Saturday, April 13, 2024

Glacier Nordic Club skiers shine at Junior Nationals

| March 27, 2024 1:00 AM

The 2024 U.S. Ski and Snowboard Junior National Championships were held in Lake Placid, New York, from March 11-16 and three athletes from Glacier Nordic Club competed in the event alongside the best junior athletes from 10 divisions across the United States.

Liam Browne from Kalispell, Findely Dezzani from Columbia Falls and Maeve Ingelfinger from Whitefish performed admirably. Glacier Nordic Club executive director and coach Jennie Bender said teamwork is key and the club felt lucky to have such a great Glacier Nordic Ski Team crew along with the Intermountain Division. 

The local skiers are part of the Intermountain Division along with skiers from across Montana, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Ingelfinger won two national championships and skied an impressive leg of the second place U18 relay. She said the championships were “full of exciting racing and unpredictable weather.” 

“The course conditions varied drastically day to day making it difficult for both the racers and wax technicians,” she said. 

In Ingelfinger’s first race, a 7.5K mass start, she skied to a seventh place finish in dumping snow. In the same race Dezzani finished in 11th place to also make the podium. 

After a slow start to Wednesday’s classic sprint, Ingelfinger managed to adjust her strategy and technique in order to defend her sprint title from the previous year in Fairbanks, Alaska. 

Friday was similarly chaotic with a three-hour race delay and a last-minute change to the course. 

“My original strategy was to stick with the pack, but shortly into the race, I felt good and decided to break away from the group, giving myself a lead that lasted just over half the race,” Ingelfinger said. “After being caught and gapped by another racer in the last quarter of the race, I was able to catch her in the last hundred meters of the finish. I am extremely proud of this race effort, not only because of my performance, but because I was able to stay mentally in the race the entire time.”

While Ingelfinger stood on the podium four times throughout the week, she said the most memorable moments were made with friends. 

“I am so grateful for the coaches and wax technicians of Intermountain Division, the support of Glacier Nordic Club in preparing me for this season, and to the community whom I thank for helping me raise money for my trip,” she said. 

Dezzani had a stellar skate individual start on Monday, placing 11th in the U18 category during a snowstorm. She then raced to 60th in rain on the classic sprint day, and 61st in slush in the 10K classic mass start. 

Bender said the weather conditions were “nutty” but the GNC skiers fought hard and gained valuable experience. 

This was Dezzani’s second trip to Junior Nationals. 

“When I first got to Lake Placid, it was warm enough to run in shorts and there was no snow in town,” she said. “It felt silly that we were there to ski. However, on the first day of racing, it started snowing and it felt like winter again.”

By earning 11th in the skate distance event, which is Dezani’s strongest and favorite, she met her goal of being in the top 15. 

“I felt strong skiing,” she said. “When I finished I could tell I was up there in the placements and even more excited when I learned that I had skied myself to 11th place.”  

As races continued, the snow conditions changed and the course broke down. On Wednesday, Dezzani experienced her first fall of the season in the qualifier and did not advance to the heats.  In the following classic distance race, Dezzani fell three times in what many people said were the worst conditions they’d ever seen. 

“Throughout the championships, I was very thankful for my supportive coaches and teammates, especially Maeve, Liam, and Jennie, who were there to help me through all the ups and downs of the week,” Dezzani said. “Overall, it was incredible to be in Lake Placid and experience Junior Nationals in a city with so much Olympic history.”

Browne attended his first Nationals this year as a U16 and experienced it all in the variable weather of the East Coast. He skied to a 42nd finish in the skate 5K individual on Monday, a 43rd in the classic mass start on Friday and a 65th in the classic sprint qualifier Wednesday. 

“This was a remarkable experience and one I will value for the rest of my life,” Browne said of competing at Nationals. “I got to race on an incredible course, spend time with a great group of athletes while learning from them and growing in race experience.”

With the course and conditions extremely challenging and constantly changing, Browne said he relied on his coaches' confidence to overcome the conditions and ski to his limit. 

“While racing the 5K classic event, I was able to use the drills we do every week at practice to focus on my technique instead of the pain and push up and over the hills when everyone else was backing off, allowing me to make up precious seconds,” he said. 

The trip was a priceless experience and a huge motivator for training in the next season, he noted.  

“I could not have done any of this without the constant support and encouragement of my friends, family and team at Glacier Nordic,” he said. 

Bender said the Junior Nordic community and their commitment is unmatched at the Junior Nationals and the exposure to cross-country culture around the country is just as valuable as any race result. 

"These teens put in work and learn skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” Bender said. “It's not just a lifelong love of skiing; it's learning to have a life of physical health, making new friendships, working through hardships, finding resiliency through tribulations, and modesty amongst victories.”

“They learn how to plan, prep, and perform,” she added. “It is a special sort of athlete who excels at endurance sports, and it's a privilege to be a part of their journey."

    Liam Browne races at the Junior Nationals in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo provided)
    Maeve Ingelfinger raises her arms after racing at the Junior Nationals. (Phillip Belena photo)
    Findley Dezzani powers up a hill at the Junior Nationals in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo provided)