Hard work and dedication generally gets athletes rewarded and the members of the Muskie Nordic skiing team was full of smiles after reaping the benefits at the NorWOSSA championships held at the Mount Evergreen Ski Club Trails in Kenora on Friday.
The six-member contingent that competed for Fort High were all able to qualify for NWOSSAA, which is slated for Thursday, Feb. 6 in Atikokan.
“In general, yes, athletes were very pleased with their results,” Muskie coach Jordan Baird said.
“We had the best results we could have hoped for, all things—including illness—considered. Most importantly, these results bode well for our performance at NWOSSAA and our skiers are excited to bring their very best to this next competition at the Beaten Path Nordic Trails in Atikokan.”
Sisters Emma and Tori Toriseva both skied to a gold medal in their respective high school divisions despite battling cold bugs.
In high school Nordic skiing competitions in Ontario, there are separate divisions for those skiers who are registered as members of Cross Country Canada recognized clubs, like Kenora Nordic, who face separate qualification categories for OFSAA.
While Shayna Hensrud of the Kenora Broncos was first overall in the senior girls' 4K race, she was a club skier and Tori Toriseva finished as the top high school skier with a time of 16:28 to also snare NorWOSSA gold.
Emma Toriseva, meanwhile, was the top high school skier in the junior girls' 2.1-K race, topping the field with a time of 8:31.
Ella Henley of the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) was the top club skier, finishing first with a time of 8:23.
“Each athlete continues to improve by leaps and bounds due to their dedication, positive attitude, and the team's cohesion,” Baird lauded.
"Emma and Tori Toriseva, our top finishers at OFSAA 2019, battled a challenging cold that held them back from performing to the best of their ability, yet both still managed to place first in their divisions.
“They also both posted close times to the club skiers who were the overall winners in their categories,” he noted.
It was a Muskie sweep of the senior girls' high school division podium, as Kayli Machura nabbed silver (16:29) and Angie Redford took bronze (17:55).
Brooklyn Machura was the lone member of the black-and-gold in the elementary girls' 2.1-K race, nabbing bronze with a time of 10:49.
Ray Calder rounded out the Muskie finishes, placing sixth out of the high school skiers in the senior boys' 5K race with a time of 21:24.
Declan How of the Broncos claimed gold in the division (16:24).
“The remaining skiers all posted personal best races in my opinion,” Baird said.
"I was particularly impressed with Kayli Machura and Angie Redford, who completed a Muskie sweep of the high school senior girls' podium.
“Kayli Machura skied phenomenally well, gaining a lot of ground on Tori Toriseva and Shayna Hensrud compared to her last race,” he lauded.
“Angie Redford maintained a solid gap between herself and the fourth-place finisher, giving us a lot of confidence going into NWOSSAA. Ray Calder also gained a spot in the standings, coming in ahead of three skiers as opposed to last week's two.”
All six Muskie skiers now advance to NWOSSAA next month, where Baird expects the Muskies to shine and have multiple bodies qualify for OFSAA, which is slated for Feb. 19-21 in Huntsville.
Proper preparation over the next few weeks is what he feels will lead the Muskies to more success as the events get harder from here on out.
“Time on skis during the warm weather forecast for the next couple of weeks is essential for our success,” Baird stressed.
"Our skiers, above all, need to ski lots, ski fast, and stay healthy leading up to NWOSSAA.
“Therefore, rest and recovery are also paramount and worthy of extra consideration seeing as its exam time,” he reasoned.
Baird said his athletes need to train hard, but also smart, which will prepare the skiers for the exertion of race day, without burning them out beforehand. Apart from that, they will be working on technique, trying to correct mistakes from the NorWOSSA championships and addressing any weaknesses that still exist.
“We will be focusing on race strategy a lot, meaning how to ski efficiently through the terrain changes on any given course,” Baird noted.
"In addition, we will be taking a trip to Atikokan to ski the race courses prior to the race so that our skiers are familiar with the challenges they'll face and how they can best confront them to succeed.
“All that said, the athletes really just need to perform as they have been doing and they will succeed,” he reasoned.
“A positive and determined attitude, a bit of mental toughness and the desire to ski fast and have fun have worked so far! We will do everything we can to prepare, but the results up until now speak for themselves—they're ready,” Baird assured.
“I expect more personal best performances at NWOSSAA and multiple OFSAA qualifiers.”