It's been a dominant winter for Summit's Nordic skiers, who put the icing on the cake at Junior National Cross-Country Championships at Soldier Hallow, the site of 2002 Olympics in Utah, last week.
The club qualified seven athletes, the most since 2005, coach Joe Howdyshell said. Of the seven skiers on the young squad, only two had previously competed at nationals.
"There were five newbies, and I was expecting more of a learning experience with some good results," Howdyshell said. "I was hoping for good results but I wasn't really expecting it (at nationals)."
The coaching staff set a goal last year of four top-10s; they exceeded expectations to finish the week with eight.
On March 5, the competition began with the classic sprint, an event in which Rocky Mountain competitors don't generally do terribly well. Nevertheless, the Summit club qualified four athletes into the heats (top 30), an improvement from only one last year. To boot, each of the qualifiers made it into the semifinal rounds of head-to-head racing.
"That was definitely a highlight for us because we wanted four (total) top-10s and we got three in the first day," Howdyshell said. "That was a sign of things to come. That was pretty cool."
The biggest surprise on the day was Taeler McCrerey skiing to a seventh-place finish in the Classic Sprint.
Then on March 7, Tucker McCrerey (Taeler's big brother) was in the pack of three racers in the mass-start 15k skate race. He and one of the other guys got tangled up with about 200 meters left in the race, and McCrerey dropped back to fourth.
But that day, the race went to Henry Trowbridge, who started in bib 57 after falling in the prolog and moved up to an eighth-place finish.
Friday was the individual start classic race, highlighted by Jackson Hill, who hasn't been racing much classic due to a bad back, yet finished in the top 10 in one of the toughest age groups.
"It was by far the best classic race of his life," Howdyshell said.
On the final day, Saturday, Tucker McCrerey anchored the team for the OJ boys (18-19-year-olds), representing the Rocky Mountain region, which went on to win the national championship.
Howdyshell said year-round dedication led to the strong results.
"This is the first year in many years that we've had a summer program," said Howdyshell. "I sat down with most of these kids in May of 2011, and they set out some pretty strong goals. ... Almost without exception, they came to five or six practices per week all summer long. They really, really dedicated themselves and put a lot of time and hard work into it."