LAKE PLACID - While fat snowflakes fell, local skiers raced to determine who would represent area schools at this year's NYSPHSAA nordic championships in South Bristol in two weeks.
Beginning with a mass start at Mount Van Hoevenberg, nearly 40 racers vied for spots at the state championships. And a couple of favorites to win the individual state title led the field.
Henry McGrew and Scott Schulz, both of Lake Placid, crossed the finish line together after completing the 8-kilometer course. Each crossed the line in just 27 minutes, 38 seconds, even though Schulz made a big show of lunging one ski toward the finish line.
The Section VII championship teams from Lake Placid and Saranac Lake will go on to compete at the NYSPHSAA nordic meet at Bristol Mountain in less than two weeks. From left, Lake Placid’s Henry McGrew and James Flanigan, Saranac Lake’s Ethan Wood and Jacob Alberga, Lake Placid’s Jesse Izzo, Saranac Lake’s Lauchlan Cheney-Seymour, and Lake Placid’s Kai Franz and Scott Schulz. Missing from the photo is Witter Swanson, of Saranac Lake.
(News photo — Justin A. Levine)
Schulz and McGrew have proven themselves to be competitors of the highest level over the course of the nordic racing season. And with states less than two weeks away, the pair is facing competition for the top spots from very few challengers.
"We're gonna put up some good competition against Queensbury," Schulz said. "I think Henry and I should do pretty well in the states. We always perform pretty well under pressure. Earlier this winter I got really sick. (But) for a week or so now I'm riding that up so I think I should do well."
Lake Placid will send Schulz, McGrew, James Flanigan, Kai Franz and Jesse Izzo to represent the boys, while Saranac Lake will send Ethan Wood, Jacob Alberga, Witter Swanson and Lauchlan Cheney-Seymour.
"It was so nice with all the snow we just got," Wood said after the race. "The Ladies 5 is probably the toughest course out here, so it's nice to have it out of the way and focus on states. With all the training we're doing now, our peak is going to be right around when states are so we should be ready to go."
Cheney-Seymour finished third overall in the race with a time of 27:54. Franz crossed the line in 28:05 with Izzo coming across less than 20 seconds later. Flanigan was four seconds behind Izzo with a time of 28:27. Wood and Alberga finished in 28:51 and 29:30, respectively.
The girls' state championships squads were also determined after Thursday's race. Lake Placid's one-two combination of Gabby Armstrong and Marli Damp finished the course in 32:12 and 32:59, respectively, while Saranac Lake freshman Sylvie Linck came in third with a time of 35:31. Linck will be the sole Saranac Lake girl at the state competition.
Lake Placid will send three other girls to compete in South Bristol. Anya Morgan (35:38), Sarah Rose-McCandlish (38:10) and Grace McGrew (41:26) all earned slots on the Section VII championship team.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Armstrong said. "I think we're going to have a really strong team."
Armstrong missed the state meet last year because she was ski jumping in Europe, but the Lake Placid girls won the state title in 2015. Armstrong and Grace McGrew are the only seniors on the team and Armstrong thinks that the young up-and-comers on the team give Lake Placid hope to bring home the state title in the future.
With the state championships on the horizon, Lake Placid coach Bill Frazer said Schulz and Henry McGrew have a good shot at the individual championships.
"They'll have some challenges from the Queensbury boys," he said. "This year will be tougher to win it."
The Lake Placid boys have won the state team championship the last two years.
"The biggest thing is they race so much, so now it's just backing them off," Frazer said. "It's just like 'build, build, build' and then you just start to back off. It's just a taper, just like running.
"All these kids are such great competitors they kind of have their own pre-race drills going on. They're definitely super motivated and I think they love to represent this section when they go down to states."
Just a few hours prior to Thursday's race, Lake Placid resident and three-time Olympian Lowell Bailey became the first American biathlete to win a world championships gold medal. Bailey began his skiing career at Mount Van Hoevenberg, and Frazer said there might be some future Olympians on his team right now.
"You never know. I wonder if they knew then with Lowell and Tim (Burke)," he said. "It's so competitive these days, you just don't know."
The NYSPHSAA championships will take place at Bristol Mountain, about 30 miles from Rochester on Feb. 27 and 28.