Young Nordic ski star Schamberger wins 2 races at western junior nationals
15-year-old from Leadville is overall female champion at biggest races of season
Summit Nordic Ski Club head coach Olof Hedberg spoke from Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway, Utah, on Saturday, March 13, in the same situation — but with a far different experience — as last year.
It was on the Thursday afternoon in Soda Springs, California, 12 months ago when Hedberg and Summit Nordic skiers rushed home to Summit County after the cancellation of the remainder of the week’s Cross Country Skiing Junior Nationals. The cancellation was a part of U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s decision to cancel all remaining domestic events due to coronavirus concerns.
“Last year at this time, I was standing in a trailer packing up our stuff,” Hedberg said. “The races ended right there, right then. Since then, it’s been 12 different months.”
Those months have included a slow return to training and snow over the spring, summer and fall for Summit Nordic skiers. Ultimately the skiers returned to snow and had as close to a normal season competing regionally as possible, leading up to this year’s “Super Bowl,” as Hedberg put it, at the Western U.S. Junior National Championships at Soldier Hollow Thursday through Saturday.
Without U.S. Ski hosting a junior nationals, this was the peak of the season for skiers like Tiger star 15-year-old Nina Schamberger. Schamberger won Thursday’s 1.5-kilometer skate sprint and Saturday’s 10K classic distance races as the overall female champion in Soldier Hollow. The victories came in the eldest race division in Soldier Hollow, U-18/20, at an event where the best juniors in the Western United States raced.
Leadville resident Schamberger found redemption in the skate sprint after finishing fourth last year despite leading with 300 meters left.
Hedberg described the event as Schamberger’s main focus of her season. The rising Nordic ski star delivered, qualifying with the fastest time before winning her quarterfinal, semifinal and final heats, which featured six skiers each. In the final, Schamberger shot out to the lead from the start before finishing with a time of 4 minutes and 5.37 seconds that was nine seconds faster than any other skier.
Schamberger said she and Hedberg came up with a multistrategy plan before the races, one that stressed rest between heats. Schamberger said it was nice to get the chance to race against other girls as opposed to an individual or time-trial start, like most racing has been during the pandemic. She credited patience and strategy for her win.
“It was really important to not go all out from the gun, especially as conditions deteriorated,” Schamberger said. “The risk of falling rose significantly throughout the day. The trails were getting very rutted out and slushy.”
Schamberger then finished in third place (14:15.1) in Friday’s 5K individual classic race. Hedberg said though it was near the top of the podium, Schamberger and he were both left a little disappointed with the result, as coach and athlete said they each could have done better to give Schamberger a chance at a win.
Though she wouldn’t achieve her goal of sweeping wins in all three weekend races, Schamberger recovered Saturday for what she said was one of the best races of her life in the individual-start 10K sprint, as she finished with a 34-second margin of victory — 27:47.7 over fellow 15-year-old star Sammy Smith of Sun Valley, Idaho. There was also a two-minute gap between Schamberger and third place Elena Grissom of Park City, Utah.
“My goal was to pace it well, to have good technique and try not to fall apart and keep pressure on the whole time, and I feel it worked for me,” Schamberger said. “I started hard, kept pushing even when it hurt — that was probably the hardest I’ve pushed in my life. It was a great day.”
Other top Summit Nordic skiers included Aubree Confer, 17, who in Thursday’s skate sprint qualified in 13th place to the heats and ultimately achieved her goal of finishing in the top 30. Hedberg said that could have been even higher for Confer — potentially even challenging for a top-10 podium position — if not for tangling skis with another racer in the quarterfinal.
Summit Nordic’s Sam Haynes, 17, also finished in the top 30 in the skate sprint, taking 28th after crashing on the biggest downhill of the course. Gray Wasson, 17, recovered from underwhelming performances Thursday and Friday to grab a top-30 position in Saturday’s distance skate that Hedberg said is probably the strongest result of his career.
Schamberger and five other Summit Nordic skiers will conclude their 2020-21 winter seasons at the Tour de Sun Valley next weekend in Idaho.
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