In a season of ups and downs, Steamboat Springs Nordic skier Sarah MacCarthy saved her best for last.
"It couldn't have ended any better," MacCarthy said. "I think this finish will motivate me this summer and next year."
In her final race of the 2005 season, MacCarthy won the junior division at the Colorado International Spring Series, which was held at the Devil's Thumb Ranch on Saturday.
Her time of 37 minutes, 56.2 seconds was 1.7 seconds better than second-place finisher Cassidy Edwards of Michigan and two seconds better than third-place finisher Tiffany Callahan, who skis for the University of New Mexico. She also left top Rocky Mountain Division skiers such as Jamie Woelk of Gunnison and Brittany Perkins of Breckenridge behind her on the 10-kilometer classic course.
"It was a pretty exciting race," MacCarthy said. "It was a mass start, so all the racers went out at the same time. All the U.S. Ski Team and college girls took off, and we just had to try to keep up."
When the field settled into the race, MacCarthy said she was sitting in fifth place for the juniors. Her only choice was to start picking off the skiers who were in front of her.
"I knew it was a 10-kilometer race, so I started out kind of slow," MacCarthy said. "I didn't take the lead until the very end."
But in the end the Steamboat racer moved past Callahan and Edwards to capture the win.
"It's been a real roller coaster for her this season," coach Brian Tate said. "She had so-so results at the senior nationals and high school state championships, but posted a couple of impressive finishes at junior nationals. This result was a real bright spot in her season."
MacCarthy was one of six members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club who went to the Spring Series, which includes six races in nine days. Tate said the Spring Series features a festive atmosphere where many of the older skiers get caught up in the social aspects of the event.
But competition is also very important, and organizers draw top racers from around the world by offering them stipends to attend and impressive cash prizes for the winners.
For the top skiers in the Winter Sports Club's cross-country program, the races marked the end of the competitive season.
Skiers who attended the Spring Series included MacCarthy, Mike Gleason, Marty Smith, Paul Rose, Mary Rose and Melissa Krause.
Gleason posted a sixth-place finish in the junior division of the interval start skate race at Snow Mountain Ranch on March 31. His teammate Smith took 11th, and Rose placed 15th.
Durango's Tad Elliott won the race in a time of 28:37.2 and Alaska's Paul Schauer finished in second place, just 52.6 seconds off the pace.
Gleason was less than a minute back at 29.35.9, and Smith finished at 31:23.1.
Tate said MacCarthy should notice a dramatic improvement in her points profile next season because of the top finish. The coach expects MacCarthy to be ranked in the top 5 -- if not in the top 3 -- in the nation for her age division.
Tate said her standings in the points list should help her with sponsorships and in college recruiting.