The Nevada Union Nordic ski team features a young, enthusiastic group that is beaming with desire and potential as every race has provided experience and allowed for quality bondage amongst the team’s dedicated athletes.
The once 33-member squad began its season in December with the California Nevada Interscholastic Ski Snowboard Federation’s 3x3K freestyle relays at Kirkwood. NU then raced at Sugar Bowl Jan. 11 in a 5K freestyle, which was followed by a classic 5K at the South Auburn Ski Club Jan. 18 and finally the Tahoe-Donner freestyle 5K last Friday, Jan. 25.
At the moment the Miners roster is about half what it once was. The challenges Nordic brings is often underestimated by many athletes and as a direct result the team is now down to about half of its original roster, according to senior Tess Engel who has stuck with the program for her third season.
“I like getting out in the trees and exploring the woods,” said Engel. “Students who stay and participate see how involved everyone is. I did it when I was younger with some friends. We just have a lot of fun.”
The racers are progressing and compete in open division amongst other schools such as North Tahoe, South Tahoe, Mammoth, Incline Village, Colfax, Presentation (San Jose) and Sugar Bowl Academy, said head coach Derek McKay.
McKay wasn’t present at Sugar Bowl during his team’s race Jan. 11 because he was busy racing himself in the first Federation Internationale de Ski Marathon Cup race of the season, the 50K classic Jizerská Padesátka marathon, held every year since 1968 in the mountains of the Czech Republic.
“Adam (assistant coach) and Derek are very supportive and focus on helping everyone to keep it (the passion) alive,” added Engel.
There are two types of racing for Nordic, classic and freestyle. Classic requires more practiced technique where there are limitations on how to move, whereas in freestyle the skiers can skate and do whatever range of motion they wish, McKay said.
Sophomore Cody Capella participated in cross country and also decided to give Nordic a try for the first time this season.
“It’s pretty fun,” Capella said. “We’re a close knit team. It feels good to miss a whole day of school and just being around people you’re friends with.”
Senior Miah Taylor also dove head first into the sport this season and is loving every minute of it.
“I was on the dive team last year,” Taylor said. “I wanted something to keep active. The social aspect of meeting people, sitting in a car and talking is fun. I love the competition. Seeing if I can pass someone without dying.”
Sophomore cross country runner Bella Brownwood was NU’s Nordic MVP last year and just one of 10 skiers on the roster with previous racing experience entering this season.
“I’ve skied before a couple times, mostly downhill,” Brownwood said. “I really want to ski just not really that fast. Sophie (Richnak) and I joined together last year. It doesn’t matter if we came in last. We have a lot of beginners. It’s just about learning and being out there with friends.”
Richnak agrees Nordic is a sport to fall in love with for those who admire nature and enjoy being in good company.
“I like the scenery,” Richnak said. “My brother Tanner is going to join the team next year.”
NU’s top five placers at the Mammoth Classic 5K Feb. 1 were Richnak earning 13th with a time of 37 minutes, 32.8 seconds, Brownwood coming in 16th with a time of 38:07.8, Delphine Griffith was close behind finishing 19th at 40:34.5, Nora Pizella grabbing the 20th spot with a mark of 41:20.7 and Joy Castro-Wehr finishing 21st at 42:12.2.
Leading the boys for NU was Roy Asher finishing fifth with a time of 29:54.6. Lukas Hall-Alba raced into 12th place at 34:45. Dean Fogle the finish line with a time of 35:04 good for 13th. Capella took 21st with a makr of 39:43.5 and Kieth Fogle rounded out NU’s top five with a 40:13.4 race to take 23rd place.
“I’ve seen kids flounder around, then something clicks,” McKay said. “Sometimes it takes a couple of seasons, but they make progress and have fun.”
Not only is Nevada Union tackling a huge project with its young skiers, but its also facing stiff competition from the Tahoe-Truckee area. A big part of this is because the Tahoe Basin middle schools have grown and they introduce the sport to kids at an earlier age so by the time they are seniors they have a great amount of experience, McKay said.
“Until the last person finishes you don’t know where you’re really at,” McKay said. “The skiers usually have a rough idea. At Mammoth it is a narrow course so they only let two skiers go every 15 seconds, but continuous pursuit (a racing format) lets you actually chase other racers from start to finish.”
“These kids are enthusiastic so it’s just a matter of time, working hard and conditioning.”
NU races a 3K classic 3K skate continous pursuit at North Tahoe High School Friday.