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Flathead Valley sends three athletes to XC Junior Nationals

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | February 21, 2024 12:00 AM

The Glacier Nordic ski team qualified three athletes for the 2024 Junior Nationals. Maeve Ingelfinger from Whitefish, Findley Dezzani from Columbia Falls and Liam Browne from Kalispell will head to Lake Placid, New York, for a week of racing next month.

The trio will compete in an individual skate on March 11, a classic sprint on March 13, a mass start classic March 15, and a mixed skate relay on March 16.

The three athletes have begun fundraising to help cover the cost of traveling to New York and competing, which totals about $3,500 per skier. A GoFundMe campaign can be found by searching “Three GNC Skiers qualify for Junior Nationals!”

The Junior Nationals will host the best young athletes from 10 divisions across the U.S., from Alaska to New England, on the trails at Mt Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. 

“It's fun because all the groups come together to be one team,” Glacier Nordic comp coach Jennie Bender said. “A bunch of Intermountain clubs who compete against each other … cheer each other on for Nationals.”

This is the first time three athletes from the Glacier Nordic Club have qualified for the national competition since 2011, when Stella Holt, Jack Steele and Connor Gray earned the honor.

Nine athletes from Glacier Nordic competed earlier this month in McCall, Idaho, at the last qualifying event for the Junior Nationals. Bender said every team member put in solid efforts. 

A senior at Whitefish high school, Maeve Ingelfinger, pre-qualified for the Junior Nationals by qualifying and racing in Sweden three weeks ago, but proved she deserved her spot once again at McCall with two second place podiums. This will be Maeve’s third Junior Nationals.

Ingelfinger said she started working on her skiing as an eighth grader trying to keep up with her older brother and his friends at practice.

“All I wanted was to be part of that group of inspiring and fun athletes,” Ingelfinger said. “Now, the work I put in is a part of my routine and I continue to get enjoyment out of it. Working hard leads to amazing racing and training opportunities which furthers the incentive to train.”

Her plans for the future include skiing for the Dartmouth Nordic ski team next year in Hanover, New Hampshire. But first, she is focused on the Junior National competition.

“I am looking forward to testing myself yet again against the top athletes in the nation – a group of girls I have come to know and have built friendships with as we race and train together throughout the summer and winter months,” she said.

Columbia Falls sophomore Findley Dezzani went into the qualifier in a decent position but needed a solid weekend of racing, which she accomplished with a mixture of fitness and grit. Dezzani qualified for her second Junior Nationals after placing eighth in the skate sprint and ninth in the classic. 

Dezzani said she is not only looking forward to competing on a national level at Lake Placid, but she’s keen to perform for some special spectators.

“I’m really looking forward to racing at the Olympic venue and competing on a national level again,” Dezzani said. “I am also excited for the trip because I have … family back East who have never had the chance to see me ski and will be attending the races.”

She began to cross-country ski at the age of 14 months and joined the Glacier Nordic Club when she was in the third grade. A switch flipped for Dezzani when she saw her teammate, Ingelfinger, performing at a high level.

“I had never thought much about racing competitively until I saw my teammate, Maeve, qualify and compete at the 2022 Junior National Championships in Minneapolis,” Dezzani said. “Since then I have challenged myself to train harder and smarter so I can be the best skier I can be.”

Liam Browne gave what Bender called the most gripping performance of the weekend in McCall. The Kalispell sophomore had the race of his career to earn his first Junior Nationals spot. He needed to capture at least seventh place in the Classic Mass Start, so he put the hammer down and raced to a fifth place finish. For the first time, he also made the skate sprint A Final.  

Browne said he loves how nordic skiing pushes him beyond his perceived limits and he finds great inspiration in his teammates.

"Our team is amazing. I wouldn't be going on this trip if it wasn't for the encouragement and help of my amazing coaches and teammates," Browne said, adding that he is looking forward to going to Nationals. “I am excited to meet other skiers from around the country and learn everything I can from these other athletes and coaches." 

Other Glacier Nordic Club members had a great showing in McCall, as well. Assistant Comp Coaches Cassady Daley and Jessie Kay are excited for the success of the entire team. 

Ethan Amick, who missed a qualifier last month due to an injury, raced a solid effort placing 39th in skate and 42nd in classic. Euelle Browne raced to a 34th in skate and 30th in classic. Jessup Hutchenson powered to a 36th and 33rd. The coaches said that Boden Dezzani is going to be a local athlete to watch. He raced to 14th and 10th place finishes over the weekend.

“The kids absolutely crushed it this weekend,” said head comp coach Logan Mowry of the competition in McCall. “Success is when opportunity meets preparation and Liam, Findley and Maeve prepare like no one else. They’re the athletes showing up to practice in the rain, pushing the extra interval, doing the extra strength set. 

“They work so hard and as their coach, it’s a special feeling seeing it pay off in this big way,” he added.

Cross-country skiing events vary by distance, start method, technique and competition format. The range of variables, including weather and snow conditions, is why times are not typically used in cross country ski racing.

Races are either classic or freestyle. Classic skiing uses the traditional straight striding technique and skiers stay, for the most part, in groomed parallel tracks. Freestyle, also called skate skiing, does not use narrow tracks but features athletes pushing in a skate-like motion. 

Races either begin with a mass start or with an interval start.

The distances of the Junior National races vary depending on the age of the skiers. The freestyle U16 boys and girls race 5KM while the older athletes, U18 and U20, race 7.5KM. Similarly, in the classic race, U16 has a 5KM course, U18 races a 10KM course, and U20, a 15KM course.

The classic sprint is 1.3KM and the Freestyle Mixed Relay Classic is 3.3KM for all racers at the Nationals.

To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/glacier-nordic-skiers-jn-trip-to-lake-placid-ny.

    Whitefish's Maeve Ingelfinger in the lead at a race in West Yellowstone. (Photo provided)
 
 
    Columbia Fall's Findley Dezzani speeding though a race in West Yellowstone. (Photo provided)
 
 
    Kalispell's Liam Browne powers uphill ahead of competitors at a race in Utah. (Photo provided)