The Summit 7: Summit Nordic Ski Club for first-time ever qualifies boys, girls to U-18, U-16 junior nationals competitions | SummitDaily.com

The Summit 7: Summit Nordic Ski Club for first-time ever qualifies boys, girls to U-18, U-16 junior nationals competitions

For the first time in its history, the Summit Nordic Ski Club qualified both boys and girls across the U-18 and U-16 divisions for the annual U.S. Ski and Snowboard Cross-Country Junior National Championships at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Utah.

The local Summit County skiers who qualified for the competition, hosted this past week — March 4-10 — consisted of: Ezra Smith, Noelle Resignolo, Peter Haynes, Tai-Lee Smith, Quinn Weinberger, Lasse Konecny and Sam Haynes. Summit Nordic Ski Club head coach Olof Hedberg and assistant coach Hannah Taylor accompanied the team at Soldier Hollow.

To SNSC director Whitney Hedberg, the team's group and individual success this year, she believes, is a reflection of the club's motto that "skiers are made in the summer."

"It shows we have real depth in our club," said Hedberg. "You see some other ski clubs qualify one or two of their oldest athletes. The fact we've qualified athletes from the oldest level to the U-16 level shows our club has a depth of talent growing up.

"We did think (qualifying seven athletes) was possible (before the season)," Hedberg continued. "And the reason we did was just the dedication of the athletes starting early — starting in June of last year. There were so many athletes showing up, giving their all."

Of the seven Summit Nordic Ski Club skiers who competed at Soldier Hollow this week, it was Ezra Smith who was the club's most experienced skier at junior nationals. For Smith, this year was her fourth time qualifying for the nationwide event. And though the U-18 skier fell ill this week with fever symptoms, she still raced to a fifth-place finish in Tuesday's girls U-20/U-18 classic start race.

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The top-5 finish for Smith means she leaves Soldier Hollow for the final time as a junior racer as both an All-American and a medal-winner who got the chance to stand atop the top-5 podium.

Looking ahead, Whitney Hedberg believes Ezra Smith can continue to compete with the country's best at the next level.

"She hopes to ski in college next year and is kind of deciding where she wants to be," Hedberg said. "She is very good, and very well could find herself on the U.S. ski team."

Smith was just one of three SNSC athletes competing once again at this year's junior nationals, as U-18 skiers Noelle Resignolo and Peter Haynes also returned after partaking last year.

Reflecting on the week, Hedberg said she was proud of how Resignolo accomplished her goal of finishing in the top 30 and top 40, nationwide, within the very competitive U-18 girls division. Hedberg added that the step up from competing as a U-16 skier last year to U-18 division this season for Haynes was substantial in difficulty and quality.

"The competition steps up quite a bit," Hedberg said, "and he ended up 23rd in the sprint, which was a really fantastic performance for him — probably the best in his life."

Smith's younger sister Tai-Lee Smith also qualified and competed in Soldier Hollow this week. It was Tai-Lee Smith's first appearance on this stage that consists of the best-of-the-best nationwide, and Hedberg said the younger Smith is following in the footsteps of her older sister.

Tai-Lee Smith was one of the Rocky Mountain region's most pleasant of surprises in Soldier Hollow this week, as the younger Smith took 10th place in her first race, the U-16 classic race. The result means she is officially an All-American.

"Just fantastic," Hedberg said.

Tai-Lee Smith also turned heads in the U-16 mass start skate race as, though she was seeded in the 20s entering the race, she crossed the finish line in fifth place — podium position.

"That was just an incredible performance, to start so far back in the field and ski up to the podium," Hedberg said.

"She had two top-10 (finishes), which is pretty great for your first time," the club director added.

SNSC's three other athletes at the event, U-16 boys skiers Quinn Weinberger, Lasse Konecny and Sam Haynes, also all finished in the top 30 in the boys U-16 classic race. Hedberg said the top 30 finishes were crucial in terms of each's contributions to the Rocky Mountain region's run at what's called "The Alaska Cup." It's a region-versus-region competition held annually at the junior nationals that determines which region — not individual club — is the best.

Thanks to the contributions of all seven SNSC skiers, the Rocky Mountain region nearly took home the Alaska Cup championship, finishing second among the 10 total regions, only behind champion New England.

And to cap off this year's junior nationals event in Utah, on Sunday Tai-Lee Smith's Rocky Mountain region relay team finished in third place of 18 total teams in the girls U-16 3×3.3 kilometer classic relay.

SNSC skier Quinn Weinberger's Rocky Mountain region relay team took fourth place of 20 teams in the boys U-16 relay on Sunday. And also to cap the week, SNSC teammate Peter Haynes teamed up with a pair of skiers from the Vail and Aspen Valley ski clubs to earn a fifth-place finish of 27 total teams for the Rocky Mountain region in the boys U-18 relay, and SNSC skier Noelle Resignolo's Rocky Mountain region team finished in sixth place of 24 total teams in the girls U-18 relay.