It's far from over, but you'd have to say the Intermountain Division, which includes Sun Valley, had an excellent day Wednesday in the freestyle competition of the 2009 USSA Cross Country Junior National races presented by the Auburn Ski Club at Truckee, Calif.
Piling up 368 points in mass-start freestyle, Intermountain pulled into the Alaska Cup lead with 618 points, 17 ahead of New England (601) and 56 better than 2008 champ Alaska (562). Last year's final top three were Alaska (1604), New England (1344) and Intermountain (1098).
And 2007 Alaska Cup champion Intermountain, relying big time on its youngest skiers this year, has been doing it predominantly with its J2 (ages 14-15) boys and girls, and J1 (16-17) girls. In those age groups, Intermountain has 441 of its 618 points, 72% of its total in two races.
Wednesday's sunny skate race saw Intermountain place five skiers in the top 10 of the J2 girls' 5-kilometer, and six J2 boys in the top 20 at the same distance. It was even better in the 10k J1 girls, with 2-3-4 final spots and five in the top 15.
The only medal of the day for coach Rick Kapala's Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Junior Nordic ski team came in the Older Junior (18-19) boys, where Willie Neal hung tough with a pair of Middlebury College racers and finished a strong third in the 15k national race.
Earning bronze just three seconds off the winning time, Neal joined his OJ teammate Miles Havlick with bronze medals in the two races to date at Truckee. Havlick captured the third-place bronze in the "A" Final of Monday's freestyle sprints.
Other outstanding results for Sun Valley's 16 skiers Wednesday included Sloan Storey's sixth place of 61 J2 girls; Bronwen Raff's 11th place of 78 J1 girls; and Max Durtschi pacing all Intermountain J1 boys with a fifth of 93 skiers at 15k.
Next up: Classic Friday, followed by Saturday's relays. Sun Valley's results from Wednesday:
Alaska Cup standings: 1—Intermountain 618 (293 freestyle sprint, 325 freestyle mass start). 2—New England 601. 3—Alaska 562. 4—Rocky Mountain 320. 5—Midwest 286. 6—Far West 144. 7—Pacific Northwest 96. 8—Mid Atlantic 45. 9—High Plains 43. 10—Great Lakes 22.
Older Junior boys, 15k (ages 18-19): 1—Chase Marston (Middlebury) 38:00. 3—Willie Neal 38:03. 7—Miles Havlick 38:30 (52 racers).
J1 boys, 15k (ages 16-17): 1—Scott Patterson (Alaska) 38:05. 5—Max Durtschi 38:38. 17—Travis Job 39:47. 21—Daniel Sundali 39:57. 22—Scotty Phelan 40:03. DNS—Scott Schoen (93 racers).
J1 girls, 10k: 1—Joanna Reid (Auburn Ski Club) 31:14. 11—Bronwen Raff 32:56. 14—Makayla Cappel 32:57. 21—Julia Bowman 33:33. 30—Courtney Hamilton 34:09 (78 skiers).
J2 boys, 5k (ages 14-15): 1—Logan Hanneman (Alaska) 13:36. 14—Brandon Wade 14:45. 19—Torin Tucker 14:49 (56 racers).
J2 girls, 5k: 1—Hannah Smith (Crested Butte) 15:54. 6—Sloan Storey 16:16. 32—Emily Williams 17:43. 35—Maranda Stopol 17:53 (61 racers).