All 2012 Cross Country Junior Nationals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of The Memory Clinic, in Bennington, Vt., committed to caring for the mind since 1987. Currently conducting clinical research on the Alzheimer’s disease vaccine.
MIDWAY, Utah – Altitude, schmaltitude.
That’s probably what the New England racers have been thinking all week, as the crew has won 11 of 18 races at the 2012 Cross Country Junior Nationals.
Friday was no exception for those in the snowflake-speckled green and blue suits, racing higher than home at Soldier Hollow (nearly 5,500 feet above sea level). New England topped the podium in four of six classic individual starts, and its girls earned a championship in every age category.
For Rachel Hall of Middlebury College, the OJ victory in the 5 k classic race was her first in four years at Junior Nationals. She placed third in Wednesday’s 10 k freestyle mass start, which was a personal best at the time. Learning from that experience, she went for it on Friday.
It didn’t matter that Hall typically trained at an elevation below 2,000 feet in southern Vermont. The 18-year-old knew she could handle one lap around Soldier Hollow.
In a staggered start mixed with J1 racers, Hall was the fastest OJ around the modified Olympic course in 14:43.5. She edged New England teammate Mary Kate Cirelli (Green Mountain Valley School) by 6.2 seconds. Elizabeth Simak of the Midwest and F.A.S.T. Performance Training placed third (+9.5).
“My skis were awesome,” Hall said. “I tried to ski fast over the tops of the hills and work the flats. Everything went well.”
Aware of her lead based on splits around the course, Hall said she tried to ski relaxed and even took in the scenery, noting how beautiful it was.
But when it came to the last hill, she put her head down and powered through the lengthy climb. Mentally, she had everything going for her. She felt good, was confident in her improved classic technique and loved the 5 k distance. Also, her lungs didn’t hurt as badly as in the 10 k.
“I didn’t feel altitude as much,” she said. “It’s shorter. I think that helped New England.”
On Monday, the team won five of six sprint finals.
“It’s later in the week and we’ve been proving we’re still strong,” Hall said. “We’ve shown in distance races we have that top notch.”
Also in the top 10: Felicia Gesior (GL/Northern Michigan) finished fourth, Sarah Cresap (AK/APU) was fifth, Annie Liotta (AK/Alaska Winter Stars) was sixth and Paige Schember (MW/F.A.S.T.) was seventh. Rachel Mason (GL/MTU) placed eighth, Nicolette Amber (MW/CXC) was ninth, and Hannah Boyer (AK/NSCF-FXC) was 10th.
Talbot Wins 10 k
Two days ago, Silas Talbot dogged it a little in the 15 k. The Dartmouth College freshman said he probably approached the mass start too conservatively and had to catch several people as a result.
Fortunately, saving some for the end worked for the New Englander as he finished third in the mass start for his best-ever Junior Nationals result in five years. Talbot went two notches higher on Friday, winning the OJ boys 10 k classic race in 25:45.5.
He beat Wednesday’s 15 k freestyle winner, Ben Saxton (Midwest/Minnesota Valley Ski Club) by 20 seconds. After Saxton as the runner-up, Sam Reed (New England/University of New Hampshire) was third (+30.0).
“That went really well,” Talbot said. “I decided to take it out hard. I had a really aggressive start up the first hill and kept going. The splits I was getting were good, and I ended up first.”
After getting a taste for the podium on Wednesday, Talbot wanted more.
“[I] wanted to get to that next level today,” he said. “I figured the way to do that was to start strong and control the race, hopefully not die.”
With granulated conditions that held up despite 40-degree temperatures, Talbot said the snow was a little slower than on previous days, but was great for classic racing with several hard hills and enough places to recover.
He went hard climbing out of the hollow and felt the burn the second time around. To keep up his tempo, Talbot said he focused on his rhythm and later held on while ascending the infamous Hermod’s Hill on the backside.
After Talbot and Reed picked up two of the top three spots for New England, Rocky Mountain had three racers in the top 10. Mike Vigers (SSC Vail) led the way in fourth (+32.5), Tucker McCrerey (Summit) was seventh, and Charlie Von Thaden (Steamboat Springs) was ninth.
Also in the top 10: Kevin Bolger (IM/Sun Valley) placed fifth, Austin Meng (FW/Auburn) was sixth, Alexander Mahoney (Canada/Rocky Mountain Racers) was eighth and Sawyer Kesselheim (IM/Bridger) finished 10th.
Audrey Mangan contributed reporting.