Last year, when the US Senior Nationals were on home turf in Anchorage, Alaska, APUNSC fielded 33 skiers, outnumbering any other team in attendance. This year, the US Nationals are held in Rumford, Maine, about as far away from Anchorage as possible while still being on US soil. And still, APUNSC is bringing one of the biggest contingents.
Ten senior racers, 10 U23 skiers, five juniors, and five coaches will be sporting the APU Elite uniform in Rumford, for a total of 30 people. This marks the biggest ever travel team from APU to Nationals.
“We’re taking a bigger crew to nationals even than what we do to the SuperTour,” said Holly Brooks of APU Elite.
“Part of the idea is to give some of the younger people some national-level racing experience. Plus our top juniors are hoping to make the World Juniors team and the Scandinavian Cup team, in addition to those who want to make the U23 and the World Championships teams,” Brooks explained. She is herself aiming to punch her ticket for the 2011 World Championships in Oslo while visiting Rumford.
“The senior team’s goals are to get positions on the podium, aim for the World Championships and further their points. But for most, the focus is on the experience-building. That’s why we want to take as many as possible to get championship experience on the top level for both seniors and juniors,” said APUNSC head coach Erik Flora.
Flora has J1s and OJs trying for World Juniors, U23 skiers trying for U23 Worlds and seniors trying for the 2011 World Championships.
“It’s a diverse group with different goals. On a strong day, we can have our team represented on all those teams,” Flora said.
So far, the whole squad has exceeded expectations this season.
“The period 1 races at the SuperTour and Nor-Ams were great,” Flora said.
“We’ve seen a number of people step up and make jumps this year, and a handful of new people making podiums on the SuperTour,” Flora said, adding that he has had a good feeling since this summer.
“I saw it already on the glacier this summer. The training level has stepped up. Before, we’ve had some skiers who were clearly ahead. This year the whole group skied in the same realm,” Flora said.
Traveling clear across the country with such a large crew poses some challenges, logistically. However there are also several positives to being on the road as a team, in contrast to staying at home.
Obviously, at home everyone has their own daily living routines, access to their own vehicles, and the comfort of their own beds. On the other hand, Flora points out the convenience of having all the athletes and coaches in one place.
“When we’re on the road, everyone is in one place and that’s easy for team meetings and getting skis ready and so on,” Flora explained.
In practice, the APU squad is divided into two teams in Maine. Half of the athletes, one coach and one wax tech are staying with the development group in one location, and half of the skiers, one coach and two wax techs are staying in a different place.
While for some, this is their first trip to the US Senior Nationals, overall it’s a seasoned group of skiers.
“They all have experience with travel and camps, and are used to getting together for organized training and racing. So this is not too big of a shock to them,” Flora said, noting that from the start of the training year in May, the team has one week of every month together on the glacier in Alaska.
The APU Nordic Ski Club has more than 250 members. Of its 75 juniors, five will race in Rumford. Flora named 10 senior skiers to the travel team, as well as 10 skiers from the U23 group.
“It’s hard to make the APU travel team. We have a limited number of spots, and we are definitely leaving some people at home,” Flora said. He explained that the main criteria for making the team is based on last year’s performance, but he also holds some spots open to be filled at a later date. The original plan was to take a crew of 20, leaving 12 skiers at home. But during the fall, Flora was able to add another wax tech and bump the travel squad up to 25 athletes.
“That was really fun. As a coach, one of the hardest things to do is to name the travel team,” Flora said. “But in general, those who work hard get to make travel team,” he added.
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Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.