Poised to pounce on titles: Season just under way, SHS skiers looking strong
summit daily news
FARMER’S KORNER – Julia Hayes was the Colorado state champion in Nordic skiing’s classic discipline last season. But, if you were to ask the Summit senior about last year’s state meet, that isn’t the race she brings up.
“I got boxed out in that skate race,” Hayes said, still visibly annoyed more than nine months later. “It’s definitely all strategy that I couldn’t pull around (the other skiers). I gave it my best and ended up fifth.”
Now, as Hayes puts herself through up to nine training sessions a week, the only goal in her mind is winning – skate, classic, team titles, everything.
“I definitely want to finish my high school career with a big bang,” she said.
And that seems to be the sentiment shared throughout the Summit High ski team. Whether it’s girls, boys, Nordic or alpine, everyone seems to have one singular focus:
“A state title,” alpine skier Stefanie Walters said without hesitation.
Although the Tigers are off to a strong start – two alpine team wins and one in Nordic after just two meets apiece – the road to a state ski title has as many twists and turns as a slalom run.
Head alpine coach Karl Barth hates to make predictions about his team’s possible success. Sure, he realizes that Summit is one of the premier programs in a state that views skiing with as much intensity and pride as Texas does football. But it’s just too fickle a sport to jump to any conclusions.
“It’s not like other sports, because you have kids that ski (on club teams), focus on that for a while, then come out (to the high school team) and ski,” Barth said. “It’s interesting every year, because you never know. … We never know what other teams have, because you don’t know which kids graduated early, which kids will just ski club. It’s different; it’s not like most sports.”
Another strange aspect is how the alpine and Nordic squads depend on one another in – and only in – the state meet. All season, the two act as separate entities, competing in their own races, meets and never converging until that final week of February, when the teams combine scores to determine a winner.
While it makes team rankings and predictions nearly impossible to figure out, it certainly rewards schools with deep programs, like, say, Summit.
“It’s nice, because it kind of goes every other year. This year, the Nordic team for boys is super strong. They didn’t lose anyone, and they were crushing people last year,” Barth said. “It takes the pressure off, because you don’t have to just beat (the top alpine teams). You just have to stay right with them.”
“We’re just focused on what we’re doing,” head Nordic coach Hannah Taylor said. “When it comes to state, we’ll do our best and hope the alpine team does as well.”
Since they both finished in the top-10 at state last year as underclassmen, it’s hard to blame Nordic skiers Jackson Hill and Troy Meeker for being a bit brash in their feelings toward their team.
“The guys’ team should be the best team in the state ,” Hill said without pause. “We could get four or five in the top-five (individually).”
“Yeah, we’re in real good shape,” Meeker added.
And, really, they could be right, as the boys’ Nordic team certainly appears to be the cream of the cross country crop this year.
The Tigers cruised to a win in the season-opening classic race in Minturn on Dec. 18 and finished second in Steamboat Springs last weekend without the help from the team’s top skier – and maybe the state’s, too – Tucker McCrerey, who was racing in U.S. Nationals on the East Coast.
McCrerey finished third at state in both classic and skate last season as a sophomore and leads a talented and deep group of Nordic boys, which includes Hill, Meeker and seniors Duncan Koehn and Quinton Bobb.
“I think the boys ought to have a really good year as a team,” Taylor said. ” … Everyone has improved from last year. Kids spent a lot of time training last summer, and that helps a lot.”
The boys’ alpine squad could probably coast on the Nordic team’s success, but after the Tigers’ season-opening win at Copper Mountain, they might be just as strong. Twelve boys finished in the top-25 of that slalom race.
The girls are certainly strong in alpine as well. The lady Tigers won at Copper with three girls in the top-five. Miranda Sheely, Anne Parker and Ellie Hartman – the team’s top finishers in that race – should challenge for podiums all season, and Nicole Anderson, who missed the first race due to club obligations, also should be among the state’s best.
Hayes leads the talented but small (in numbers) girls’ Nordic squad. Both Cali Greksa and Sophie Ferguson will be other top finishers for the cross country girls, but Hayes feels her team will need some help from alpine to snag a title.
“I know that if the girls’ team wins state, it’ll be because the alpine team is pulling us,” she said, before changing her mind a little bit. ” … But we want to show that we can do a lot too. We don’t want to be slugs.”
Summit certainly isn’t a stranger to winning state titles, not with 36 of them notched on the banners of the SHS gym. But, each year is a different story, each season has a different feel, and the Tigers still have a ways to go before they’re even fully qualified for the championship meet, held this year in Aspen.
“A lot happens during the season,” Barth said. “Some kids join teams, some kids leave teams. You never really know.”
Mostly, it’ll all play out over the next six weeks, as both Nordic and alpine have five meets remaining before heading to Aspen.
While neither Barth nor Taylor like to think that far ahead, Hayes can’t help herself. After all, she already knows the slim margin between winning and losing, and she’s focused on what she needs to do to close that gap.
“I’m doing everything I can to stay healthy, get fit and get stronger as the year goes on,” she said. “I’m hoping I’ll keep getting better and better and see how it goes.”
And, just to clarify, the “it,” Hayes spoke of: “Sweeping state,” she said with a smile.
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