Copper Country kids excel at Great Lakes ski races

ISHPEMING — The Great Lakes District Super Bowl Junior National Qualifier Classic wrapped up their two-day ski races Sunday afternoon at Al Quaal in Ishpeming.

High school skiers from around the Midwest traveled to Marquette County, some of which had already qualified for the USSA Cross Country Junior Championships in Lake Placid, New York on March 6, while others were hoping to earn a spot with their performances over the weekend.

Both the Under 16 and Under 18/20 girls started the morning racing the 5k together on Sunday, and roughly 20 minutes later, Houghton native Anabel Needham (U16) was the first to finish with a 17:06.6 time.

Needham said the 16-degree morning had ideal conditions for the racers.

“It was weird skiing in the cold after a few warm weekends,” Needham said. “I always enjoying classic skiing. It was nice because it wasn’t super windy so we didn’t need glasses, so it felt like a good day.”

The skiers have competed in similar races across Michigan and Minnesota, where racers like Needham already earned their ticket to nationals, but 16-year-old Needham said the GLD gave her a look at the same kids who will be at the Michigan State Championships in two weeks down in Traverse City.

“I really like skiing in this environment,” Needham said. “It’s nice to see the people that live around me and what everyone is capable of. It’s a good warmer-upper for states.”

“I’ll be working on speed and sprinting a lot. Keeping techniques up is big this time of year so you don’t fall apart at states.”

The Under 18/20 boys took two laps to make the course a 10k on Sunday, and Calumet’s Mitch Delong took first with a time of 28:45.4.

“It was absolutely beautiful out,” Delong said. “The snowy conditions were good, and the grooming couldn’t have been any better.”

Delong is committed to ski at Michigan Tech next year after high school graduation.

The Calumet senior said the GLD gave him a chance to see what he needs to improve on before state championships next week.

“I’ll be working on speed and sprinting a lot,” Needham said. “Keeping techniques up is big this time of year so you don’t fall apart at states.”

While most of the skiers were from the local area or Midwest, one of Marquette’s racers is still getting accustomed the cold and snowy weather from his southern roots.

Marquette senior Ethan Hall moved to Michigan from Florida three years ago, and even though he’s only been on skis for that amount of time, he’s already qualified for nationals.

Marquette head coach Steve Carr spoke highly of his newcomer skier.

“He (Hall) is a very good athlete,” Carr said. “The fact he can be this far along after only three years shows just how athletic he really is.”

Hall finished ninth Sunday with a time of 31:46.1. He said he was under the weather Sunday, and was glad there was no pressure to finish amongst the top.

“The course had a lot of hills and was cool, but not feeling great made it challenging,” Hall said. “I didn’t need to perform to qualify for anything, but it was nice to come out and still compete.”

Ironwood’s Nick Niemi finished first in the Boys U-16 with a time of 15:19.3.

All of the results from the weekend can be found at SuperiorTiming.com.