Three Parkites have been selected to USA Nordic’s junior national team
Three years ago, USA Nordic had an idea to help improve the youth development within the program. The idea then came to fruition when USA Nordic began a new pipeline to bridge the gap between the youth athletes of America and the national team in ski jumping and Nordic combined.
With that, the junior national team was born.
“We saw a need for having more contact with younger athletes at a much younger age because it was something we didn’t have,” said Blake Hughes, USA Nordic’s national women’s team director. “We needed a more definitive pipeline to produce more professional athletes at a younger age and get them ready for the national team and world stage. We thought the junior national team would be the perfect way to help further an athlete’s overall ability.”
Fast forward to the present and Hughes believes that after three years since its inception of the junior national team, USA Nordic is starting to reap the benefits as 11 members of the senior national team came up through the junior level. As announced on Tuesday, Oct. 29, USA Nordic introduced the next generation of future talent by naming 16 athletes between the ages of 14-19 to this season’s junior national team.
This year’s squad will have somewhat of a local flair with three of the team members hailing from Park City, all of whom specialize in ski jumping. Those athletes are; Greyson Scharffs, 18; Jillian Highfill, 15; Rachael Haerter, 14.
“Jillian, who was on last year’s team, has shown a lot of growth and maturity on and off the field,” Hughes said. “Her work ethic is through the roof, so the process has been really fun to see her develop.”
“As for Rachel, this is her first year on the team so we plan on really helping guide her through the process of what it’s like to be on the women’s team,” Hughes said. “She’s a fully dedicated athlete so it will be excited to see her take the next step in training, her program and her dedication to the sport.”
This season brings five new athletes to the USA Nordic junior national team, as the 16-member team is made up of athletes from eight different states.
This year’s squad is a blend of veteran leadership and youthful talent, with multiple returners earning their way back to the squad after successful seasons last year.
According to Hughes, there’s a certain level of criteria needed for athletes to be considered for nomination, including being ranked in the top three of their age group for their respective sport or by being a junior national champion in their sport. But the criteria are not set in stone.
“We’ve only had a couple of years of setting the criteria and it’s been changing ever since, because as the athletes develop differently, we must change our ways to adapt to become as good as we can,” Hughes said. “It’s not just about athletic achievements though. … The athletes now know what they need to achieve throughout the year, and that includes sportsmanship, character and showing up for training every day. All of that is a big part of who we are and we’ve seen that effect starting to take shape with this year’s team.”
Although the members have been named to the national team, they will spend the majority of the upcoming winter season training with their respective home clubs. However, they will meet up for a number of domestic events, including U.S. Cup events, the Junior National Championships and the Park City Continental Cups.
While this arrangement presents challenges for USA Nordic to implement its training regimen, coaches throughout the country serve as coordinators for USA Nordic.
“These coaches/coordinators help us disperse information from the national team to the athletes and their respective club coaches,” Hughes said. “The coordinators then help us implement our certain training programs, our way of doing things and things like that.”
He added that club coaches are supportive of USA Nordic and the athletes chosen for the junior national team.
“The club coaches have done a great job with the athletes and we owe them a debt of gratitude for training such talented youth,” Hughes said. “We think that having their kids being chosen for the national team helps their clubs because it gives them a certain level of respect knowing what they’ve accomplished.”
One of the main benefits of the being on the junior national team, apart from the training that comes with it and the ability to travel to events, is wearing the nation’s colors.
Most of the club teams only compete domestically, so often their participation in the junior national team is athletes’ first chance to compete on foreign soil. The athletes get to experience the thrill, excitement and nerves that come with wearing “U-S-A” on the back of their gear, while learning firsthand what it takes to be a member of the senior national team.
“What this team is all about is their first exposure to wearing the national team colors, going to international competitions and representing their country,” Hughes said. “Our job as a staff is to teach them how to carry themselves, what to do and how to have a lot of pride in doing it. We do this so when the team comes for them to be ready for the national team, they already know how to carry themselves and act professionally.”
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