Three minutes and 34 seconds. That’s how long Whitefish cross-country skier Maeve Ingelfinger spent sprinting through the course at Fairbanks, Alaska’s Birch Hill Recreation Area on Tuesday to capture the U18 USSA Junior National Championships individual skate sprint title.
Competing in a series of three Nordic ski races at Junior Nationals (JNs) in Fairbanks, Ingelfinger took third in the 7.5-kilometer classic race on Monday before winning two heats of the skate sprint on Tuesday to enter the afternoon final with the fastest qualifying time. Weather delayed the sprint heats late into the afternoon, putting Maeve on the line for the final in the early evening.
“Delays can throw athletes off their rhythm, especially when races are late in the day and they’re cold, tired and hungry,” said Glacier Nordic Club (GNC) executive director Jennie Bender. “It just adds to how impressive Maeve’s results were. She was the poster-child of staying gritty through tough conditions.”
For most of the 1,340-meter (just over 3/4 of a mile) final, Ingelfinger was in fifth place, before she made a move on the final hill climb before entering the stadium and powered past her competition on the home stretch to win by a full second.
“I was sprinting along the side of the course, screaming at Maeve, barely able to see more than a bunch of hats going by me,” said Logan Mowry, the first-year head competition coach for GNC. “I heard the announcer say that Maeve was into the lead, and I almost teared up watching her blow it away in the final strides.”
Ingelfinger is no stranger to competing on the national stage. Last year she also qualified for JNs, in the U16 division, and “knocked it out of the park,” according to Bender. This year she’s continued improving and is beginning to shine as a professional-caliber athlete.
“I knew that Maeve had the potential to do great things at JNs this time around,” Bender said. “There’s definitely high goals going into JNs, and these athletes work through those expectations and they’re really tough on themselves if they think they’re falling short. It’s the blessing and curse of individual sports, having the pressure on yourself, but all season we’ve seen these athletes practice how to manage that.”
On Monday, Ingelfinger finished third in the 7.5k classic race, just 17 seconds back from winner Sydney Drevlow of Minnesota. In Thursday’s 10-kilometer skate, the last event of the championship week, Ingelfinger fought through an emerging stomach bug to snag a top-20 finish.
In addition to Ingelfinger, Columbia Falls’ Findley Dezzani also qualified to represent Glacier Nordic Club as part of the Intermountain Division for the full week of racing at junior nationals — a classic distance, skate sprint, and a skate distance race. Findley competed in the U16 division, finishing 57th, 39th and 39th in the three events respectively.
“Going into her first JNs, Findley just got better and better throughout the week,” Mowry said. “She’s had a lot of determination and grit ever since I started working with her this season, but you could just see how much she’s improved between the start of the season and JNs. Her technique is improved, she’s skiing faster, and that determination was on display all week.”
For Bender, who took over as GNC’s executive director last year, this was the second year in a row that two athletes from the small Whitefish club competed on the national state.
“Having any athletes at JNs in the first place is huge for any club in terms of development,” she said. “It’s a trend we want to maintain and these athletes will continue to show that Glacier Nordic is part of the national racing picture.”
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