St. Scholastica Athletics
RUMFORD, Maine – After fading fast in the men’s 15km classic on Wednesday St. Scholastica sophomore Jeremy Hecker’s back was against the wall on the final day of qualifying for the U.S. Junior World Championships team Thursday.
Counting the best two of three races on the week, Hecker’s seventh place finish in Sunday’s 1.6km classic sprint theoretically put him on the bubble, but would need a big performance in his strongest discipline, the 10km freestyle.
Hecker started fifth in the order and among the top contenders for the U.S. team, but most of the race information had to come from behind him as to where he stood throughout the race. Starting under control, he marked the early leaders with fast but controlled skiing. By 7.5km, Hecker had taken the handful of seconds he trailed the early starters, and crossed the line just in a time of 25:55.5, just 3.4 seconds off of Anchorage, Alaska’s, Silas Talbot. But most importantly, he crossed the line ahead of several of the pre-race favorites. He would have to wait to see if his time would hold to earn a berth on U.S. team.
When the dust settled, Talbot wound up sixth, Hecker seventh. The University of Vermont’s Scott Patterson punched his ticket to Otepaa, Estonia, winning in 24:53.6. Northern Michigan University redshirt sophomore, George Cartwright of Lander, Wyo., finished second and the University of Denver’s Andrew Dougherty, who edged Hecker in a photo finish to win the junior sprint A final on Sunday, finished third, both earning berths on the team.
Hecker’s classic sprint and 10km freestyle results landed him in seventh, one spot shy of the six-man U.S. Team, landing him in the first alternate spot. Saints freshman Scott Johanik (Washburn, Wis./Washburn HS ) finished 34th, while sophomore teammate Kasey Bacso (Plymouth, Minn./Wayzata HS) landed in 37th.
“I’m really happy,” said Hecker, of his season’s goal of making the U.S. team. “It’s a little disappointing not to make the team though.”
“Jeremy showed he is a national-class skier with his poise and focus under a lot of pressure today,” said Saints coach Chad Salmela. “He went out and raced a smart race, making time on many of the favorites in the final five kilometers. After yesterday’s breakdown, it was nice to see him come back as if nothing went wrong, and just try to give everything he could. It was an impressive performance.”
Hecker would move onto the roster for the U.S. Junior World Championship team if any members fall ill or cannot make the trip for any reason. All athletes named to the team accepted their spots on the team, which is a self-funded event supported by the US Ski Team.
“I spoke with U.S. Ski Team coach, Matt Whitcomb, who will lead the team, and he was very congratulatory to Jeremy and his efforts this week,” according to Salmela. “We will continue to train well and race hard through the college season and Jeremy will be ready if he gets to call to go to Junior Worlds.”
Hecker is the first Saints skier to earn an alternate spot to a U.S. Junior World Championship team.