2016 U.S. Nationals: New Champions Crowned
by Lex Treinen
Unlike last year, when blizzards and temperatures near the International Ski Federation's legal limit of -20°F made just finishing the races a feat, the 2016 U.S. Nationals in Houghton, Mich. on Jan. 3-9 were blessed with sunshine and mild temperatures. With a strong contingent of Canadians and university skiers in the mix and World Cup starts on the line, the four events saw fast racing across both techniques and disciplines.
Day One: Classic 10/15km Individual - Jan. 3
The racing started off with the men's 15km Classic, and Alaska Pacific University's (APU) Scott Patterson showed his recent victory at the Sun Valley USSA Super Tour Classic race was no fluke, winning handily by 20 seconds. Canadian Kevin Sandau of the Alberta World Cup Academy was second, and Northern Michigan University's Adam Martin finished third after catching a ride off of Scott Patterson for a large part of the race. “I took every second I could,” said Scott Patterson of his first-ever U.S. Nationals win. Sandau, who said he considered double-poling the race before the start, was 15 seconds back from Scott Patterson at the halfway sprint.
In the women's race, the Craftsbury Green Racing Project showed impressive form to start the week, as Caitlin Patterson won and her teammate Kaitlynn Miller finished second, at 35 seconds back. “It was a great day for the family and to watch Scott win. He has already commended to me that I won by more today than he did.” Chelsea Holmes (APU) finished third, despite having decisively beaten Caitlin Patterson at the previous Super Tour.
Day Two: Freestyle 1.5km Sprint - Jan. 4
Jennie Bender of Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) handily won the women's sprint, while APU'S Reese Hanneman nipped Bend Endurance Academy's Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess to take the men's victory. Bender cruised com- fortably through her heats after winning the qualification, conserving whatever energy she could by drafting the first descent. Annie Hart of Stratton Mountain School T2 (SMST2) finished just behind Bender. “I feel really great, so happy,” said Hart. “Of course, there is a part of me that's disappointed – you don't go into a race trying to get second.” Scott Patterson, the previous day's winner, finished third. For Hanneman and Blackhorse-von Jess, the duel was a familiar one, but it was top-qualifier Hanneman's turn to take the win. Canada's Julien Locke of Team Blackjack claimed the final podium spot.
Day Three: Freestyle 20/30km - Jan. 7
The 30km freestyle race was Scott Patterson's to lose, and after a few kilometres, he knew he was in trouble. “I think I was one of the strongest, if not
the strongest skier out there today; however, sometimes things don't work according to plan,” said Patterson, who ended the day in fifth. “Our skis were a bit out of the game today.” Nabbing the win was Tad Elliott of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, who took home his first National title since 2012 after years of struggling with mononucleosis. “I didn't think it was a realistic goal going in,” said Elliott, “but in the morning, I started to feel it was possible.” Brian Gregg of Team Gregg-madshus was second and Canadian Michael Somppi of NDC Thunder Bay was third.
In the women's race, Holmes charged from the front for nearly all of 20 kilometres, but was narrowly outsprinted again by her rival Caitlin Patterson at the finish. “If I had been a lot stronger, I would of broken them earlier, but I also realize you can be sucked back in by the way the course skis,” said Holmes of her strategy. Junior Katharine Ogden of SMST2 was third.
Day Four: Classic 1.5km Sprint - Jan. 9
APU'S Eric Packer broke up the expected duel between Blackhorse-von Jess and Hanneman by winning the final of the men's 1.5km sprint, while Miller continued to shine in her breakout season by winning the women's race over Hart. “It feels amazing,” said Packer of his first-ever National title. “It's something I've always dreamed of.” Hanneman finished second and Blackhorse-von Jess finished fifth despite qualifying four seconds ahead of both Packer and Hanneman. “I definitely expected to be challenging for the po- dium, but sometimes that's how it goes,” said Blackhorse-von Jess. In the women's race, Miller won both the qualification and all of her rounds. “I love Classic skiing, so I went out there and tried to go as hard as I could and then carried that momentum through the heats and into the final,” said Miller. “It was a fun group to ski with in the finals and a really fun race.” BSF'S Bender landed on the final podium in third.