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USA Nordic names teams for 2020-21 season

Lake Placid’s Nina Lussi, Beckett Ledger and Tate Frantz among 47 athletes selected to national teams

Nina Lussi poses for a photo in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo provided)

PARK CITY, Utah — USA Nordic has announced its upcoming 2020-21 season nominations for the ski jumping and Nordic combined national ski teams.

A total of 47 athletes, including three who hail from Lake Placid, have been nominated to national and junior national teams based on their ability to meet specific criteria over the last season. This is the largest team ever nominated by USA Nordic, with nine more athletes than last year.

The three Lake Placid natives named by USA Nordic are veteran ski jumper Nina Lussi and Beckett Ledger and Tate Frantz, who were chosen as members of the junior men’s Nordic combined team. Nordic combined includes both ski jumping and cross-country ski racing.

Nordic combined

Beckett Ledger, of Lake Placid, is seen in his uniform during the US Cup this winter. (Photo provided)

Tara Geraghty-Moats, of West Fairlee, Vermont, added to her trophy case this past winter, winning the overall Nordic combined Continental Cup for the second year in a row. Though at times plagued by injury and sickness, her 2019-20 campaign included seven Continental Cup podiums, five of those being victories. Next season Geraghty-Moats will lead a young team of women’s Nordic combined athletes toward an exciting calendar that includes a World Cup debut in December and the inaugural World Championship event in Oberstdorf, Germany, in February. Geraghty-Moats, who served as an ambassador at the Youth Olympic Games, continues to be an outspoken advocate for the inclusion of women’s Nordic combined in the Olympic Winter Games.

The U.S. women’s Nordic combined national team behind Geraghty-Moats is very young and includes a trio of women from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who continue to improve at a rapid pace. Annika Malacinski, Tess Arnone and Alexa Brabec all skied into the top 30 at the Junior World Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany. They also scored Continental Cup points a combined 15 times last season.

Replacing the Colorado trio on the junior national women’s Nordic combined team are Charlotte Ripp of Cloquet, Minnesota, and Aspen Bennet-Manke of Steamboat Springs. These two young skiers will continue to develop with the hope of gaining international experience and competing alongside Geraghty-Moats.

For nearly a decade, one of the Fletcher brothers has led the U.S. men’s Nordic combined team. This past season was no different as Taylor Fletcher of Steamboat Springs found success at the end of the season, notching fifth place in a February Continental Cup competition. He took that confidence to the top-tier World Cup circuit, finishing the year with two top-30 finishes. 

Lake Placid native Tate Frantz double-poles during the first cross country ski race of the International Children's Winter Games in January 2019. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Jared Shumate of Park City, Utah, and Ben Loomis of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, split time between the Continental Cup and World Cup last season. Shumate finished the year ranked 21st in the Continental Cup standings. Loomis finished the year ranked 24th in the year end standings, although he only competed in six of the 17 events. After showing promise on the Continental Cup, these two hope to find success on the World Cup next season. 

A newcomer to the men’s national team is Niklas Malacinski, who is also from Steamboat Springs. Malacinski, just 16 years old, was one of USA Nordic’s most successful athletes over the past season. He started the season in brilliant fashion by skiing to 29th place in the first Continental Cup of the year. He went on to represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games, where he finished fifth, just 30 seconds from the podium. Malacinski then headed to the Junior World Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany where he led USA Nordic with his 27th place finish. 

Ledger and Frantz, who have trained with the New York Ski Education Foundation in Lake Placid since they were young, were both selected to USA Nordic’s junior men’s Nordic combined team.

Ski jumping

Kevin Bickner of Wauconda, Illinois, is coming off a season with two top 30 finishes on the World Cup and leads USA Nordic’s men’s ski jumping team. The 23-year-old ended the year ranked 54th in the world.

Eau Claire’s Andrew Urlaub had a breakout season in 2018-19 that saw him compete in his first World Championships as just a 17-year-old. He continued that progression this past season with five top-30 finishes on the FIS Cup, including a fourth, just shy of the podium. He also jumped to five top-30 finishes on the higher-level Continental Cup circuit — showing that he’s getting closer to the World Cup. He capped off a successful past season by jumping to 18th place at the Junior World Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany. He is expected to be an athlete to watch this season, as he enters his final year of Junior World Championship eligibility where he could fight for the podium. 

Steamboat’s Erik Belshaw leads the men’s ski jumping junior national team after a year full of championship events. He competed at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he placed 22nd. He then headed to Oberwiesenthal to compete in the Junior World Championships. At just 15 years old, his performance in Oberwiesenthal gave the team and coaching staff cause for excitement looking ahead.

Although the women’s ski jumping team saw a loss of key athletes last season, with Sarah Hendrickson (Park City, Utah) and Nita Englund (Florence, Wisconsin) both missing time, the team remains the largest and possibly deepest team USA Nordic has to offer, with 10 athletes qualifying. 

Lussi took the role of veteran this past season with a group of young women trying to fill the gap behind her. She finished 28th in the overall Continental Cup standings with four top-30 finishes over the winter. Anna Hoffman of Madison, Wisconsin, made a breakthrough last summer on the Continental Cup, jumping to 17th in Sczcyrk, Poland. Though not to the same degree, she did keep that momentum going over the winter with two top 30 FIS Cup results. 

Annika Belshaw of Steamboat Springs, and Park City’s Paige Jones had busy winter months, jumping into the FIS Cup points, scoring Continental Cup points, earning two World Cup starts, finishing 21st and 23rd at the Youth Olympic Games, and then moving onto the Junior World Championships. Another name to keep an eye on is Park City’s Jillian Highfill, who is making the critical move up to the national team after two top-30 Continental Cup finishes in February. 

Alexa Brabec (Steamboat Springs), Cara Larson (Barrington, Illinois), Jillian Highfill (Park City) and Niklas Malacinski (Steamboat Springs) have all ascended the ranks, moving up from the junior national team to national team for next season. 

The 2019-20 Nordic ski season ended a few weeks prematurely in March. Since then, the athletes have been following quarantine and stay-at-home protocols. All athletes have been briefed on responsible ways to continue training, and all continue to do so. Athletes will soon begin working on goal setting with head coaches, looking hopefully toward the 2020-21 season.

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