The Rocky/Central Region took home the U21 National Junior Championships Cup this past week. The U21 National Junior Championships (NJC) took place in Snowbasin Resort, Utah about a month earlier than previous racing seasons. Top performers included 16-year-old Emma Resnick, who swept the gold-medal position during three days of racing, as well as 18-year-old Isaiah Nelson and Bridger Gile, who traded off first and second place for the men.
The NJC was changed from the end of March to the end of February for the 2020 season. This has been a large conversation throughout the season with various discussion points on how the shift might affect the schedule for major races at the end of the season. These races are critical for all athletes, especially the junior racers, whether they want to be on the U.S. Ski Team, an NCAA University Team, or want to move up in the field within the team they have already started competing for. All of these races, such as NJC, Junior World’s, NorAm Finals, and U.S. Nationals reflect their season in the most crucial ways. Thus, making the race earlier, before Junior World’s, NorAm Finals and U.S. Nationals was a difficult decision.
According to various coaches and athletes, the change in dates seemed to be more of a positive decision overall for the NJC, however, there were still some comments about the switch in the dates for the series.
“Overall, I think the timing was pretty strong,” said Kristina Revello, Rocky/Central Regional Development Coach. “Having NJC this past week put it over two weeks prior to U.S. Nationals, which was a strong time to have it. It was out of the way of the Youth Olympic Games and Junior Worlds, which was an OK time. I think for the older racers, some might have felt it was a bit close to Junior World’s and some might have wanted NJC later, but overall it was a great spot to schedule it in.”
Teammates Isaiah Nelson of the U.S. D Ski Team and Bridger Gile of the U.S. C Ski Team have been to National Junior Championships consecutively for multiple seasons and concurred that the new schedule was a positive change.
“I thought it was great timing! NJC this year was before all the other big races like Junior World’s, and U.S Nationals, so I like it because after those other long races I am pretty spent, and I want the season to be concluded,” Gile said.
Nelson agreed, saying, “In years past, U.S. NJC came after a long string of races, including NorAm Finals and U.S. Nationals, so I think the timing allowed the athletes to come into these races fresh and ready.”
On the other hand, some Junior racers that would have contributed to the strong competition for the NJC series were unable to put this line of race into their schedule. This inability to commit to NJC was due to Junior World’s being too close and the need for brakes in-between long races.
“One negative, however, is that because of early timing, some of the top Juniors were unable to attend because they were in Europe racing World Cups or prepping for Junior World Championships, like other U.S. Ski Team athletes, Ben Ritchie, Alix Wilkinson, Keely Cashman, and AJ Hurt,” Nelson (USA) said.
Other U.S. Ski Team coaches, including Revello (Rocky/Central Regional Development Coach), agreed.
Apart from the conversation of scheduling, the series exceeded standards and was an awesome few days of racing for the junior athletes. The week began with men and women’s super G, transitioned into the giant-slalom, and concluded with the slalom races.
“National Junior Championships were an amazing event,” Rev said. “Snowbasin Resort did an amazing job. We got Swampy, the head of course crew, who did all of the course work for the Olympic venue, to do all of the prep work and groom the hill for us the entire series. He did an absolutely amazing job up there. Huge thank you to Snowbasin, Gordon Perry, and Kristian Guay.”
Emma Resnick of the U.S. D Ski Team agreed, saying, “Everything was really good. Snowbasin did a great job with the hill and course prep. The racing hill was super fun and being with my friends was a highlight.”
On Feb. 24, the series started with the women’s super G. Resnick won by a short fragment, just 0.14 in front of Burke Mountain Academy racer Olivia Holm. Skiing into bronze-medal position, Mary Bocock, racing for Rowmark Ski Academy concluded the podium 1.01 behind Resnick’s winning time.
