BIWABIK — Area alpine skiers got their first taste of the competitive slopes Friday as the Virginia Area Alpine Ski Team team took on Hibbing at the Blue vs. Blue High School Slalom dual meet.
In the girls event, the Blue Devils came out on top 52-42, while the Hibbing boys won their respective event, 46-38. While the team events were split between the two teams, it was a pair of VAAST skiers that finished first for both of their teams.
The Devils’ Mia Schuchard came away with the best two-run combined time Friday for the girls, stopping the clock at 1:23.11 (42.00+41.11). On the boys’ side, VAAST’s Jacob McCarthy stopped his two-run combined time at 1:13.06 (37.46+35.60) to win the boys event.
On Schuchard’s racing Friday, VAAST assistant coach Eli Little said the sophomore standout was ready to perform as soon as she hit the slopes.
“She was just down to business right away,” Little said. “She’s not a heady person at all. She’s just there to ski fast and ski hard and do her job and she did that.”
With McCarthy winning the boys meet, Little says veteran racer showed his confidence when it came to skiing in the top spot for the Devils.
“Going in he just had this chipper mood. He was really confident and you can tell that he’s really comfortable being in that top position. He’s got a lot of drive and he’s a kid that’s just jonesing to get better.”
Maddy Clusiau was the top Hibbing skier on the girls side, finishing second overall with her time of 1:24.14 (43.11+41.03). Finishing third was Hibbing’s Hilda Knuckey with a time of 1:27.18 (45.22+41.96).
VAAST’s Azalea Ray (1:28.99), Eva Roark (1:30.62) and Emma Crum (1:31.57) finished fourth, fifth and sixth overall to help lead the Blue Devils over the Bluejackets. With those three spots all occupied by VAAST skiers, Little says the skiers behind Schuchard have remained very competitive and have only made the team better for it.
“A lot of these girls have really come into their own this year and it shows. Those top spots behind Mia are becoming very competitive. We have some really healthy in-house competition and all these girls are pushing to get better.”
Another VAAST skier of note on the girls side was Arija Thompson, who finished 12th overall after falling behind thanks to a tough run.
“One of the runs was really tough for her but her other run was strong. She had her regular high spirits regardless of all that. She’s just a good spirited teammate and she knows the whole race and the whole day isn’t about her.”
On the boys side, it was all Bluejackets after McCarthy with Hibbing putting all four of their scoring skiers in the top five.
Evan Vinopal finished on top for Hibbing with a combined time of 1:15.82 (38.97+36.85), earning him second overall. Just behind him was Carter Bungarden with a time of 1:21.39 (41.24+40.15).
In fourth place was Adam Vinopal with a time of 1:21.72 (41.63+40.09). In fifth place was Austin Pierce with a time of 1:26.27 (45.29+40.98).
The Blue Devils finished in sixth, seventh and eighth thanks to Marco Pazzelli (1:27.36), Travis Bird (1:30.50) and Samuel Beukema (1:31.50), respectively. On Pazzelli’s skiing, Little says the senior was “steady” in his first meet of the year.
“He was as steady as he always is. He finished strong for us. He’s kind of a consistent guy and you can always count on him to finish hard.”
With a typical alpine season finishing in February, Little says the fact that their first meet of the year came in January, as well as it being between just two teams, were factors in their opener having a different feeling than most years.
“It’s such a weird year with us starting so late and it being such a small race. The whole thing was quick so I think that helped us have really high spirits throughout. The stress level was down and it seemed like everyone was ready and focused. It was laid back and that’s great for ski racing.
“There’s this weird mix of feelings where it feels like we’re already deep into the season and we want to get right into things but at the same time it feels brand new and maybe there’s some jitters going on.”
With January typically being a busy time for alpine skiers, Little believes the team can avoid some burnout with some nice weather and competitions starting a little later.
“The mood has been high overall because the weather has been great for skiing and the hills are in awesome shape as well. Hopefully this good mood carries well because normally the January stretch is a crazy time for kids with lots of races and practices. Things start getting long and kids can get burnt out. This year we don’t have that. It’s like being in the middle of the season with the beginning of the season attitude. For the coaches and the kids, its just a light-hearted atmosphere and we’re making best of the situation in front of us.”
Their first meet out of the way, Little says he expects good things this upcoming week for the VAAST Skiers as they prep for their meet on Friday against Hibbing and Cook County.
“Those first race nerves should be worked out of our systems now so I’m ready for everyone to get into that mid-season groove even though it’s still early. The kids should be gaining confidence and not holding back anymore. Sometimes kids play it safe in the first meet because they don’t want to fall. Now that that’s out of the way, I’m hoping they start to let it rip out there.”
Blue vs Blue High School Slalom
Girls team scores: 1, VAAST, 52; 2, Hibbing, 42.
Boys team scores: 1, Hibbing, 46; 2, VAAST, 38.
Girls individual results: 1, Mia Schuchard, V, 1:23.11; 2, Maddy Clusiau, H, 1:24.14; 3, Hilda Knuckey, H, 1:27.18; 4, Azalea Ray, V, 1:28.99; 5, Eva Roark, V, 1:30.62; 6, Emma Crum, V, 1:31.57; 7, Sophia Nemec, V, 1:36.40; 8, Sylvie Wetzel, H, 1:36.52; 9, Abby Crum, 1:38.97; 10, Hannah Weston, V, 1:57.95; 11, Mia Ranta, V, 2:05.15; 12, Arija Thompson, V, 2:23.26; 13, Chloe Price, H, 3:02.38.
Boys individual results: 1, Jacob McCarthy, V, 1:13.06; 2, Evan Vinopal, H, 1:15.82; 3, Carter Bungarden, H, 1:21.39; 4, Adam Vinopal, H, 1:21.72; 5, Austin Pierce, H, 1:26.27; 6, Marco Pazzelli, V, 1:27.36; 7, Travis Bird, V, 1:30.50; 8, Samuel Beukema, V, 1:31.50; 9, Andrew Lees, H, 1:35.71; 10, Mathias Frericks, V, 1:37.08; 11, Nick Nobens, H, 1:36.68; 12, H, Aiden Smerud, H, 1:52.79; 13, Brayden Crotteau, V, 1:54.14.