BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Call it the little ski club that could.
Six skiers from the Grand Traverse Ski Club's USSA program are bound for Colorado this weekend to compete in the Junior Championships at Winter Park.
The club has 14 skiers in its USSA program. Six competed in the Central Division championships last month in Marquette and all six qualified for the U-14 nationals. The Central Division includes skiers from Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"We're really pleased with how our athletes trained," coach Austin Johnson said. "They all pushed each other. It was nice to see."
The six who qualified for the nationals are Joe Aulicino, Maya Breneman, Evan Culp, Maggie Dutmers, Chris Kolarevic and Christian Stellin.
Next week's agenda includes two days of training in Super G, starting Monday. Competition then begins Wednesday with the Super G, the first of four events. That will be followed by the combi, giant slalom and slalom. Combi is a combination of the other three disciplines and is age-specific to this group.
"It's a cool event," Johnson said. "It's not an event USSA does as they (skiers) get older."
A year ago, the ski club sent three to the nationals, said Dan Culp, who works with the ski club's third, fourth and fifth-graders.
"We're just a small club skiing out of Hickory Hills," Culp said. "The fact all six of our skiers made it is amazing. This bodes well for the future of our program."
Austin Johnson and his wife, Andi, have been coaching the USSA program for the last two years.
"They run a very dedicated, regimented program," Culp said.
Johnson was impressed by his young skiers performed in the Marquette qualifier.
"It was a lot more serious, a lot more intense (than other races) and the kids handled the pressure really well," he said.
That pressure will intensify at nationals. Johnson said his six skiers will need to be focused but relaxed.
"The hardest part for an athlete is the mental game," he said, "because it is a bigger race and a few tend to get all worked up. You have to keep calm, especially at the start."
That's where Andi will be located as she'll help each skier prepare before the start of their race.
"That's her specialty," Austin Johnson said.
Four other local skiers — Lily Lockwood, Madison Ostergren, Lars Hornburg and John Whiting — have been competing this week in the U-16 Junior Championships in Beaver Creek, Colo.