By Martin Cleary
The chase for yet another Nordiq Canada Ski Nationals club title came down to the final race of the final day in the seven-day championships for the Nakkertok Nordic Ski Club.
These nationals were unlike any other for Nakkertok. Its lengthy winning streak was in serious jeopardy.
The winds were blowing. The snow was flying. The conditions were challenging and organizers reduced the 50-kilometre classic race to a more reasonable 30 kilometres for open racers.
After being crowned the club champion at nationals for the past 11 consecutive years, Nakkertok was in second place in the point standings with only one race remaining on the schedule the men’s open endurance test over 30 kilometres.
Mats Halvorsen, Devon Pegrum and Raphael Guerout represented Nakkertok in the decisive final race and their skiing and athleticism allowed the club to emerge with its 12th straight national title by its smallest point differential.
After Halvoren was seventh in one hour, 37 minutes and 0.5 seconds. Pegrum took 16th in 1:42.57.5 and Guerout was 31st in 1:53:10.0. Nakkertok had collected enough points in that race to move into first place for win No. 12.
“The key message (to the three skiers) was to go out and be brave, try something new. They’re mature enough. With the banner on the line, it was motivating,” said Geoff Tomlinson, Nakkertok’s acting racing program head coach, in a phone interview.
That final race was a true reflection of how the national championships played out in Thunder Bay. The 45-athlete and 10-member support team for Nakkertok was involved in an extremely competitive nationals.
“I have been doing this for a long time and the competition was very, very fierce this year,” Tomlinson added. “We were in a fight with four other clubs. Everyone (with Nakkertok) did their part. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Nakkertok won the national club title with 1,792 points, while Mont-Sainte-Anne, which continually shadowed the eventual winner, was second in 1,768 points. The top five was completed by Skibec at 1,370 points, Hollyburn of North Vancouver at 1,336 points and Fondeurs-Laurentides at 1,238 points.
“We won by less than 30 points and that was the closest it has ever been,” Tomlinson continued. “In 2012 or 2013 in Whistler, we won by 75 points. Sometimes by the third day we have won and that’s not good, not good for competition.
“This was a real, real battle. They had to ski for their teammates.”
The Nakkertok skiers travelled to northwestern Ontario understanding the club’s competitive racing philosophy.
“We believe everyone can be a champion,” Tomlinson said. “We believe cross-country skiing is a team sport. You line up as an individual, but you don’t train in a vacuum. You’re training with athletes all season, who are your friends and you’re trying to help them.
“It’s a common goal we establish at the beginning of the year. Once that is embedded in the culture, there are no limits.”
At some point, Nakkertok will hang its 12th national club championship banner in its lodge to inspire future generations of skiers.
Anna Stewart and Katya Semeniuk also played a big role in that drive for the 12th championship as they finished first and second respectively in the women’s U20 20-kilometre classic race on the final day. While representing Nakkertok, but training at Alpine Insurance Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore, they finished in respective times of 1:17:53.2 and 1:18:04.7.
Stewart also won the women’s U20 10-kilometre freestyle in 28:28.4 and earned silver medals in the open women’s sprint, and the open women’s A team sprint with Semeniuk.
As a result, Stewart won the women’s U20 aggregate title and also was the top female skier born in 2003. Semeniuk was third in both of those categories.
Nakkertok’s other national individual medallists were Maude Molgat, gold in women’s U20 sprints; Kate Mason, silver in women’s U20 sprints; and Addison Frank, bronze in girls’ U18 sprints.
Chelsea Nordiq’s Tory Audet won the girls’ U18 sprint and was second in the 15-kilometre classic, which helped her place second overall in her aggregate and year of birth (2005) standings. Clubmate Stella Duncan was second overall in the women’s U23 class.
Owen Siderius of Nakkertok ranked first among boys’ U16 skiers born in 2008, while Frank was second for girls’ U18 2006 and Ry Prior was runner-up in men’s U20 2004.
Maggie McClure was third in the open women’s 30-kilometre classic, fourth overall in the Canadian Colleges and Universities Nordic Championship individual standings and helped the Carleton University Ravens finish second overall in the CCUNC women’s team point standings. McClure and Bronwyn Williams were second in the team sprint, while teammates Helen McCulligh and Katherine Mason were third.
University of Calgary topped the CCUNC women’s standings with 542 points, while Carleton had 392 points and the University of Ottawa was seventh at 86 points. Para standing skier Emma Archibald scored two firsts and one second to spark the Gee-Gees.
On the men’s side, Prior, who skis for the University of Calgary, was fourth overall in CCUNC points. Carleton placed fourth in the men’s team point standings.
HANNAH SCHMIDT BEST-EVER FIFTH ON WORLD CUP SKI CROSS CIRCUIT
Hannah Schmidt of Dunrobin had one of her best World Cup results this season on home soil Friday, placing fourth in the women’s Big Final as the World Cup ski cross season concluded at Craigleith Ski Club in Collingwood, ON.
In Saturday’s race, Schmidt reached the quarterfinals and was 13th. She finished fifth overall on the World Cup circuit, which is her best showing in four years. Schmidt was seventh in 2021-22.
The former international and university alpine skier also helped Canada win the Nations Cup women’s title as well as the overall crown with 7,001 points by a decisive margin over the United States, 5,268 points and France, 3,867 points.
