Aspen High Nordic team takes care of business at state, Alpine looks to finish
Halfway through the state skiing championships, Aspen High School finds itself in the same spot it’s finished in recent years, and that’s leading the pack. With the Nordic portion of the finale having been held Saturday, the Alpine skiers will get their turn Thursday and Friday at Loveland Ski Area.
“We’ve never known the outcome of Nordic before we compete,” AHS Alpine coach Jennifer Morandi-Benson said. “So knowing that, we have to finish the job. We have to finish what they started.”
Due to venue availability, this year’s state championships were divided up between Loveland and the Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge. Usually, the Nordic and Alpine events would more or less be held at the same time over two days in nearby locations.
Aspen leads both the boys and girls standings after the cross-country races, with overall state skiing team champions determined by combining the Alpine and Nordic results. The AHS boys are looking for their fourth straight state championship, while the AHS girls are hoping to win their third title in four years, going with a runner-up finish from 2019.
“We are just excited to have contributed, and now hopefully they can ski well and have fun out there,” AHS Nordic coach Travis Moore said of giving the Alpine team a cushion heading into its part of the state championships. “Everybody pretty much rose to another level. It was really great skiing. People were super happy and having fun and it was great to have that environment again.”
AHS senior Taiga Moore, the coach’s son, was the big story out of the Nordic races after he won both the boys skate and classic events.
In the skate race, Moore finished in 7 minutes, 21 seconds, while Eagle Valley’s Ferguson St. John was second in 7:38. In third, only another second back, was Aspen senior Noah Wheeless, who attends classes at Roaring Fork High School. Sophomore Corbin Carpenter, another RFHS student who skis for AHS, finished fifth in 7:47. Senior Christian Kelly (eighth, 8:00) and sophomore Eske Roennau (10th, 8:04) gave the Skiers five in the top 10.
Moore won the longer boys classic race in 14:11, with St. John again finishing second, this time in 14:49. Wheeless (eighth, 15:25.7) and Carpenter (10th, 15:38.7) also landed in the top 10.
Travis Moore said the classic course gave a few of his more vertical-crazy athletes trouble.
“For some of our skiers that course was really right on, and for some of our skiers who are just mountain kids who like to go uphill and grind, the race course was a little more challenging because it was a flatter course,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t suited to a few of our skiers. Elsie skied really well, but some of our kids have a motor for going up and down and technical skiing.”
AHS sophomore Elsie Weiss won the girls skate race for the second time in two years, finishing in 8:29 to beat Lake County’s Rose Horning by nine seconds. Aspen seniors Eva McDonough (third, 8:55) and Kylie Kenny (seventh, 9:02) also finished inside the top 10.
Weiss also led AHS in the girls classic race, finishing fifth in 17:34.2. Horning won in 16:41.2. McDonough (eighth, 17:58.6) and Kenny (ninth, 17:59.2) again finished in the top 10. Weiss won the classic state title as a freshman.
“There was some nervous anticipation,” Travis Moore said of entering the state meet, pointing out he was really pleased with how the team’s eight seniors performed. “Each one of them went out and skied really great races. They’ve all taken a lot of time this winter to practice and really refine what they’re doing. I’ve seen so much improvement. So those eight, I think they finished the season on a really high note.”
After the Nordic races, the Aspen boys lead with 338 points, followed by Eagle Valley in second with 301. Middle Park and Vail Mountain are tied for third with 291 points each. The Aspen girls have 333 points to lead Summit (301) and Lake County (296).
Aspen’s chances of repeating as champions are high considering it has 12 male and 10 female Alpine skiers competing, the most of any team at state. Like with Nordic, the Alpine season only saw about half the normal races because of the pandemic and AHS only competed against a small handful of teams, so how it stacks up against the competition at state is relatively unknown.
The Alpine boys will compete Thursday with both a giant slalom and slalom on the same day. The girls will do the same on Friday. Who wins each gender’s state championship should be known that respective night.
“We feel really good,” Morandi-Benson said. “We’ve been training since November, but the season kept getting pushed. I’ve been at it for like four-and-a-half months. It’s the longest shortest season ever.”
Of note, two Aspen skiers competed in Tuesday’s skimeister state championship, a Colorado High School Ski League event not affiliated with CHSAA. AHS senior Christian Kelly won the boys state championship, racing four times (two Nordic, two Alpine) in Steamboat Springs for the crown.
AHS senior Edie Sherlock finished second in the girls skimeister competition to Steamboat senior Zoe Bennett-Manke. Sherlock won the state’s skimeister title as a sophomore in 2019.
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The 8:30 p.m. start time for the Glenwood Springs High School hockey team on Friday night would be unthinkably late for most prep sports. For the currently homeless Demons, it was actually early.