Fairfield's Morgan Arritola, a 2004 Community School graduate, elected to cross-country ski competitively this winter and train at Lake Creek. The former Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team star postponed going to college for a year.
The 18-year-old is hoping the year off will improve her chances of getting into a prestigious cross-country skiing college and accelerate her standing among the best junior Nordic skiers in the U.S. It seems her decision is solid.
Arritola, in only her second year competing at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, made a major move and finished fourth overall among 96 women during Monday's 15-kilometer freestyle race at Soldier Hollow, Utah.
She was the top junior in 45 minutes and 56.8 seconds, only 62 seconds behind winner Rebecca Dussault of Gunnison, Colo. Dussault, defending SuperTour queen and current leader, won by six seconds in 44.54.8 for her fifth national title.
U.S. Nordic Ski Team coach Trond Nystad was pleased with winner Dussault and Andrew Johnson of Greensboro, Vt., the 2002 Olympian and Middlebury College product who captured Monday's men's 30k skate race by 24 seconds for his first national title on his 27th birthday.
But Nystad added a tribute for up-and-coming juniors like Arritola, the daughter of Donnale Brown.
Nystad said, "We're really excited about the skiing of some of the juniors—Morgan Arritola (of Sun Valley) finishing fourth and Laurie Spector (of Green Mountain Valley School) in seventh—just outstanding skiing.
Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team coach Chris Grover said Monday, "We knew Morgan is a good uphill runner and this was a course for her—the Olympic women's 15-kilometer skate course featuring two 7.5k loops and three big climbs per loop.
"She's so light and strong that a course like this suits her. It's cool to see a couple of juniors like Morgan and Laura Spector in the mix."
And it's definitely cool to see Arritola's rapid progress after taking up skiing midway through her adolescence. Last year at nationals in Rumford, Me., she was 88th of 186 finishers in the women's 5k skate race, 59th in 1k free sprint and 92nd of 169 in 5k classic.
Ketchum's Brooke Baughman was Monday's bronze medalist in 45:12, 18 seconds off Dussault's pace. In second place was Abi Larson of Bozeman, Mont. at 45:00.
Sun Valley's Erin McQueen finished 74th Monday in 54:06. Among 30k men, Mike Sinnott placed 34th in 1.27:08, Jackson Harris of Montana State 54th in 1.31:52, David Vanderpool 67th in 1.34:52 and Luke Pletcher of Sun Valley 69th of 104 finishers in 1.35:08.
Fastest men's time was posted by Subaru Factory Team racer Ivan Bariakov of Bulgaria in 1.17:32, 1:08 faster than Johnson. But Johnson won the national championship because he is an American.
Dussault called Soldier Hollow "just the hardest place because there is no recovery. It's such a tough course."
It was the first time in five years that Soldier Hollow, site of the 2002 Winter Olympic cross-country ski races, hosted a U.S. national championship. The nationals continue today, Wednesday with classic races. The women's 5k skate race is Thursday.
About 400 racers are registered for the weeklong championships.
Grover said there is a 99% chance that Arritola will be named at the end of this week to the U.S. team for the World Nordic Junior Ski Championships in Finland at the end of March. Sun Valley head coach Rick Kapala will take that team to Finland.
"Morgan is virtually assured of making the World Junior Team," said Kapala after hearing Arritola's result in Monday's hilly 15k freestyle race.