Aspen wins girls state ski title
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – The Aspen girls ski team made quite a state-ment on their home snow.
A talented but thin alpine squad helped the Skiers girls keep pace early Friday – the second and final day of the Colorado State Ski Championships. Then, the nordic side took it home.
Hannah Dodge, Ellie Parker and Else Dodge finished fifth through seventh, respectively, in the 5-kilometer mass-start skate on a drab, snowy afternoon. The effort was more than enough to help the Skiers overcome a three-point, Day 1 deficit and secure the state crown.
Aspen’s 614 total points were nine better than Steamboat Springs. Day 1 leader Summit (602), Nederland (581) and Middle Park (564) rounded out the top five.
“They had a phenomenal day today. They just skied like crazy,” said Aspen nordic coach Travis Moore. “I don’t really know how to put it into words, but they just rose to the occasion. They’re beaming, of course.”
For the Aspen boys, No. 2 would have to do. Micah Evonitz shook off some struggles in Thursday’s giant slalom to win Friday’s slalom, but the Skiers could do little to compete with reigning champion Summit’s nordic depth. Tucker McCrerey picked up his second win in as many days in the skate, teammates Jackson Hill and Troy Meeker wound up fourth and fifth, respectively, and the Tigers clinched the title with 668 points.
Aspen (653) and Battle Mountain (598) finished a distant second and third.
“We tried our hardest to do what we needed to do on the hill, and the nordic guys did the same,” Skiers alpine coach Craig Carlson said. “It was a solid second-place finish. Us and Summit really have a healthy competition going.”
Aspen’s and Summit’s girls were locked in a tight battle after Day 1. Given the strength of the Skiers’ nordic side, Carlson’s message to his alpine skiers Friday morning was succinct.
“All I told them to do was finish, and finish strong,” the coach said. “I told them if we had three in the top 15, we did our job because we don’t have a whole lot of depth. We came close.”
Keili Kropf paced Aspen with a seventh-place finish, posting a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 25.67 seconds. Chandler Stapleton (1:30.34) and Sonja Gagen (1:32.06) followed in 15th and 20th.
Consequently, the Skiers trailed Summit by 17 and Steamboat by 11 points heading into the afternoon skate.
Hannah Dodge admitted she was feeling the pressure.
“It was kind of stressful, but I tried to just do my best,” she said. “I tried my hardest to get out in that front pack [at the start].”
Dodge settled in some 20-30 yards behind a lead pack of four that included Middle Park standout Samantha Berggren, Thursday’s classic winner. In seventh for a time, Dodge summoned the energy to pass two girls with about 500 meters remaining.
She maintained that position down the final straightaway, crossing the line in 17:34.7 – about 20 seconds behind winner Berggren.
Teammates Parker (17:38.7) and Else Dodge (17:39.7) finished soon after. Sophie Stuber and Elise Marrs finished ninth and 11th, respectively.
“I was nervous for sure for them,” Moore said. “I’m usually very happy no matter where they end up, but I just wanted them to be proud of their accomplishments and feel like they skied a solid week. They certainly did that.”
Added Hannah Dodge: “This feels so good. We worked hard all season, and it finally paid off.”
Kevin Hartmann and Tyler Nelson had to work hard to crack the top 15 in the slalom. While teammate Evonitz cruised to victory with a combined time of 1:16.12, Hartmann and Nelson found themselves hiking after falls near the bottom of the course.
“In the last three gates, there was a flush. It was really tight, and I was going too fast,” Nelson said. “I caught a tip and cartwheeled.”
Somewhat improbably, Hartmann, Thursday’s GS winner, managed to finish 10th. Nelson regrouped in time to wind up 13th.
Hartmann was first, Evonitz second and Nelson seventh after Run 1.
“It was a very interesting day. It’s a slalom, and anything can happen,” Carlson said. “To be 10th and 13th is an awesome credit to those goes to be able to [overcome falls and] finish that strong.
“Micah skied to his potential. That’s something I’ve been waiting for him to do all season long. It was awesome to see that huge smile on his face when he was standing on the podium.”
By virtue of the alpine effort, the Skiers boys trailed Summit by just six heading into the skate.
Freshman Keegan Swirbul attempted to help trim that deficit, vaulting into first place shortly after the start.
“I figured I might as well go cause the lead guys were going so slowly – they were waiting so they could out-sprint me [at the end],” Swirbul said. “I went as fast as I could.”
Added Moore: “I think it’s a risk in a mass start to pull the field along. You have to be pretty confident you will be able to outdistance them. In hindsight, maybe he should’ve stayed in second for a while and enjoyed the slow pace.”
Slowly but surely, McCrerey reeled in Swirbul, pulling ahead for good about 40 meters from the finish. By his own admission, Swirbul momentarily let up a that moment; Vail Mountain’s Cal Deline took advantage, beating Swirbul to the line to secure second.
Swirbul wound up third in 14:21.7 – little more than 2 seconds off McCrerey’s pace.
“He came cruising up behind me and I couldn’t see him at all because his uniform was white,” said Swirbul, who was fifth Thursday. “I got out-sprinted at the end, shamefully.”
Teammates Brett Gordon (15:09.5) and Hudson McNamee (15:29.4) wound up seventh and 10th, respectively.
“The kids should definitely revel in their accomplishments,” Moore said. “They fulfilled some great things these last two days.
“We’re really thrilled with how the races came off and just everything from the parent volunteers to the energy from the spectators. Today was really cool.”
Added Carlson: “Hosting a championship event is definitely nerve-wracking, but everyone that came saw that Aspen High School and the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club can put on world-class events at all levels. … I think this is just the beginning.”
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.