Eclectic mix of youth and talent guide Nordic team |

Eclectic mix of youth and talent guide Nordic team

It doesn’t bother Heather Van Dyke that when she practices with the South Tahoe High Nordic ski seam, she is often mistakenly identified as one of the students, not as the coach.

But the 24-year-old physical education teacher from Chico State doesn’t mind much, because in many ways she is just like her students: She’s learning the sport of Nordic skiing along with everyone else.

“My position with the team is the kids are actually teaching me a lot …” said Van Dyke. “There’s a lot of new kids on the team, so I just kind of stick with them and try to keep up with the boys.”

First, she’s a student. Then she’s a coach. Now she’s back to being a student and the students are doing the coaching.

The paradox shouldn’t come as a tremendous shock: Nordic skiing is relatively rare compared with ubiquitous high school sports like soccer or baseball, nor is it a sport long on teachers who are Nordic experts.

But this is Tahoe. Professional Nordic skiers flock here to train. The conditions are ripe for competition throughout much of the year, making it more popular and an attractive avenue for seasoned pros to pass on their knowledge.

Former Nordic coach Lynn Harriman and Debbie Waldear, a former Nordic national champion several times over, are helping with the technical aspects of racing, waxing and Nordic styles. Their contributions can’t be overstated.

“I’m there with my ears wide open, learning right along,” Van Dyke said of the guidance from her two assistants.

Former head coach Julia Russell will officially be due with her first baby Feb. 14, when the team plans to have its second race of the year.

Russell is no longer able to ski along with the team, which is why she’s passing on the head coaching position to Van Dyke. It seems to be working nicely. Not only is Van Dyke able to participate, but as a physical education teacher, she’s a veritable expert in cardiovascular conditioning and strength training. It’s what Russell can’t really do at the moment, and what Harriman and Waldear aren’t able to do because they’re not full-time coaches.

The result will be put to the test today as the team heads to Mammoth Mountain for its first race.

“She’s an excellent leader. She’s been doing a great job with the kids and she’s taking them out on her own a lot and been real creative with her workouts,” said Russell, who remains with the team as a seasoned, assistant coach. “I’ve been real impressed.”

While the numbers are down from last year, the group of 10 is also young and talented.

Alex Sharp and Bryan Kurek return to the team. They led the junior varsity to a state championship last year over Right of Passage and Truckee.

Also from that team, Alex Matzinger, Chris De Tarr, Arnaldo Salcedo and Tyler Rieger return this year.

There are no seniors on the team. Former Nordic speed demon Jeff Koeck graduated, as did Adam Matzinger. Koeck finished fourth in the state championship last year, missing a podium finish by 5.8 seconds. Matzinger was 15th.

Koeck’s younger brother, Greg, is on the team, so are fellow freshmen Jeff Meagher and Josh Miller.

Sadly, only one girl is out for the team. Therefore, freshman Heather Newman has been dubbed “the princess.”

“We didn’t want to scare her off because of all the boys. So we make everyone treat her like a princess,” Van Dyke said.

The team will have eight races this year, with the final championship in March.

Russell said she’s optimistic about the year ahead, although this year will be a rebuilding process. But she expects good things in the seasons ahead.

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