US Elite Racing: US Nationals Freestyle Recap

by Michaela Keller-Miller
January 4, 2022

This past Sunday brought the first day of racing at the 2022 US Cross Country Ski Championships at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway, Utah. The four-race championships began with a skate sprint on a 1.57 kilometer course consisting of three main climbs and ensuant downhills. The course lent to strategic heat skiing, as there was a substantial draft for skiers who were not leading down the final descent. Sub-zero temperatures resulted in a 30-minute race delay, and conditions remained frigid throughout the races.

The men started the day with a sprint qualifier. The top qualifying position went to Will Koch of the University of Colorado in 3:07.88. JC Schoonmaker of the University of Alaska Anchorage, currently ranked 14th in the World Cup overall sprint standings, clocked in second in 3:08.35. Logan Diekmann of BSF Pro had the third fastest qualifier in 3:09.80. Also qualifying in 24th place was Ian Torchia (SMST2), with a time of 3:17.69. John Schwinghamer of the College of St. Scholastica moved on to the quarterfinals, qualifying in 29th place in 3:20.10.

The top 30 times advanced to quarterfinal heats where tactical skiing typically paid off. The first quarterfinal deviated from the “sit and kick” strategy in later heats, starting fast and hammering across the finish line. The top five finishers in heat one finished within one second, ranging from 3:06.09 to 3:06.84. Of note, the top qualifier Will Koch was unable to maneuver through the tight field, finishing fifth and failing to advance to the semifinals by 0.05 seconds. The third and fourth positions in quarterfinal one earned the two lucky loser positions to move through to the semifinals.

The remaining four quarterfinal heats all saw a more relaxed pace, as skiers elected to sit back and draft down the last downhill to slingshot into the lead on the homestretch. Torchia, racing in the second quarterfinal, was in a strong position to finish in the top two when he was tripped up and suffered a fall in the final 100 meters. Schwinghamer skied smart through his quarterfinal, finishing second and advancing to the semifinals. The semifinals saw similar conservative paces and crashes after the final descent. In the second semifinal, Schwinghamer gunned for the lead over the top of the last downhill and was caught in the ensuing chaos at the bottom, crashing as the remaining athletes maneuvered around.

In the men’s final, Schoonmaker continued his successful strategy of skiing relaxed and staying out of trouble. Looking calm throughout, Schoonmaker slingshotted around the field on the final turn and sprinted away with the win in a time of 3:21.05. Diekmann backed up his fast qualifier by crossing the line second in 3:21.88. Noel Keeffe (University of Utah), who qualified in fourth, rounded out the podium in third place with a time of 3:21.96.

Schoonmaker skiing away with his first national title. (Credit: Jackie Schneider)

Following the men’s qualifier, the women also raced the 1.57 kilometer course. Rosie Frankowski (APU) continued her strong season, qualifying in the first position in 3:45.29. Mariel Pulles, an Estonian skiing for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, finished second in 3:45.37. Kate Oldham of Middlebury College qualified in third in 3:47.78. Abby Jarzin of the University of Utah, qualified 12th in 3:54.44 and Luci Anderson of the University of New Hampshire was 13th in 3:54.91. Hannah Rudd (BSF Pro) qualified in 17th in 3:57.73, Erin Bianco (Colby College) was 22nd in 3:59.77, Anabel Needham (Michigan Tech) was 25th in 4:00.77, and Sarah Goble (SVSEF Gold) was 29th in 4:02.43.

The women’s heats played out tactically different than the men’s race, as heat times were consistently closer to or faster than the qualifying times. As in the men’s race, quarterfinal one had the fastest times, garnering both lucky loser positions for the semifinals. Frankowski set a blistering pace early in the first quarterfinal, hanging on for second to advance to the semifinals in 3:44.06. Also moving on to the semifinals were Rudd and Anderson.

Frankowski charging in her quarterfinal. (Credit: Jackie Schneider)

The semifinals saw similar tactics to the quarterfinals, as times remained fast and skiers holding back on the final descent were able to slingshot into the lead around the final turn. Advancing to the final heat were Frankowski and Pulles. Both Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) and Sydney Palmer-Leger (University of Utah), fresh off Period I of the World Cup, also moved on. The final two slots went to Anna Bizyukova (University of Vermont) and Becca Rorabaugh (APU). Both Anderson and Rudd finished fifth in their semifinals, ending the day in 9th and 10th places, respectively.

The women’s final rewarded those who were patient, as the race came down to the wire. Immediately off the line, Pulles snapped her pole but was impressively able to maintain contact until she was handed another pole. Frankowski again took the lead on the first climb, holding her position into the final descent. The remaining skiers followed closely behind, and all six skiers were neck in neck gliding downhill. Using the draft, Patterson went wide and overtook the pack, as Rorabough took advantage of an opening on the inside. Coming into the homestretch, Patterson had a slight lead over Rorabough and Palmer-Leger. Patterson held her advantage to the line, outsprinting Rorabaugh for the win in 3:42.60 and picking up her 10th national title. Rorabough crossed the line second in 3:42.84 and Palmer-Leger was third in 3:43.17. Frankowski fought hard to the finish, ending her gutsy day of racing in sixth with a time of 3:45.12.

