Big finish for young skinny skiers
Butts wins youth title, Mueller earns spot at Junior Nationals
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-03-07
When gut-check time rolled around, Caleb Mueller showed why he deserves a spot on the Rocky Mountain Nordic (RMN) Junior National team.
The Gunnison High School freshman edged out two skiers at the finish line of Sunday’s classic race in Durango to place fifth in the J2 category and solidify the first ever spot for a Gunnison Junior Nordic Team (GJNT) member at the USSA Junior Nationals.
After posting less than favorable results in Saturday’s series of skate sprints, where he placed seventh overall, Mueller and his coach knew that nailing down the qualifying spot was only a matter of posting a solid finish on Sunday.
“At breakfast, I said you need a sixth (place finish) or better and those kids can’t beat you,” said coach Kendall Butts. “And then he did exactly what he needed to do.”
“When I didn’t do as well as I hoped (in skate), I knew that classic was going to be my last chance to make it onto the team,” said Mueller. “I was kind of worried at that point because points-wise it was close.”
Fighting for every place and point he could get, Mueller found himself in a sprint to the finish of Sunday’s classic race with two other competitors hot on his heels. A last-second burst put him across the finish line less than one second ahead of his competition.
The fifth place finish was enough to keep Mueller sixth in total point standings and earn him a spot on the nine member RMN Junior National team.
“I’m pretty sure I was the happiest I’ve ever been when I found out I made it,” said Mueller. “It’s the coolest feeling ever knowing that I did good enough in a sport to do something like this.”
It was a banner weekend for the GJNT as a whole after a total of 11 kids competed at the final RMN Junior National Qualifying race of the season.
Sixth-grader Garrett Butts finished off a stellar run in the boys J4 category, where he was crowned as the season champion. Butts took first in both the skate and classic races to land at the top of the podium and earn a sweet new jacket that tells everyone he’s the champ.
“I thought it was pretty important, because next year I’ll be moving up (to J3),” said Garrett, who finished second overall in the J4 category last season. “It’s kind of fun having a target on your back.”
In the J3 girls division, Michaela Butts finished out a strong season with a second place finish in the skate race and third in the classic. Kali Wiggin placed 18th and 14th, respectively, in the same division.
Fifth-grader Bria Rickert placed 13th in the skate and ninth in the classic race in the J4 girls division. Max Wiggin and Cooper Wiens took home 12th and 22nd, respectively, in the J2 skate race.
The weekend provided a first taste of competitive racing outside of the Gunnison Valley for four other GJNT members.
Madeline Dickey and Anna Patmore raced in their first RMN Junior National qualifier in the J4 girls divisions, while Spencer Dickey and Sky Bleakley saw their first runs in the J5 category.
“The light bulb turned on for those kids,” said coach Butts. “Basically, you’re throwing them into the fire, because you’re not racing the town series in Crested Butte anymore.”
When Mueller gets out of class today, March 7, he’ll be bound for a flight to Fairbanks, Alaska, and the USSA Junior National Cross Country Championships. As of Tuesday, he was only slightly nervous about the week to come.
“I’m a little nervous to see how I can do against everyone,” he said. “But I’m excited to go and see everything and get a bigger picture of the Nordic world.”
The USSA Junior Nationals begin Monday, March 11. For complete results throughout the competition, as well as a schedule of events, visit jn2013fairbanks.us.
(Matt Smith can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)