by Isabel Menna
Wenatchee Valley’s top level cross-country ski team, Plain Valley Nordic Team (PVNT), has risen quickly to become one of the leading junior Nordic ski teams in the United States. Founded by Plain Hardware owner, Rob Whitten, less than a decade ago, together with the trail system on which they train, the young squad has been coached and molded, almost from the beginning, by head coach, and French native, Pierre Niess.
Later this month, Niess will take eleven of his racers to Fairbanks, AK to compete at the Birch Hills Ski Trails in the U.S. Ski Association’s Junior National Championships. Last year, the PVNT contingent, also numbering eleven, came home from “Junior Nationals,” held in Minneapolis, with four among them being named all-Americans and nine top ten finishes.
Three of those All-Americans – Quinten Koch (Wenatchee), Adeline Loewen (Wenatchee), and Caroline Menna (Leavenworth) – together with fellow standout, Silas D’Atre (Plain), return this year and will lead the team in Fairbanks. The four are all currently ranked, in their age groups, in the top ten in the country (with Menna and Loewen being ranked first and second, respectively, among those born in 2008). All four have plans for medals; a dark horse on the team for the podium is Wenatchee’s Kian Reid.
The strength of the team this year is even more notable given that it graduated, last year, three of its 2022 Junior National attendees, two of whom reached the podium. One of those, Derek Richardson (Leavenworth), now skis for one of the most elite senior Nordic teams in the world, Alaska Pacific University. Richardson is a strong contender to be named, this spring, to next year’s U.S. Ski Team, an exciting legacy and early feather in the cap of Whitten, Niess, and the team.
Junior Nationals ordinarily begins on the Monday after the first Friday of March, each year. This year, however, because the depths of the Fairbanks sub-artic winter and its sub-zero temperatures expected to last well into March, the National Championships are pushed back a week to start on Monday, March 13th. Still, the team will be briefed on taking care of themselves in the extreme cold and has been encouraged to bring and wear “anti-freeze,” or kinesiology therapeutic, face tape to help prevent frostbite.
The 2023 edition of Junior Nationals is a seven-day, three event affair comprised of an individual classic ski race, a freestyle (think skate skiing) sprint tournament, and closes with a mass start, freestyle distance race. A rousing opening ceremony, in which teams enter the stadium carrying divisional flags, and a finale that includes an awards banquet, round out an exciting week of racing and camaraderie for the high schoolers from all corners of the U.S.
If you would like to donate to help the Plain Valley Nordic Team send some of their athletes to Alaska for Junior Nationals click here.