On the same day, the men’s super G kicked off, with Isaiah Nelson (USA) grabbing onto first-place with a winning time of 54.56. Not far back, was teammate Bridger Gile (USA), coming across the finish line just 0.11 behind Nelson. Bradshaw Underhill, skiing for Killington Mountain School rounded out the podium, just 0.34 behind Gile. It was a close race for the men.
“At a hill like Snowbasin, there is not a ton of aspects that separate the competition, so it does not allow for any mistakes because those mistakes would be very costly,” Nelson stated after the races.
The next day, on Feb. 25, the giant-slalom commenced for the women and men’s fields. The women started the day with Emma Resnick striking gold once again, 0.93 in front of the field. Teammate, Ainsley Proffit, of the U.S. D Ski Team, tucked into silver medal position, and Lydia Riddell of the Green Mountain Valley School, rounded out the podium, just 0.09 behind Proffit’s time.
Resnick said, “The GS was my favorite event at NJC because the snow was super great. It had a consistent pitch and a few pieces of the terrain were fun and technical.”
In an interview earlier this season, Riddell (GMVS) set the goal, “I hope to be skiing on an NCAA circuit, but no pressure… For now, I’m taking it day by day, continuing to love the sport and have fun.”
On the men’s side for the GS, Gile captured the gold, 0.40 in front of the field. Nelson skied into the second position, and Jacob Dilling, of the U.S. D Ski Team, rounded out the podium, 1.74 behind Gile’s winning time.
Gile said, “The first GS run was my favorite run of the series because the snow was pretty ‘money’ and it was super fun to go out and charge,” he continued, “out of the five NJC series I have raced, I think Snowbasin was my favorite hill because the racecourse felt like it was next to a half pipe, due to its bank turns. Those were super fun turns and it was great.”
For the last day of racing, on February 26th, the slaloms concluded the NJC series. Emma Resnick won with an unbelievable combined time, 0.87 in front of the field. Cleo Braun of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail came into silver-medal position and Dasha Romanov finished the podium 1.05 behind Resnick.
Isaiah Nelson won the combined time for the men’s slalom. He punched the gates, finishing just 0.28 in front of Noah Riemenschneider of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Dilling (USA) concluded the podium 0.66 behind Nelson.
“I have a lot of confidence in my skiing after this series, so I will be bringing that into Narvik (Junior Worlds). I also found the mental zone that works for me to be able to race fast, which is an aggressive mentality, but locked into the technical focus that will help me stay on my feet,” Nelson explained.
The three days of racing finished off with the Rocky/Central Region winning the overall cup, as a team.
Coach Revello said, “The Rocky/Central Region winning the overall, NJC Cup was really amazing. Going from being an athlete back in the ’90s and knowing the feeling of trying to win the cup, it was really cool to have these athletes working so hard and competing side by side. The energy around that element and that part of the event was really cool. Hopefully, in the future, the people who won Juniors can realize the excitement of winning the regional cup.”
This is the start of a long month of March for some of these junior racers as they take on several huge series that will conclude their season. For instance, Emma Resnick is looking forward to the NorAm Finals next. While, Isaiah Nelson and Bridger Gile are turning right around and getting prepped for Junior World’s across the pond in Narvik, Norway.
Gile said, “I am super excited for Junior Worlds! I think I will be focusing on my tactics and just getting some more races under my belt. My goal is to go as straight as I can. I want to be able to do everything I prepare for in the first run, instead of taking multiple runs to get to a certain point of racing that I want to be at.”
Nelson also wants to approach Junior Worlds with an aggressive mentality, “my goal is to continue working on the technical focuses as well as skiing aggressively in the races. I am planning on racing all events besides the team event, so I am just looking to execute my plan each day and learn from each run.”
The National Junior Championships bring these U21 racers closer to higher goals. Everyone believes that this event is super important and should be placed accordingly with the racing schedule. Next year it is not clear whether they will host it at the same time, before the other final races of the season.
Stay tuned as the Juniors take on Junior Worlds in Narvik, Norway from March 5th-14th!