Jared Schmidt of Dunrobin was 19th and 13th in a pair of men’s World Cup ski cross races at Craigleith, which helped him to a best-ever 21st-place ranking on the global circuit.
GRENIER SCORES WORLD CUP WOMEN’S GIANT SLALOM BRONZE
Valerie Grenier of St-Isidore, ON., capped her most successful alpine ski season during the World Cup Finals in Soldeau, Austria, winning the bronze medal in the women’s giant slalom. She was in second place after the first of two runs.
It was her third major medal of the season, after a gold-medal effort in giant slalom at Kranjska Gora and a bronze in the team parallel event during the world championships.
Grenier placed seventh overall in the World Cup women’s giant slalom standings.
“I’m so happy to finish on the podium. Today was the last opportunity this season and after winning earlier this year, I really wanted to prove that I could do it again,” she told Alpine Canada.
“I know how close we all were heading into the second run (five skiers within two-tenths of a second), so I had to ski fast and not make too many mistakes to keep my position. I wanted the win, but I was really happy when I crossed the finish line in second (with one skier to come). I knew that I was going to be on the podium.”
That one skier to come was American ski legend Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the giant slalom in 1:55.88, which was two-tenths of a second ahead of Grenier.
DOUBLE PARA WORLD CUP GOLD FOR ALPINE SKIER ALEXIS GUIMOND
Gatineau’s Alexis Guimond ended his Para World Cup alpine season in style, capturing a pair of men’s giant slalom gold medals in Cortina, Italy.
He hadn’t won a race in five years.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Guimond said in an Alpine Canada news release. “It’s a great way to wrap up the season. I really wanted to push to the end this season and these results give me confidence heading into next season.
“Now, I need to keep this consistency going forward and maybe get my hands on a Crystal Globe (season-ending championship trophy).”
COCHRANE WINS FIFTH ONTARIO SENIOR MEN’S CURLING TITLE
Russell Curling Club’s Bryan Cochrane captured his fifth Ontario senior men’s curling championship at the Ingersoll and District Curling Club.
Cochrane and his rink of third Ian MacAulay, second Graham Sinclair and lead Ken Sullivan defeated Gary Grant of Dundas Valley 7-3 in the semifinals and Rob Lobel of Thornhill 7-2 in the final.
After going 5-2 in the round robin, Cochrane was untouchable in the playoffs, where he won his fifth provincials in eight years. An Ottawa rink has won the Ontario senior men’s championship the past nine times and 11 of the last 12.
Rideau Curling Club had three entries in the provincial championship. J.P. Lachance lost a tiebreaker to place fourth, John Steski was fifth and defending champion Howard Rajala took seventh.
PROSPER, RUSSELL KEY PLAYERS IN NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
Capital Courts Academy grads Cassandre Prosper and Merissah Russell played vital roles for their respective Notre Dame University Fighting Irish and University of Louisville Cardinals teams in the opening round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Prosper averaged 28 minutes of floor time as the Irish defeated Southern Utah University 82-56 and Mississippi State University 53-48 to advance to this weekend’s round of 16. She had a career-high 10 rebounds, six points and three assists against Southern Utah, and seven points against Mississippi State.
Russell, who was scheduled to play against the University of Texas Monday night, scored nine points and added two assists and two rebounds in Louisville’s tight 83-81 win over Drake University in its opening game.
NATIONAL CAPITAL SWIMMERS EARN THREE MEDALS EACH
Swim Ottawa’s Yazan Al Bawwab won the men’s 17-year-old-and-over 100- and 200-metre backstroke races in 58.27 and 2:08.07 at the Eastern Canadian swimming championships in Etobicoke. He also was third in the 50-metre backstroke in 26.98.
Freestyle swimmer Nicholas Purdy helped Natation Gatineau place 12th overall in the team point standings by finishing second in the boys’ 14-16 class 800-metre race, 8:43.12, and third over 400 metres, 4:13.13, and 1,500 metres, 16:47.20.
Swim Ottawa was 17th in the team competition.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
· Nepean’s Laura Cook played steady defence as Mount Royal University Cougars of Calgary defeated Concordia University Stingers 4-3 in overtime to win the U Sports women’s hockey gold medal. The Cougars, which also defeated the University of Toronto 3-2 and the University of Montreal 3-1, captured its first-ever national university women’s hockey title;
· Gatineau’s Antoine Cyr was 20th in the men’s 10-kilometre classic cross-country ski race in Falun, Sweden, while Chelsea’s Katherine Stewart-Jones placed 40th in the women’s race over the same distance;
· Arnprior’s Liam Hawel, a forward with the St. Francis Xavier University men’s hockey team, has been selected a U Sports’ All-Canadian first team;
· McMaster University outside hitter Sullie Sundara of Kanata has been named to the U Sports women’s volleyball All-Canadian second team, while Ottawa’s Oceane Raymond-Leduc, an outside hitter from Nipissing University, is on the national All-Rookie team;
· The U Sports men’s volleyball awards list includes McMaster University’s Mateusz Wlodarski of Ottawa, All-Canadian second team; and Brock University outside hitter Devin Cooney of Kanata, All-Rookie team;
· Ottawa’s Charlotte Arsenault recorded eight kills, five digs, three blocks and two service aces as Dalhousie University defeated University of Manitoba 16-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-21, 18-16 to win the bronze medal at the U Sports women’s volleyball championships.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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