Patterson in the final on the way to win her 10th national title. (Credit: Jackie Schneider)

Following a one-day break, racing resumed on Tuesday with a 20 kilometer skate mass start for the women and a 30 kilometer skate mass start for the men. The men began the day with eight laps of a 3.75 kilometer course. As is typical of courses at Soldier Hollow, there is no shortage of climbing. From the gun, Scott Patterson (APU) took the lead and a large pack formed behind him. The lead pack whittled down to about eight skiers by the end of third lap and was down to five skiers by the end of lap five. Going into the sixth lap, Patterson made a move, breaking up the lead pack. The four skiers on Patterson’s tail attempting to close the gap included David Norris (APU), Hunter Wonders (APU), Adam Martin (CGRP), and Ian Torchia (SMST2). Norris picked up the pace on the final two laps, clocking the fastest lap times on both lap seven and lap eight. Despite a late-race surge from Norris, Patterson skied away with the win in 1:13:24.8 after leading most of the race. Norris crossed the line second in 1:13:36.7. Wonders held onto the third position in 1:13:52.8 for an APU podium sweep. After battling for the final three laps, Martin and Torchia let the race for fourth come down to the last few hundred meters. Martin ultimately edged out Torchia for fourth in a time of 1:14:09.1. Torchia was close behind in fifth in 1:14:12.2.

Martin racing through the feed zone by Coach Pepa Miloucheva. (Credit: Tobias Albrightsen)

Torchia reflects on a challenging day of racing and provides further insight, “Holy that was brutal! Basically from the gun Scott made it his mission to keep the pace high the entire time so besides the one five minute stretch that Hunter Wonders was leading on lap 3 (thank you Hunter for the chill pace), there I was fighting the whole time. I found myself in 2nd in no man’s land on lap 6 of 8 and tried to close on Scott, but this ended up costing me as I started cramping from the effort and got caught by Adam, Hunter, and David behind me. Super impressed with David as he was absolutely fried at the start of the 6th lap when I passed him and he rallied to make it a close one with Scott in the end. All I can say about the last 2 laps was it was a bit of a nightmare as I fought to keep my position and also not cramp and ended up in a sprint with my good buddy (and groomsman from this summer) Marty who nipped me for 4th. Very proud of the effort even if I’m disappointed with the result, I could not have pushed myself harder. I’ll have to try and forget how painful that was before the 15k on Thursday!”

After the men’s race, the women completed six laps of a 3.3 kilometer course for a total of 20 kilometers. The field was stacked, as several World Cup skiers were racing, including Rosie Brennan (APU) who is currently ranked 15th overall on World Cup and 11th overall in the distance standings. Immediately off the line, Brennan took the lead and never looked back. Brennan’s APU teammate Frankowski briefly attempted to match the pace, but settled into the chase with Sunday’s winner, C. Patterson. Brennan continued to widen her lead through lap five, but Frankowski and Patterson were able to closely match Brennan’s pace on the final two laps. The rest of the field began to sort itself out, as a small chase pack formed, including Margie Freed (CGRP), Rudd, and Jarzin.

The start of the women’s mass start. (Credit: Tryg Solberg)

Brennan continued her dominant performance, topping the podium in 53:16.9. Frankowski and Patterson fought throughout the final lap, although Frankowski headed into the final climb with a slight advantage. Patterson worked to close the gap on this climb and the downhill into the stadium, challenging Frankowski through to the finish. Frankowski successfully held off Patterson for second place with a time of 54:37.5. Patterson rounded out the podium in third in 54:39.4. Freed ended her race strong with a fifth place finish in 56:24.1. Rudd, outsprinting Palmer-Leger, placed an impressive sixth place in 57:30.4. Jarzin held onto 10th place in 58:59.7. Michaela Keller-Miller (CGRP) finished in 14th place in 59:23.6, Julie Ensrud (Team Birkie) was 18th in 1:01:11.9, and Renae Anderson (Bowdoin College) was 19th in 1:01:38.0.

Rudd, after garnering two top-10 finishes so far this week, takes a moment to check in, “I'm really excited about how the week has been going so far out here in Utah! Today's 20k skate race went off pretty hot so I tried to get in behind a good pack at the beginning. Today I was thinking about staying controlled on all of the climbs and really pushing the flats and transitions. I was able to move up in positions throughout the race and luckily had enough energy for a sprint finish. I'm looking forward to the 10k classic coming up on Thursday!"

After another rest day, the action picks back up on Thursday with a 10 kilometer classic race for the women and a 15 kilometer classic race for the men. Friday brings the final day of racing at this year’s 2022 US Cross Country Championships with a classic sprint race.

About the author...

Michaela Keller-Miller, a graduate of Wayzata High School and the University of Alaska Anchorage, skis for the Green Racing Project based out of Craftsbury, Vermont. Her ideal day would probably involve a long trail run followed by a stack of pancakes with maple syrup and a chai latte.