On home snow at state, Oppito, Smith shine for Summit High School Nordic
Kai Oppito listened to his coach and opted for a pesto pasta meal while resting in between Saturday’s classic and skate ski Nordic state championship races. At Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge, the Tigers racers had home-snow advantage on a course they were familiar with in an all-in-one-day state championship.
“With it at Gold Run, all of them went home and I told them all to eat immediately after the classic race, and drink and elevate your legs and sit on the couch,” Hagen said. “Come back 45 minutes to an hour before the skate race. It was an advantage, the other teams were in the in parking lot in the sun.”
Due to the novel coronavirus, the Colorado High School Activities Association hosted both the 5-kilometer classic and 3-kilometer skate state championship races in an interval-start, time-trial-like fashion on the same day Saturday, March 6. The two-races-in-one-day situation was a daunting challenge for the 75 boys and 75 girls skiers who took to the flat, fast Gold Run course on a warm, slushy day.
“It was definitely really hard because usually I’m used to races one day then a race the next day,” Oppito said. “But today, even though I was really tired after the first race, you still had to rest as much as possible and then you had to go do your second race. It’s definitely a lot harder on your body mentally and physically.”
Oppito was Summit’s top boys racer in both the morning classic and afternoon skate races, finishing in 24th place in the classic race (16 minutes and 14.2 seconds) and 20th place in the skate race (8:20.26).
“Kai skied strong,” Tigers assistant coach Matt Dayton said of Oppito’s classic race. “He is a good climber, and he’s not as big as a lot of these guys or as big in the upper body, strength-wise. Considering how much double poling there was in the course, he did well.”
In the girls races, Summit senior Tai-Lee Smith led the Tigers with a fourth-place finish in the classic race (17:32.88) and sixth in the skate (9:01.94). The day was Smith’s first racing experience that was more traditional for the senior this season with the Tigers, as Smith’s only previous races for Summit this season were two “virtual” races. Smith won both the classic and skate races she entered.
On Saturday, Smith only needed to head a mile down the road from her home in Breckenridge to join up with her old Tigers teammates at her first state championship appearance since her sophomore year. For her, the experience was a great senior-year memory after a winter where most all of Smith’s Rocky Mountain club races took place on the same day as high school races. Though Smith — like the rest of the Summit team — excels more in uphill skiing than Saturday’s flat and downhill course, and though she didn’t use taller, skate-ski poles in the classic like some of her competitors, Smith was content with her day.
“I just wanted to have fun,” Smith said. “It’s my senior year, so it’s great to see everybody, especially the younger kids. It’s fun to get to know people who aren’t at the club level, because people are working just as hard in the high school league.”
Smith was joined in the classic girls race by Aubree Confer (10th place, 18:00.85), Lili Zygulski (17th, 19:16.57) and Maclean Donovan (40th, 21:48.96). In the skate race, Confer finished 11th (9:20.63), Zygulski 17th (9:48.60) and 49th (10:38.62).
“It was fun,” Confer said of the skate race. “It was kind of interesting just because it was hot. The snow was pretty good considering how hot it was. We had a good structure on our skis, which was nice. It was hard to ski after the first race, so I just kind of focused on skiing big, making sure my technique was good and that carried me through the race.”
In the boys classic race, Summit’s top skiers along with Oppito included Evan Callahan (32nd, 17:00.20), Liam Goettelman (44th, 17:32.94) and Christian Skowron (49th, 17:44.89). In the skate race, the lead Tigers boys beside Oppito were Callahan (34th, 8:42.34), Skowron (41st, 8:49.46) and Goettelman (50th, 9:03.14).
“This is such a fast course and it was really short, so I acted almost as if it was a sprint,” Oppito said. “I knew if I could save energy I would be able to expend that energy later in the race.”
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