PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Skier Cole Morgan had a lot to celebrate Wednesday at the USSA Cross Country Junior Olympics at the Nordic Heritage Center.

The Bridger SF (Montana) member skied the 5-kilometer classic race in 15:52.7, winning the J2 category Wednesday, his 16th birthday.

Morgan won an event dominated by members of the New England team who took the top two J2 slots in the girls division and placed second in J2 boys.

Athletes from around the country are participating in four-days of racing this week in three age categories.

The Older Junior division is for ages 18-19 and competition also was held in two other age groups: Junior 2 (14-15) and Junior 1 (16-17).

Wednesday’s classic initially was posted as a mass start, but icy conditions on the trail early in the day forced organizers to send the athletes out one at a time in 15-second intervals.

“There was some concern yesterday during training because of the melting and freezing snow,” Eileen Carey, vice president of Maine Winter Sports, said. “It’s pretty darn packed out there and there was concern about sending out a lot of people at those speeds.”

“In that 5K race there’s not a lot of time to mess around,” Morgan’s coach, Rick Kapela, said Wednesday afternoon. “What Cole did really well early on was establish an excellent race tempo.”

Kapela said keeping that tempo up was the key to the victory.

“When he went by me he was locked in a tight battle with [second place],” he said. “But he ended up maintaining that momentum in the last big climbs.”

Morgan finished just seconds ahead of John Heggman of Mansfield Nordic, who skied the course in 15:55.3. Knicker Nordic skier Matthew Nichols took third with a time of 15:55. Fourth place went to Eli Hoenig of Cambridge Sports Union, 15:59.8, with fifth place to Patrick Caldwell of Ford Sayre, 16:05.1.

On the women’s side of J2 it was a New England one-two finish with Corey Stock of Cambridge Sports Union winning in 17:01.4, just ahead of teammate Heather Mooney of Stratton Mountain School who skied to second place in 17:14.9. The third fastest J2 girls time was posted by Alaska’s Marion Woods, who skied the course in 17:25.7. In fourth was Madalyn Pfeifer from Proctor Academy in 17:56.6 and in fifth was Celia Haering of APUNSC in 18:02.5.

“In Monday’s race in J2, New England swept the top three spots,” Erin Benson, event media coordinator said. “Marion [Woods] took fourth on Monday and swapped places with Monday’s third-place winner [New England team member] Madalyn Pfeifer today.”

New England’s dominance at the games comes as no surprise to team coach Matt Boobar.

“With the J2 girls it’s really not a secret,” Boobar said. “Corey and Heather are on a level above and dominating New England races [and] Madalyn is able to key off that and improve.”

Boobar’s team may hold a slight advantage over the rest of the field as this is not the athletes’ first time competing at the Nordic Heritage Center.

“We’ve been here for a lot of Eastern Cups and are familiar with the course and the area,” Boobar said. “By racing here before the skiers know how to pace, where the corners are and where the big hills are coming.”

Both coaches are impressed with the quality of the course, especially given the unseasonably warm temperatures and low snow levels.

“The Nordic Heritage Center may not have a lot of snow on the ground but they know exactly what to do with it,” Boobar said. “They are working really hard to move it all around and make it perfect.”

In the J1 women’s classic 10K, Annie Pokorny of Spokane Nordic SEF took first place with a time of 33:37.5. In second place was Annie Hart of the Minneapolis Ski Club (33:45.3); third place was Isabel Caldwell of Stratton Mountain (33:57.2); fourth was Annie Liotta of Alaska Winter Stars (34:07.2); and Paige Schember of the Minneapolis Ski Club was fifth (34:28.5).

On the J1 men’s side in the 15K classic it was Alaska Winter Stars’ Scott Patterson skiing to victory in 42:54.7.

Behind Patterson were David Sinclair of the Green Mountain Valley School (43:07.6); Silas Talbot of the Alaska Winter Stars (44:04.1); Benjamin Lustgarten of the Burlington HS Club (44:32.4); and Eric Ryan of Alaska Winter Stars (44:43.7).

David Norris from Fairbanks FAST took first place in the Older Junior boys in the 15K classic race, covering the course in 42:16.3.

Following him were Sam Tarling from the Dartmouth Outing Club (42:19.6); Russell Kennedy of the Auburn Ski Club (43:14.3); Erik Fagerstrom of Sun Valley SEF (43:18.9); and Chase Marston of the Middlebury Ski Team (43:38.3).

Skiing to first place in the Older Junior girls 10K race was Kaitlyn Miller from Craftsbury NSC in of 33:56.5.

Finishing behind her were Liza Goodwin of Montana State University (33:58.2); Rebecca Konieczny of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, (34:16.9); Eleanor Magnuson of Go Training (34:17.1); and Corrine Malcolm of Montana State University (34:33.0).

Following a training day today, racing resumes at 10 a.m. Friday with the freestyle competitions.

For now, Kapela wants his skiers to take their minds off the course for a while.

“This afternoon I want them to forget about racing,” he said. “Once we leave the track it’s important to put your minds away for a minute and save that mental energy for the race [and] don’t be racing in your head before it’s time to race the actual race.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.