Freshman Ajax Competes at U.S. Junior Nationals
By: Jake Timm (@GBJakeT)
TRUCKEE, Calif. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – True freshman Jake Ajax (Minneapolis, Minn.) was the only skier to qualify for postseason competition this year for the Green Bay Phoenix Nordic skiing team, and he had a successful trip out west to the U.S. Junior Nationals. Ajax battled through the early races while acclimating to the very high altitude of Truckee, California. He raced through high temps, rain, slush, ice and barely enough snow to cover the 2.5 km race course.
In the first race, a 1.5 km skate sprint on Monday, March 9, Ajax just missed out on qualifying for the heats. The top 30 fastest under-20 (U20) skiers around the course moved on to head-to-head battles. Ajax was 38th, a mere two-and-a-half seconds from qualifying. Ajax said of his race, “The altitude hurts a lot and my lungs were on fire after the race.”
The next race in the championship series was the 10 km individual start skate on Wednesday, March 11. Rain made for very difficult conditions on the 2.5 km loop but Ajax powered through it, placing 35th. “Ajax is always positive about racing and training and as coaches we love that and try to foster it,” said head coach Steve Teclaw. “He always comes to work ready to improve and fight, no matter the conditions, and that definitely showed today.”
“Ajax has more work to do on the fitness, strength and technique phases of skiing but obviously has the drive and attitude to take the next step. As a true freshman, he is right where we want him, and in the next few years expect good things out of this kid,” Teclaw added.
The classic distance day was next, with a 15 km mass start on Friday, March 13. “Ajax has improved his classic skiing technique a huge amount this year,” said assistant coach Tim Cook. “He learned to ski more efficiently and smoother which helps him ski faster in the longer competitions. Being on the college circuit, he experiences the 20 km’s and 15 km’s a lot. I expected this to be his best race.”
Ajax also seemed to be acclimating to the high altitude as this did end up being his best race. He placed 26th with a time of 43:23, only 43 seconds from the top 20. “Great race for Ajax, he battled right to the end and didn’t quite have the fitness left to grab a couple more spots,” said Teclaw. “Top 20 would have been a great result, 26th is a good result, especially at that altitude and those weather conditions.”
The final event was the 3x2.5 km classic relay. Ajax was on the “B” relay team, which is decided by the previous results of the week. His relay led the Midwest team with an 11th-place finish. “The week and all the hard efforts definitely affected Ajax in the relay but he managed a good race,” said Cook.
“All in all, the week was a success for Ajax and Phoenix skiing,” said Teclaw. “We always want to be racing in early March. This year we just had Ajax competing but we have a lot of hungry skiers sitting at home wanting that opportunity. Next year we will have a few more competing in March, and as coach Cook’s and my philosophy, training plan, and consistency continues to take root, we plan on making that a very consistent event.”
“It takes time to grow a competitive collegiate ski team in this region with very established powerhouses,” said Cook. “The strength, fitness and body awareness required to be a great skier takes dedication and time to develop. Steve and I are ending our third year with a lot of lessons learned, successes, improvements, and we are already looking to our fourth to take the next step. We want to not only qualify an athlete for NCAA’s, but we want to be competitive at that Championship. That is the goal next year. Ajax competing at Junior Nationals as a freshman is a step in the process of advancing to NCAA’s and being competitive towards the end of his ski career at Green Bay.”
For full results from the 2015 U.S. Junior Nationals, click here.
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