Meg O'Connell flies down the slope Saturday during a high school cross-country ski event in Steamboat Springs. She finished sixth, leading her team.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Meg O'Connell flies down the slope Saturday during a high school cross-country ski event in Steamboat Springs. She finished sixth, leading her team.

Racing rookie Meg O'Connell leads Sailors in Nordic race

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Steamboat Springs High School's Tristan Fischer skis Saturday in a race in Steamboat Springs.

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Gabriel Bohlmann skis Saturday in a high school race in Steamboat Springs.

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Dane Dixson, front, and Tait Dixson charge up a slope at Howelsen Hill during a high school cross-country ski race in Steamboat Springs on Saturday.

2012-13 Sailors Nordic schedule

— Meg O’Connell knows plenty about cross-country ski racing, having watched from the sideline as her sister, Mary O’Connell, has competed with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

And she knows plenty about endurance sports, thanks to her years on the Steamboat Springs High School cross-country running team.

So Saturday shouldn’t have been any surprise. When O’Connell finally strapped on cross-country skis this winter to compete for the first time, she was awfully good at it, and on Saturday, that paid off with a sixth-place finish in a high school skiing race at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs.

“When I run cross-country, it’s a lot about the mental capacity of getting over the pain, not thinking about it,” she said. “With this, I’m thinking so much about my technique, I forget about the pain.”

She certainly had a focus about her Saturday as she swooped down the final slope, cut around the last corners and sprinted for the finish. She had her eyes on fifth place during that last surge and ended up just short. That did little to rain on her day, however.

“She’s an athlete that’s super fun to coach,” Steamboat coach Emily Lovett said. “She comes in with a base level of fitness but has also been working so hard at training, and it really paid off today.”

O’Connell did well to gain some separation on the field early. That proved key on a 5-kilometer course that left even spectators out of breath. The trail wound up and around Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain in downtown Steamboat. It started with series of tough climbs, rewarding those who could break free quickly from the turmoil of scores of skiers packed together and trying to surmount the early obstacles. More than a few fell to their knees, forcing a pileup that looked as though it should have had TV news helicopters circling overhead, broadcasting the damage.

“We talked about that. You needed a strong start before heading into the hills, but you also had to start gearing down because that’s a long climb,” Lovett said.

O’Connell was Steamboat’s top finisher. She knocked off the course in 18 minutes, 43.9 seconds, a strong result but well behind the scorching winning time from Summit’s Taeler McCrerey, who finished in 15:06.9. Katie Scruggs, of Vail Mountain, was second in 16:42, and Sera Smith, of Middle Park, was third in 16:45.

Sabina Berend was 12th for Steamboat, Gabriel Bohlmann was 18th, Lesley Myller was 19th, Eliza Leeson was 25th, Ali Pougiales was 28th, Olivia Rose finished 29th, Lindsey Adler was 31st and Carissa Anderson finished 66th.

Peter White led the way for the Steamboat boys, finishing 10th in 17:28. Summit’s Jackson Hill won that race in 13:21, leading a pair of his teammates. Henry Trowbridge was second in 15:06, and Cameron Bobb was third in 15:43.

Tait Dixson was 23rd for Steamboat, Dane Dixson came in 28th, Matthew White was 31st, Tristan Arnis was 32nd, Andreas Foulk was 38th, Tristan Fischer was 50th and Sam Scully was 70th.

“I was really pleased with how we skied,” Lovett said. “We skied to our ability.”

Summit won both ends of the meet, placing first with 164 points on the girls side. Vail Mountain was second with 162, Aspen was third with 151 and Steamboat was fourth with 147 points.

Summit had 177 points on the boys side. Middle Park was second with 154, and Aspen was third with 150. Steamboat finished seventh as a team with 137 points.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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