. That night, she discovered she was about eight weeks pregnant.
“I knew after finishing, and then knowing I had been pregnant, and then after having kids,” Harrison chronicled, skipping the four years between her 2017 finish and her 2021 attempt.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” Harrison reflected. Even then, however, she knew the accomplishment had created an unexpected, alternative life-route option. “It was kind of just one of those things in life where I was like, ‘well, I guess I’ll go down this road.”
She met and forged a relationship with On Running’s trail team manager at the race and later applied to be on the newly-formed team. “And the rest is history,” she said of her young pro career.
“It’s exciting being a part of a company that wants their athletes to be a part of the product and understanding what the athlete needs,” Harrison said, clearly joyful to be striving for elite performance again, albeit at — and on — a different stage.
“After Leadville, I knew there was some talent and I knew I needed to either embrace the talent and run with it or not,” she said. “So, after Leadville, I decided to go for it.”
In other words, 17 years after pulling out of professional endurance sport, she jumped back in with both feet. Then, true to the parallel turns taken in long-distance races and the race of life, Harrison hadn’t hardly lifted the pen from her first contract’s dotted line when the running gods sidelined her with every athletes’ worst nightmare: injury.
In the morning, if Genevieve isn’t around, Jon often hears one of the kids inquire, “Mama’s running on the mountain?” In the day-to-day training grind, the couples’ kids enjoy racing their mom from the pleasant views of the bike trailer.
“We both are able to find some sincere selflessness in encouraging one another to pursue our mountain objectives,” Jon stated regarding his and Genevieve’s system for success. “I think that symbiosis makes us a heck of a team.”
Admittedly, some of the sacrifices aren’t so bad.
“Fortunately, mountain-ultra running tends to take place in beautiful venues,” he continued. “Visiting new places for training runs and competitions is a blast for our family; new playgrounds to explore, families with kids to play with, campgrounds to explore. The 2 and 4 year olds are at their best when they’re outside all day, playing in the dirt and, sleeping in a tent. Honestly, I’m at my best as a parent in the same situations.”
“I have a really supportive family and I’m really grateful for that,” Genevieve replied when asked how it is even possible to juggle 70-80-mile weeks with being a wife and mother of a 4 and 2-year-old. “My kids are young, so I can kind of bring them with me wherever I go and I can stroller run with them all the time.”
The family backbone enabled her to place last winter’s stress fracture — and the 10 weeks off from running which ensued — in its proper perspective.
“Number one, I’m just so lucky to be given this opportunity to do something I love for my work. Stress fractures and injuries are part of the sport,” she said.
“I just tried to take the knowledge that I had — yes, I did something to my leg and I need to fix it — and learn how to overcome and get stronger and be more durable as time goes on. I really tried to keep that mentality during the winter.”
She skied some and focused on core strength and injury prevention even more. In the end, the injury’s mental valley provided a very specific training ground beneficial for 100-mile racing.
“Knowing that so much of the battle in ultra is mental; (it) was just a practice in mental strength and not getting too caught up in the noise of it all,” she said. “Tuning out the noise” is a theme her and her coach, legendary Olympic trials steeplechaser-turned-ultra runner Addie Bracy, lean into often.
“Something that we have noticed with Genevieve’s approach to racing and competing is the more she focuses on herself and just the kind of experience she wants to have on race day and the less we focus on external pressure or the competition, the better the races go,” Bracy said. A calm demeanor isn’t Genevieve’s only talent, though.
“She has many strengths but Genevieve has an insane ability to just grind,” Bracy continued. “It seems like the harder the circumstances, the more she is just able to focus in.”
Once able to run, she slowly rebuilt her weekly volume through winter and spring. In March, she placed fourth in the Marin Ultra 50k, a distance admittedly laced with a love-hate relationship. “Those are just brutal marathons,” Harrison laughed. A month later, she placed second overall at the Zion Ultra Marathon 100-miler.
“That gave me a lot of confidence, knowing I have the base-work to do these ultra runs with or without a lot of training involved,” she said, quickly revealing that subtle — but hard to supress — competitive spirit in her next sentence:
“That being said, I could do really well with training involved.”
From there, she raced a shorter Cirque Series race in Brighton and the Speedgoat 50k, a race won by her coach, Bracy. Despite those confidence-building results, the lead-up to UTMB Puerto Vallarta was marred somewhat by a DNF at the Run Rabbit 100 in mid-September, where a slightly under the weather Harrison pulled out at mile 30.
“Those are really good lessons to learn,” she said, gleaning what she could from the tune-up setback. “Not finishing is really hard, but I think when you become a more mature runner, you learn when you can and can’t push.”
For her coach, there was a layer of excitement hidden underneath Harrison’s full expression of fitness postponement.
“We knew she had a lot of really solid training in her that hadn’t been tapped into yet,” Bracy said.
Harrison went to Mexico with two goals for the Puerto Vallarta event: get a ticket to UTMB Mont Blanc (which required a top-3 finish) and “finish with a smile.”
“Coming off the DNF, I was just trying to remember what I loved about running,” she said.
Puerto Vallarta victory
UTMB Puerto Vallarta’s virgin “Wixárika” 100-mile course, which appeared “fairly simple” on paper, turned out to be just the opposite.
