SSWSC Nordic combined team takes on second Junior National qualifier

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— Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic skier Finn O’Connell had barely caught his breath after his 5K cross-country race Saturday, but it didn’t stop him from celebrating what had just taken place at Howelsen Hill.

“How was skiing with (Erik) Lynch?” O’Connell asked a fellow SSWSC skier.

“Dude, it was so sick,” his buddy said.

“That was the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself,” O’Connell replied.

As SSWSC Nordic Director Todd Wilson puts it, that’s the magic of Steamboat.

Lynch soon will be on a plane heading for Europe, where he will compete in the Junior World Championships for Nordic combined. He’s also a member of the U.S. Ski Team, an aspiration for younger skiers such as O’Connell.

On Saturday, juniors from the SSWSC and Park City Nordic Ski Club competed at Howelsen for the second of three Rocky Mountain Division Nordic combined and special jumping competitions, which also double as Junior Nationals qualifiers.

Wilson said it is opportunities such as Saturday, where juniors can compete with and against U.S. Ski Team members and future Olympians, that make events in Steamboat unrivaled on the Nordic skiing landscape.

“We have kids at all levels,” Wilson said. “It’s easy to see the next stepping stone, if you will. For these kids to see their heroes and compete on the same day with them is really” special.

SSWSC skiers such as Lynch, Aleck Gantick and Ben Berend already have punched their tickets to international competition, but a handful of other athletes had a chance Saturday to get in some jumps, take on the cross-country course and maybe garner some points toward the Junior National team.

Gantick won the HS75 U20 men’s Nordic combined, edging out teammates Nicholas Madden, Lynch and Jasper Good. Gantick also won the HS75 special jumping competition, ahead of Berend, Madden, Good and Lynch, respectively.

“Today was a little bit weird snow conditions from dumping yesterday to warming up today,” Gantick said. “All the new snow was super sticky. It was really sticky on the landing hill on the jumps today. A couple people took some diggers.”

In U17 boys Nordic combined, SSWSC’s Koby Vargas took first out of 16 competitors in the deepest field of the weekend. O’Connell crossed in second, and Grant Andrews took third.

U17 girls Nordic combined saw a familiar trio of skiers, with SSWSC’s Esther DelliQuadri and Melissa Requist grabbing one-two ahead of third-place Sophia Nester from Park City.

For the U20 men’s group, the focus is now on overseas competition. Gantick said he, Berend and Lynch are heading for Europe on Tuesday and preparing for Junior Worlds, which will be held Jan. 27 through Feb. 2.

And for Wilson, his youngsters not prepping to ski internationally continue to impress as the competition season continues.

“As a staff and as a whole, our kids are doing fantastic,” Wilson said. “A lot of kids are actually exceeding our expectations.”

Wilson said he expects to announce the Junior National Nordic team at or around the Olympic send-off in Steamboat in two weekends, which also is the same date as the final national team qualifier.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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