2014 NENSA J2/U16 Championships Report

by Ken Schoville
March 12, 2014

The Midwest J2 trip to the New England J2 Festival is now in its third edition. This year eight athletes and six coaches made the trip with racing March 7-9. They included:

Ken Schoville       Head Coach (Minocqua Ski Team) 
Pam Schoville       Trip Leader (Minocqua Ski Team) 
James Kyes          Wax Coach (Lake Superior Ski Team)
Kelly Skillicorn    Coach (Winona/Endurance United) 
Amy Cichanowski     MYSL

Torsten Brinkema    Loppet Nordic Racing     Minneapolis, MN
Shad Kraftson       SCAR                     MN 
Alex Larson         Loppet Nordic Racing     MN
Sam Myers           Minnehaha Academy        MN

Elsa Ubel           SISU Foundation          Saint Paul, MN
Kyra Jackson        Loppet Nordic Racing     Hayward, WI
Renae Anderson      Loppet Nordic Racing     MN
Kylie Kraemer       Loppet Nordic Racing     MN

Rikert Nordic Center is located on the Breadloaf English Campus of Middlebury College, about 12 miles south of the main campus in Middlebury,Vermont itself. With 50 kilometers of trail and the keystone 5k FIS "D" homologated ( check that our in your Funk and Wagnall's!) Tormodson Family Race Course, Midwest skiers and coaches were treated to some of the finest skiing in the east. Those Tormodson's must have quite a family of skiers as two "A" climbs, and five "B" sections had the J2's screaming with delight. Of course having oxygen without altitude issues made the Midwestern contingent feel encouraged.

Flying in on Wednesday, we spent the day organizing, unpacking, getting skis ready, and going for a light foot workout. Staying at cabins, we were able to have all our team meals together and cook for ourselves. Daily team meetings organized and set the tone for expectations and achievement.

Thursday started early with a 6:30 morning wake up, followed by a movement session, breakfast, and then gathering all the ski gear to transport one and all seven miles down mountain to our race venue. A classic pre ski was the first order of the day with coaches and athletes getting a slow, methodical first introduction to terrain we would know quite well by the time we left Sunday. A short break for a snack/hydration and the skiers were back on skate gear with small groups and a more flowing continuous pace, with occasional review and redo where needed.

Conditions were favorable with sun not only on Thursday, but for much of the period we were there. However, being spring, and New England, we had occasion to go from t-shirts and vests to down jackets within a morning to afternoon swing in temperature, along with a few flurries and cloud cover. So, you have to be quick on your feet when traveling east, meteorically speaking.

Friday was the day when most of the five New England teams arrived. With 20 boys and 20 girls from each state chosen there were 200 locals and 16 "guests" (that's us), with Great Lakes also bringing a full contingent, their second time doing so.

Racing started with the 5km Freestyle late Friday afternoon. As with all the individual starts, a seeded wave system was used with a start lane for each of the five hosts and another for the guests. With five to six skiers bolting onto the course every minute, the action is fast, furious and just a bit confusing as faster skiers ski up into the preceding waves and only the final results provides the anticipated clearer picture. One benefit of this system is that all the skiers are matched with the same competitors and get to know each other quite well and their individual skiing styles as they line up together for three events. Perhaps not soul mates, but they may meet later in life, skiing being a small community and while far flung, all of similar values.

It was interesting to note that the Central athletes making this trip were recruited as the next off the list after the J2 Junior National Midwest Team was announced. Our results showed the girls in 3, 19, 23, 26 for this race, while the boys went 11, 13, 14, 15. Like I said, "Interesting!".

Saturday was the full on dual technique day, beginning with the 5k classic. The day began with snow temperatures in the low 20's and by race time was flirting with 30F. Mixing it up on the same course as Friday's ,under rapidly changing conditions, we felt comfortable with the wax and sent the girl skiers out first and had finishes that made us want to go race again. With slightly lower results than our skate race and classic expectations, we learned that New England snow has it's own temperament. We all knew that we could do better and being the team we are, we moved forward together.

