The junior girls’ sprint relay team won fourth place at OFSAA in Lakefield on Thursday, Feb. 23. /Submitted

Hawks soar high at OFSAA Nordic championships

Violet Humphries earns bronze medal; Three Red Hawk relay sprint team finish top 5

By Karen Gervais, Special to the Echo

The Red Hawk Nordic Ski team found huge success at the OFSAA Nordic Championships held at Lakefield College School February 22 and 23. The team nearly doubled in numbers this year, fielding 15 athletes up from eight last year.

Skiers were forced to contend with rapidly changing snow conditions and early starts each day, as race times were bumped up to 8 a.m. to avoid the warmest parts of the afternoon. Despite less than ideal ski conditions, Red Hawk athletes came home with fists full of ribbons, suntans and memories to last a lifetime. 

In Thursday’s interval distance races, Violet Humphries met her goal of a podium finish at OFSAA, skiing the 5 kilometre course under slick conditions to a bronze medal finish in the High School category. At the OFSAA level, skiers can compete in either the High School or Open Categories, with High School skiers competing and training exclusively with their school team and Open skiers training with a club and competing on the Ontario Cup circuit. 

Teammate Olivia Gruppe followed up Humphries with a personal best ski and 15th place finish. Ella Gervais was 24th; Sadie Kelly 34th and Grace Allder 67th in a field of 114 High School trained skiers. This earned the Junior Girls team a fifth place finish overall, losing out to Sudbury’s Lo Ellen Park by merely a single point. The team score is determined by the lowest total of the top four overall finishers from a school, and may be any combination of High School and Open (club) skiers.  

OFSAA rules stipulate that skiers may participate in club programs up until the start of their first year of high school, and then must choose a pathway or wait at least one year before returning to the High School category. A lot of our skiers’ success can be attributed to the strong foundations built in our local Jackrabbit program organized by volunteers and the Haliburton Highlands Nordic Trails Association. Many of our athletes continue to act as junior instructors in this program and spend their Saturday afternoons teaching the next generation of Nordic skiers.

In the highly competitive Junior Boys category, the Backus twins made their OFSAA Nordic debut, returning to the sport after several years. Graham Backus finished 14th, closely followed by brother Evan in 16th. Ninth-grade skier Winston Ramsdale finished 33rd; Brechin Johnston 47th; Owen Megrah-Poppe 61st and Carter McKnight-Sisco 80th. There were 122 skiers in the Junior Boys category. Johnston and Megrah-Poppe just donned cross-country skis for the first time ever this year and continue to make excellent progress in the sport. As a team, the Red Hawk Junior Boys finished ninth in the interval races, just one place short of taking home an OFSAA ribbon. 

On the Senior Girls 7 kilometre course, Olivia Humphries skied to a strong 10th place finish; Erika Hoare was 14th; Hannah Sharp 44th and Teagan Hamilton 50th. Sharp and Hamilton are only in their second year of Nordic skiing, being new to the sport last year. This Senior Girls earned a sixth-place team finish and a burgundy OFSAA ribbon to bring home. 

Friday’s Sprint Relays held a lot of drama and intensity. The Junior Girls team of Olivia Gruppe, Sadie Kelly, Ella Gervais and Violet Humphries sought to avenge their single-point loss to Lo Ellen Park and sailed past them to a fourth-place Sprint Relay finish. The relay course featured a very steep and slanted uphill with a 90-degree turn at the top the announcer had dubbed “Heartbreak Hill,” and our skiers eclipsed many competitors on this incline due to their training at Glebe Park. 

The Junior Boys team of Evan and Graham Backus, Winston Ramsdale and Brechin Johnston, who fought hard to make it into the top-eight final in the tough Junior Boys category with 21 teams, excelled with their strength and grit in the slushy snow on the 900m loop to ski to a fifth-place finish after being seeded in ninth.

The Senior Girls team of Hannah Sharp, Teagan Hamilton, Erika Hoare and Olivia Humphries dug in with a photo finish at the line as Olivia Humphries battled to hang on to the lead created by teammate Erika Hoare who made several passes on the third leg of the relay. Humphries was able to hold off the Collingwood anchor and beat her to the line by a fraction of a second to secure fourth-place in a commendable team effort. 

The Haliburton Highlands Nordic team stood strong against big skiing schools with many club skiers such as Huntsville, Collingwood, Glebe and Nepean in Ottawa and Sudbury’s Lo Ellen Park and one was of few schools to field three teams in the Sprint Relay finals. Red Hawk coaches Karen Gervais, Mike Rieger, Erin Smith and community coaches Kevin Hoare and Joleen Thomas are extremely proud of the accomplishments of this team. Their success can also largely be attributed to their support of each other and the excellent work ethic, teamwork and dedication they have all shown in practice throughout the season. 

A big thanks to Kevin Hoare and Joleen Thomas for their waxing knowledge and help readying skis for competition under widely variable snow conditions; and to Hoare for being the bus driver for the team to get them to competitions. Thanks to all the members of our community that have supported us through volunteering at our meet and the words of encouragement out on the trails and the groomers for always having the trails prepped for us to practice.  

It truly does take a village and we are happy to see Haliburton back on the Nordic Skiing map. As OFSAA convenor Todd Harris said, “Haliburton is not only back, but back with a bang!”