CRAFTSBURY — Ben Saxton and Julia Kern gave the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team two more deposits of gold Tuesday.
Saxton claimed his second sprint title in five days at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, edging runner-up Logan Hanneman at the finish line during the 1.5-kilometer freestyle races. Julia Kern won the women’s crown after holding off Hannah Halvorsen at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. The SMS T2 Team had plenty of hardware heading home from nationals, with Kern claiming her first U.S. title and Saxton solidifying his reputation as one of North America’s top sprinters.
Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins and World Cup sprint star Simi Hamilton are also members of the SMS T2 Team, which is based at Stratton Mountain School. Kern is a 21-year-old from Waltham, Massachusetts, who helped her relay team claim bronze at the 2017 Junior World Championships. That same year, she placed seventh at nationals in the classic sprint, and last Thursday she captured the bronze medal during a 10k classic race. Kern was third during Friday’s classic sprints and skipped Sunday’s 20k freestyle event, saving her energy for the sprint finale.
Halvorsen (3 minutes, 24.14 seconds) set the pace in women’s qualifying and Kern was second (2:24.98). Kern finished second again in her quarterfinal and was nearly ousted in the semifinals when she placed third. Only the top two racers automatically advance from each heat, but the fastest two individuals who do not qualify also move on during the quarterfinals and semis as “Lucky Losers.” Kern advanced under that status because her semifinal was so fast, and 20 minutes later she claimed payback in the final.
Following a back-and-forth battle, Kern crossed the line in 3:16.73 to outlast Halvorsen (3:16.94). Stratton’s Kelsey Phinney (3:18.75) placed third and was followed by eight-time national champ Caitlin Patterson (3:19.12), Maya MacIsaac-Jones (3:24.18) and Jessica Yeaton (3:30.14).
“In the finals, there were a lot of tangle-ups and I got boxed out and was toward the back coming into the last hill,” Kern said during a post-race interview with the U.S. Ski Team. “I made my move on the hill and felt really strong in the last straightaway (and) just gave it my all.”
Saxton has made a name for himself as a sprint specialist, recording his fifth podium appearance at nationals Tuesday. Nothing came easily for the 25-year-old, who won a close quarterfinal and was 0.15 seconds away from being eliminated. The 25-year-old finished in second place behind Hanneman in the semifinal, but once again it was tight and Saxton only advanced by a slight margin (0.39 seconds).
During the final, Saxton (2:58.51) used a burst before the finish line to overpower Hanneman (2:58.83). They were trailed by Noel Keffe (2:59.98), Daniel Streinz (3:00.02), Gus Schumacer (3:11.8) and Zak Ketterson (3:12.13).
“I’m very excited with my win and it was a very enjoyable day of racing,” Saxton said. “I was coming up that last hill with Logan Hanneman next to me. He is a strong finisher, forcing me to do what I always do: Try to run away from him.”
University of Vermont skier Henry Harmeyer placed fourth in his semifinal and failed to advance to the final by a fraction of a second. Another skier with Vermont ties — SMS T2 competitor Kyle Bratrud — was 21st in qualifying (3:07.7) and advanced to the semis before finishing a few inches behind Harmeyer.
Craftsbury Green Racing Project athlete Akeo Maifeld-Carucci was 15th in qualifying (3:05.8), while Green Mountain Valley School’s Joshua Valentine was 44th (3:12.86). Former Woodstock standout Zane Fields was 45th (3:13.17) and Waterbury skier Finn Sweet wound up 79th (3:21.32).
Elmore’s Kaitlyn Miller wound up 10th in the women’s results after finishing fifth in her quarterfinal, while Craftsbury’s Abigail Streinz was 39th in qualifying (3:47.21). Kern, Patterson and Halvorsen could join classic sprint national champ Ida Sargent during this weekend’s World Cup sprints in downtown Dresden, Germany. Halvorsen and Patterson were already discretionary selections to compete, while Kern, Sargent, Hailey Swirbul and Stratton’s Sophie Caldwell qualified objectively. The sprints will take place in front of 4,500 spectators, with athletes making two loops around an 800-meter course along the bank of the River Elbe.
On the men’s side, Hanneman was the fastest men’s qualifier in 2:59.45. As a result, he earned a starting spot for the Dresden World Cup events. Additional discretionary picks will be Erik Bjornsen, Kevin Bolger and Andy Newell. Burlington skier Ben Lustgarten and former Middlebury College standout Simi Hamilton made the cut objectively for the World Cup sprints.