Rest, recovery, and attention to detail is important when skiers have multiple events in one day. Unlike a regular sprint event with a qualifier and heats, this was a one shot, metal to the pedal deal, with the computer doing the final arranging of results. So, we chilled. All the skiers did their cool downs after the classic, along with high fives, picture taking, hydration, and went into "The Barn" where we had a light picnic lunch among the multiple tables set against the high arching wood background. A fireplace roared while a talented string of well trained J2 New England pianists lined up to entertain. Not a bad place to recover for the next race, and a chance to bump into others from various teams and have conversations; a foreign land experience.

After the customary chocolate milk recovery infusion, a light selection of food options, and a dose of team van bonding and upright napping it was time to do battle; The Sprint. Pressure builds to lay it down for 1,500 m; all you have. With fast twitch muscles at full tilt, it was a one massive wave of energy as skiers roared off the line. Coaches were placed strategically around the course, but splits were not needed, screaming unheard, as each skier strained to the finish line. One CXC skier knew that faster is better as she approached the finish line and in massive last ditch movement...collapsed right before the finish line. Such is racing.

Boom! That's sprinting, and we rejoiced as Renae Anderson darted into first place overall . We did that last year, the first time for girls, and we were third in 2012. I don't know what we're feeding them, or what the coaches are doing, but keep it up. We have a somewhat mystic quality among the New England crowd for bringing in top sprinters and we'd like to keep them guessing.

Sunday is the relay, and being a Sunday, NASCAR racing comes to mind as something around 220 14-15 year olds are going to be banging into each other. Actually, it's a bit more refined than that. Let's do the math. 220 divided by 4 equals a mere 55 teams. So, we have 55 crazed adolescents at the start line ready to do battle, for...fame and fortune? Well, endorphin redemption and adrenaline modification comes to mind, as well as the philosophical reflection; "Why do we race?" flash as skiers set. With teams finishing in number six and seven positions, we were just out of the medals, a bittersweet taste to end on, but motivation for the coming training season.

And then we were done. With a Sunday afternoon and most of a Monday until our flight, we did the obligatory Ben and Jerry's tour (good, but Wisconsin can compete), a Middlebury campus tour (I may audit as a senior and ski Rikert in the afternoon) and then up to Burlington for a bit of shopping before quality time at the airport, which has more rocking chairs than any others in the US, I'm sure.

With only a few mad dashes through airports, the team arrived back in Minneapolis at a reasonable 11:00 pm to greet loved ones and exchange hugs. These kids will be back together and it was easy, again, to see that skiers understand the values they have in common; a bonding in six days.

So what do we get from a trip like this? Skiers ready to work and pursue the sport that we all passionately engage in. Or, for parent that don't ski, understand that this is important to the skiers and makes an impact on their lives and future thinking.

After three eastern trips, 30+ years of ski coaching, and a few ski experiences, I get this; this trip works.The coaches along and I got to be the "frosting coaches". We add the final details on site and along the way to all the work that club and school coaches have committed long hours to guiding and shaping. Gratefully, CXC also works hard to keep the cost reasonable, so very few who qualify should decline. Two of our coaches drove a van non stop (both ways) with bags and wax gear to save on expenses. While this is not the national junior trip, this one may work better in some ways for this age group, as they are the focus.

This is the first travel ski team experience for these skiers, they liked each other, they raced well, and they understand, this is special. So this J2/U16 level needs more; more training, more technique, more connections, more planning, and more patience. They're young, they grow at different rates, they are the future, and they are ready to go. As "shareholders", we need to connect the dot and fill in the pieces of the puzzle, bridge the gaps, and provide as needed. To grow the sport we need to see and acknowledged those who work hard and move up the ladder. Each family and ski community needs to make critical decisions. Let's keep the ball rolling on this one.

Photoset: J2 Championships 3 photos