“It was one of the hardest courses I’ve ever experienced in my life. The terrain was just a beast,” she said of the 115-mile inland-to-coast route containing 22,000 feet of vertical. “You could not move fast on this terrain. The jungle does not let up.”
With Jon on ‘kid-duty’ Genevieve was crew-less, an extremely atypical approach to the 100-mile distance. She had one ‘drop bag’ with extra clothes, shoes and food at mile 52, a resupply which would have to get her through the next 64 miles.
“I think I was even more nervous about that than she was,” Bracy said, referring to a pre-race chat she had with her athlete.
“Not to mention all the challenges that come with a first year race and one that goes through the whole night. She was just approaching every challenge as “part of it” and I walked away from that call knowing for certain that she was going to have a good day out there.”
Harrison had company for much of the race, running alongside three male competitors for over 90 miles.
“That’s just unheard of,” she said of her Columbian, Italian and Coloradan comrades. “It was pretty special to share the experience with them.” As the conversations hovered between kids, jobs and the “absolutely crazy” trail they were on, American Cat Bradley snuck up and challenged Harrison around mile 80. The 2017 Western States champion presented the Eagle runner with yet another mental juncture.
“When she caught up to me it was like, either I let this affect my mind or I put the pedal to the metal and run well for the next 30 miles and have a chance at winning,” Harrison said. “I was able to tell myself that it’s OK to hurt, I just need to keep going and try my best, but that was definitely a hard moment.”
“I can’t wait to feel what it’s like to toe the line in Chamonix at UTMB Mont Blanc next August,” Harrison posted on social media. “I’m so pleased to have earned a spot.”
“It’s really easy to say that going in, and at mile 70 you start to feel differently.”
When confronted with the hypothetical — “If someone told you back then, when she first tried a 100-mile race, that Genevieve would eventually place second at Leadville 100 and win a UTMB qualifier, would you have believed them?” — Jon provided the only answer a husband should ever give to such a question.
“I definitely would’ve believed them,” he stated, basing his retroactive prognostications not solely on his wife’s elite aerobic engine, but her testimony of hard work and “capacity to overcome challenges in all aspects of life.” Both have led him to believe “she can do anything.”
“I’ve never met a woman like her,” he said.
“It seems like the harder the circumstances, the more she is just able to focus in. You can look at recaps and reflections from many of the athletes that just did this (UTMB Puerto Vallarta) 100-miler and many have suggested it was one of the hardest courses and conditions that they have ever confronted,” added Bracy.
“In talking to Genevieve, it just didn’t seem like that stuff bothered her and she kept charging without being phased much. Any athlete that can stay “in it” like she just did for over 30 hours is as tough as they come.”
Bracy plans to have her pupil spend time on more technical terrain to mimic the Mont Blanc course. Harrison plans to prioritize vert accumulation all winter and summer. Both know, however, that the physical training is basically a means to hone the mental game, often the crux of the sport’s competition.
“A lot of it will be more of the same, too, in terms of just continuing to get really good at managing herself and all of the factors that are constantly present but changing and shifting,” said Bracy. “She already proved she could do that at this last race and in a race like UTMB, that’s going to be the key. … UTMB inherently comes with a lot of noise and potential distractions and that’s something we will prepare really well for before she arrives in Chamonix.”
Bracy and Harrison aren’t pinpointing specific outcome goals at this point.
“I want to go in with a smart attitude,” Harrison said. “I think that there is a place and a time to have a goal that is an actual place or time, but I think for my first UTMB, it’s just to do the best I can do personally. To not compare my race to anybody else’s, but just to be out there and try to get to that finish line and get there as fast as I can.”
Bracy said a big emphasis of the buildup will also be “continuing to build (Harrison’s) confidence in her ability to compete with the best in the sport while also tuning out the noise and zeroing in on what she does best, which is grinding through the ‘hard.'”
It’s a comment that appropriately pivots one’s thoughts back to the metaphorical ultra Harrison’s life seems to embody, an idea extending even to the very process which gave her the most important people in her life.
“Honestly, being a parent and having gone through two pregnancies and raising two kids, I feel like that has prepared me in so many ways to become an ultra runner, because, being pregnant in and of itself is a huge ultra race,” she laughed. “I just feel like in comparison, these things are — not easy — but in comparison, they’re easy.”
One almost can sense a sentiment of universal application in her words. Along every persons’ struggling uphills and smooth descents, the unknown and unexpected manifests itself as glittering triumphs and devastating travails. Who hasn’t at some point sat at their own ‘mile-77 aid station,’ crippled by climate, exhaustion, inadequate clothing and a bloody knee, all of which plead, “quit, now.”
In a more literal sense, Harrison’s change of scenery, from running circles in the cutthroat collegiate track circuit to exploring mountains in the welcoming trail community, resulted in her reframing and reigniting — rather than abandoning — her competitive nature.
“Ultimately, I don’t think it’s UTMB or nothing,” she said. “I think it’s just following what inspires you and continuing to open up doors and follow the heart.”
Even though she now feels free to walk away at any moment — “these things are all important to me, but they’re not the most important things in the world,” she said, briefly interrupting her race report to discuss seeing Jon and her kids cheering her at the finish — her competitive capital has never been more valuable.
Pondering next year’s UTMB Mont Blanc event, Bracy fittingly concluded, “One thing I know for sure is that she is as tough as they come.”