Heavenly, Sierra hopefuls shoot for postseason glory
Heavenly Ski Foundation’s latest collection of Junior Olympic qualifiers has heard all about Jonna Mendes, Wisi Betschart and Alicia Howard. But starting this weekend, the promising South Shore skiers can start their own legacy.
Chris McKean, Ben Johnson, Sean Weatherston, Cory Harris and Diana Higman begin Heavenly’s postseason racing at the J3 Olympics Sunday in Bogus Basin, Idaho.
Their director at Heavenly, Noel Dufty, has high hopes for them in the Sunday through Wednesday competition, which includes slalom, super-G and GS races.
“All of them have a very good chance, and all of them should finish in the top,” Dufty said.
McKean, a Viking alpine specialist, finished first at the J3 qualifiers Feb. 18-19 and has put together six top 10 finishes this season. Harris, also a South Tahoe HS racer, will look to build a consistent Far West record that has seen him place top 10 in all three disciplines.
Johnson, who turned heads with an outstanding freshman season at Whittell, has finished in the top 15 eight out of 10 events in 1999. Weatherston, also a Warrior racer, finished second at the TBL finals in a tough dual format field.
Representing Sierra-at-Tahoe in the J3 championships will be Chris Little and Danny Lear.
However, all of Heavenly’s hopes don’t rest with the 13- and 14-year-olds.
Corky Novotny and Oliver Russell have enjoyed outstanding seasons and are a major threat to win titles in the J2 competition March 20-26 at Mammoth.
Novotny is the defending GS champion for the 15- and 16-year-old girls, while Russell has racked up second and third places despite being a first-year J2. Novotny, the captain of the Whittell HS Alpine team, finished fourth at the Grand Prix Giant Slalom at Squaw Valley Feb. 28.
Russell, 16, has kept a busy 1998-99 Far West schedule, competing in seven slaloms, eight GS and six super-G events.
Kirkwood’s Ashley Boe and Sierra’s Kyle Waters have also qualified.
Sierra’s Amelia Edwards, Kirkwood’s Taylor Hawthorne and Chris Mitchell and Heavenly’s Jamie Hansen, Christie Higman and Jon McKean qualified for the J1 championships March 20-26 in Jackson Hole, Wyo. However, Higman, the Tahoe Basin League high school girls champion, has decided to compete in the Canadian Junior Nationals that weekend in Quebec.
“Christie has opted for that because the Canadian girls are really good right now. If she does really well there, she has a chance of making the regional team or the U.S. national team or going to college,” Dufty said.
Higman has won three Far West events this season and 11 times in 1998 been in the top 10. Hansen, 17, finished second with South Tahoe HS at the TBL championships in early March. Her top Far West finish this season was a third in Nov. 1998 at the Sunshine’s Challenge at Mammoth.
Of course, no matter how well these trail blazers perform, comparisons to U.S. Ski Team members Mendes and Betschart are inevitable.
“It’s a very talented team that ranks right up there, but we’ve had years of unbelievable success with Mendes, Betschart, Howard and the Beronios. We’ll see what happens with the next crew coming up,” Dufty said.
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