Friday, December 27, 2013

SVSEF Nordic team grows in the Prep ranks

Big leap in middle school numbers

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation 12-year-old Johnny Hagenbuch is out in front in the Winterstart boys’ 2.5k one-lap race Dec. 15, with SVSEF 11-year-old Kai Nelson hot on his heels along the Galena Lodge trail system. Photo by Willy Cook

     Like everybody else at the Sun Valley resort, they are still waiting for plentiful snow—but the low snow hasn’t stopped their training or their enthusiasm up and down the ranks.

     The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic ski team has grown to 168 skiers for the 2013-14 winter season, an increase of about 20 skiers.

     Program director Rick Kapala, entering his 27th season as the head coach, couldn’t be happier. He said, “There is just something inside of these kids. They want to be challenged. They want to push themselves.

     “Our sport is driven by a lot of internal motivation. The kids like being in shape and enjoying that process. Our main goal is to develop the fitness habit. Having said that, it’s important to keep things exciting for them in a team environment.”

     Kapala said the main growth has occurred at the U-16 and U-14 (ages 11-15) Prep Team level.

     Many of those kids have already performed well during the first of three Junior National qualifying events staged Dec. 20-21 at Trail Creek Nordic Center near Jackson Hole, Wyo.

     “Our middle school team has just exploded,” he said, giving much of the credit to the recruiting skill shown by assistant program director Kelley Sinnott. “That team is up to 47 skiers, compared to the 32 we had last year. And they’re all super enthusiastic and into it.”

     Indeed, the leading U-16 boys like Zach Williams, Peter Wolter, Ben Brunelle, Carter Ros, Eli Jensen, River Vorse, Jacob Truxal and Cooper Roquet aren’t even members of the Prep Team anymore. They are full-fledged Competition Team racers—aiming to qualify for the 2014 USSA Junior Nationals March 2-8 at Stowe, Vt.

     Two more qualifying events are on the horizon. The first is the Sun Valley Intermountain Open at Lake Creek north of Ketchum on the first weekend of the fifth annual Sun Valley Nordic Festival Jan. 25-Feb. 2.

     And the second is the Soldier Hollow Junior National qualifier Feb. 5-8 at Midway, Utah—site of both January’s USSA National Championships and the NCAA Nordic Ski Championships March 6-8.

     Zach Williams, 14, who won last Friday’s Jackson Hole U-16 boys’ 5-kilometer classic race by 21 seconds, also had one of Sun Valley’s best efforts in last year’s Junior Nationals at Fairbanks with eighth place in the 5k classic mass start event.

     Kapala manages a staff of 14 experienced and knowledgeable coaches who oversee the 41-year-old SVSEF program. It has evolved with the changes in the sport. Training has reached a year-round regimen.

     In the past seven years the Sun Valley team directed by Kapala and Sinnott has instituted Gold Team and post-grad programs to provide a training base and targeted financial support as a bridge between junior and national ski teams.

     This year’s Gold Team headed by Colin Rodgers has six skiers—Chelsea Holmes, Mike Sinnott, Matt Gelso, Miles Havlick, Rose Kemp and Mary Rose. The post-grad team features Paralympic hopeful Jacob Adicoff. New to the 33-skier Competition Team is Katerina Paul from Australia.

     The Competition Team has lost eight of the 16 skiers who qualified for last year’s USSA Junior National Championships at Fairbanks.

     Fortunately, four Junior National qualifiers from last year’s promising U-16 group at Fairbanks have returned. They are Zach Williams, Peter Wolter, Eli Jensen and Annika Landis, and they’re back as second-year U-16s to lead the SVSEF team in 2013-14.

     The younger Development Team (ages 6-9) based at Lake Creek and Croy Nordic in Hailey has also experienced steady growth with 81 skiers this year.

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