McKean captures individual title as a sophomore
South Tahoe’s Chris McKean and Truckee’s Stacey Cook assured the Tahoe Basin Ski League its future is in good hands Tuesday, winning a pair of individual titles.
The two sophomores skied to the forefront of the TBSL’s youth movement, eliminating the competition in Tuesday’s dual-slalom finale at Diamond Peak. McKean had just the fifth seed from qualifying times, but downed Incline’s Travis Durfee, Tim Jitloff of Truckee and Whittell sophomore Ben Johnson in the head-to-head, two-run slalom for the win. Cook, on the other hand, capitalized on a fall by Whittell’s Corky Novotny in the preliminaries, qualified fastest and rolled into the finals.
“It’s pretty good,” McKean said of the feeling of winning the individual championship. “It was pretty cool. That pushes you, seeing the other guy next to you while you go down.”
McKean said the effort made the difference in this race, and he really went for it during the race. Even though McKean was tired from six elimination rounds, he managed to hold off one of the quickest skiers on the day in Johnson and the best, most consistent male TBSL racer in Durfee. With McKean one of South Tahoe’s stable of stellar sophomores, the first-place medal could be a fixture in his trophy case for two more years.
“Hopefully,” McKean said.
Johnson trailed McKean by just six tenths of a second, and had to raise the ante on the second run. He did, but fell, giving McKean the win. Johnson finished second, and McKean’s South Tahoe teammate, Cory Harris, rounded out the top four.
Diana Higman came close to making Tuesday a Tahoe sophomore sweep. Higman qualified second, and advanced from a first-round matchup with teammate Alexis Rudd to a semifinal clash with North Tahoe freshman Heather Allen. Allen beat Higman in the semis, before falling to Cook.
Higman outdueled Truckee’s Kendra Windham for third as the top four seeds finished 1-3-2-4.
Out of eight entrants in each race, South Tahoe qualified four boys and five girls for the 16-skier elimination bracket. But the Vikings lost two girls qualifiers right off the bat – Higman eliminated Rudd and freshman Lilly Palmieri advanced out of her first-round matchup with senior teammate Alexis Rudd.
“My first thought was, ‘Lovely, just lovely,'” said South Tahoe head coach Mike Shreve. “The hardest part was cheering them both on in the start and cheering them on to beat each other.”
Allen defeated Palmieri in the second round. North Tahoe’s Kristen Poulsen eliminated South Tahoe’s other qualifier, Kristen Royce, in the round of 16.
Without Novotny, Whittell couldn’t qualify any of its eight girls for the round of 16.
“You fall once, and you’re out of there,” Warriors advisor Mike Kiger said. “I feel kind of bad for Corky. It was her last high school race.”
But just as Kiger suspected, the Warriors made a big impression in the boys bracket.
Johnson defeated Chris McKean’s brother, John, in the first round, then knocked Truckee’s Gary Cook from the bracket before eliminating South Tahoe’s Harris. His Warriors teammate Todd Echan – who raced in just two regular-season TBSL events because of a commitment to Whittell’s basketball team – qualified 15th, but upset second-seeded Devon Yurosek of North Tahoe.
“Head-to-head, you’ve got to watch out for Todd,” Kiger said.
Mike Thomas of Trukeee mirrored that performance on the other side, coming from the No. 16 slot to beat top qualifier Cody Townsend of North Tahoe. Harris, though, defeated Echan in the second round before elimination at Johnson’s skis. Durfee beat Harris for third place.
Johnson’s performance gave Whittell its second second-place in two years. Sean Weatherston was runner-up in last year’s dual slalom.
“It was a lot of fun for the kids, and it was pretty exciting for the fans, too,” Kiger said. “It was a good day, but I think Whittell showed well.”
Weather and the delay of the finale for the Ford Ranger North American Championships of Snowboarding forced the TBSL to move its finals to Diamond Peak. The head-to-head finals wrapped a season of competition that began Jan. 5 for in the ski league. The league is independent of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association and comprises three California (South Tahoe, Truckee and North Tahoe) and three Nevada (Whittell, Incline and Douglas) schools.
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