Durham, NH - After a Carnival debut last week at Lake Placid, the original plan was to give freshmen Irina Norkin a chance to try her hand in biathlon at the NorAm event taking place at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. An impending blizzard, set to strike over the weekend, however, postponed the event, allowing the UMPI ski team to turn their focus back to the highly competitive EISA circuit for the University of New Hampshire's Carnival races, which took place last Friday and Saturday at Jackson Touring Center in Jackson, NH.
Friday's 15km Mass Start Classic race took off amidst light snowfall, minimal winds, and temperatures hovering above 25 degrees. In the race, which was Norkin's first crack at the distance in her career, the field was quickly gapped by 2018 Olympian and Minneapolis, MN native Rosie Frankowski, racing for the Alaskan Pacific University (APU) nordic ski center team. She would be chased by a group of Dartmouth skiers, namely sophomore Katherine Ogden, the defending NCAA champion in both freestyle and classic techniques who was noticeably absent from the opening carnival weekend in Lake Placid. Ogden would go on to finish in second place (46:51), 28 seconds behind Frankowski but 24 seconds ahead of teammate Leah Brams. Brams found redemption as a member of the podium after finishing in 4th place a week ago in the 10k classic. Typical of EISA races, individual seconds matter, with 10-second differences capable of moving an athlete up or down several positions in the field. Unlike the relatively steep and technical Olympic course at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, the trails at Jackson (host of the 2017 NCAA championships) are known for being some of the most rideable, affording racers several long downhills to remain in the trackset and easily recover. The few sharp turns which were present, however, quickly developed large ruts, one of which unfortunately caught Norkin as she came out of the wooded section less than 4k into the race, falling and twisting her knee badly in the process.
She worked to regain contact with the pack of Saint Mary's racers she has battled with in the opening races this season, but despite showing tremendous toughness and grit right up until the finishing stretch, was not able to overtake the trio of Ellen Emmers (59:34), Rachel Smith (1:03:19), and Emma Bellefleur (1:04:33), all whom Norkin (1:07:12) bested in Lake Placid a week ago.
"I did not see the fall, as I was standing higher up on the hills, but Irina is such a tough athlete, I did even realize how much it probably hurt until we were driving back to Presque Isle and she commented on its soreness," said Coach Sederquist. "She came into the race with a very painful and sensitive corn on the outside of her big toe and I figured that would be something that might bother her. Racing on that alone can be excruciating - so having to deal with a banged up knee for the last 11k on top of that would not be fun. I'm really proud of Irina for not letting it affect her effort, focus, and toughness at any point in the race. She battled and fought the whole way. I've come to learn that, when she is race mode, she does not cave in to anything!"
Day 2 of the festivities brought about a 1.6km sprint. Even though she did not make it out of rounds, Norkin (3:59) showed improvement, not only besting Emmers (4:01), Smith (4:03) and Bellefleur (4:18), but coming within a few seconds of overtaking Bates skier Eliza Blood (3:53), and Saint Lawrence's Gabby Wangler (3:56). "Overall, I learned more from the race and the experience," said Norkin after the race. "The sprints were my favorite race." Only the top 30 racers make it to the rounds; the cut-off on Saturday ended up being 3:22.46. Lydia Blanchett, Katherine Ogden, and Taryn Hunt-Smith, all of Dartmouth, made up the podium for the women after it was all said and done.
"I'm still confident in Norkin. I believe in her and can tell that she has a lot of the tools to be fast skier - she showed that in both races. A lot of these races are learning experiences - as she gets stronger and more mature, I know she will be up their fighting for a spot in the rounds," Sederquist said looking forward.
UMPI travels to Waterville on Saturday for the Chummy Broomhall Cup, a race which celebrates collegiate skiing in Maine. Other than Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, and UMPI, all of the EISA will be enjoying a rest weekend as they prepare for the University of Vermont Carnival on the 1st and 2nd of February.