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The village that drives the success of the Knights nordic ski team
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It would be fair to question exactly how much higher the Lo-Ellen Park Knights nordic ski program can raise the bar, such is the level of excellence that head coach Colin Ward and company have attained.

Not that the question will stop this group of extremely talented skiers and incredibly dedicated coaches and volunteers from striving to up their game, even more, in the years to come.

But anytime you need to assemble a half dozen members of the team or more simply to display the array of championship banners that were collected at provincial championships - well, that's a pretty successful team.

Over and above emerging as the Junior and Senior Combined champions, the Lo-Ellen delegation also secured gold in Junior Boys and Senior Boys (distance races) and Senior Boys relays.

Throw in a pair of silvers from the Senior Girls (distance and relays) as well as Junior Boys bronze in the relays along with another quartet of individual medal winners: Callum Wiss (JB - Open Gold); Kaeden Ward (SB - Open Bronze); Grace Thomas (SG - HS Bronze); Liam Lacroix (SB - HS Bronze) - that's a whole lot to be proud of.

Still, for his part, Ward was looking at a much larger picture when assessing the Knights performance at the 2023 OFSAA Nordic Skiing Championships hosted last month in Lakefield, just outside of Peterborough.

"I think it's a reflection of what is happening in Sudbury, period," said Ward. "You can't do this if you don't have good grassroots development; you can't do this without the clubs being effective and working with the high-school system; and the community needs to be active and supportive of the event."

"Even the university program (Laurentian Voyageurs) is reflective of these results. Skiing in the community needs to be jiving and working well together."

There might be another sport or two in the nickel city that may want to take note of this last statement

Participating in his first true and complete OFSAA Championship, Liam Lacroix is clearly a product of the excitement that builds when everyone is pulling in the same direction. Nowhere is this more evident than at the school that has now set the standard for all other secondary school nordic ski teams in the province.

"I had joined cross-country running in grade nine and I liked the team, the coaches, so I figured I would go out and do their next sport - which of course is nordic," said Lacroix, a just recently-turned 18 year old grade 12 student who is looking to pursue the Millwright program at Cambrian College next year.

"It was tough, at first, but a lot of fun to learn it."

But learn it he did - just as so many other general athletes tend to do at the home of the Knights, joining forces with a club core base that is represented in the two facets of OFSAA Nordic Ski competitions (Open for club athletes; H-S designation for non-club skiers).

"You can have the fitness, but the technique is pretty important," said Lacroix. "It takes a while to learn; that's what I found to be the hardest. But there was one hill (in Lakefield) where I was working on the "hop skate" technique and I actually did it pretty well for the first time ever."

That may have been memorable - but topping the list of highlights for Lacroix was clearly the relay event, another area in which Lo-Ellen excelled.

"Relays are really exciting," said Lacroix. "It's fast and there's a lot going on - and everyone is cheering you on as well."

That said, there is something to the team component that can add a touch of extra pressure that is different than what feels when racing on a more individual basis.

"For me, going into the relay was a lot more stressful than any individual race," noted 16 year-old grade 11 student Finlay Cuza, the top LOE finisher in the senior girls division at 17th place.

"I felt like my team was counting on me to do well and I was counting on them to do well. There's more stress because if I messed up something, I wasn't just messing it up for me, I was messing it up for my whole team."

Now in her third year with the Knights nordic ski crew, Cuza sees areas of separation between what is happening at Lo-Ellen and what might take place elsewhere in Ontario. "Other schools don't have necessarily the same support that we have," she suggested.

"All of our coaches are really good and really serious. They know what they are doing."

And they also know where to find additional help.

"I was on the Walden ski club team when I started high-school, so I was kind of coaching some of the newer kids instead of being coached," explained Cuza. "I think we tend to put a big focus on technique.

"Some other schools focus on the fitness and being faster, and certainly fitness is important, but without technique, skiing is really hard. You need the technique so that the fitness is really useful."

Rounding out the team staff are coaches Vanessa Catto, Neil Phipps, Jacob Pilon and Rob Rice as well as waxers Rob Wiss and Ian Nener.

Following is a breakdown of some of the remaining results that have not already been mentioned:

Junior Girls team - 5th - distance races
Junior Girls team - 5th - relays

Junior Boys
Corey Lacroix (19th)
Austin Conroy (35th)
Hector Loiselle (36th)
Keir Gauld (92nd)

Junior Girls
Maija Nener (10th)
Audrey Kawa (59th)
Lea Maki (62nd)
Alex Hann (64th)
McKenna Mende (68th)

Senior Boys
Russell Joiner (15th)
Sam Rice (18th)
Owen Dobson (24th)

Senior Girls
Sophia Oommen (34th)
Heli Maki (51st)
Allie Keture (78th)

The local highlight for non-LOE athletes was clearly a 4th place overall finish for Lauren Pineau from Lockerby Composite in the distance event, with siblings Olivier Tremblay (ESMC - JB - 10th) and Madeleine Tremblay of (CND - SG - 14th) not all that far off the pace.

Some of the remaining SDSSAA skiers who managed to crack the top fifty included:

Georgia Lepage (St Benedict) - SG - 19th
Tyla MacLeod (Bishop Carter) - JG - 21st
Ava Hodgins (Lasalle) - SG - 26th
Kalia Pharand (Horizon) - JG - 29th
Théo Chartrand (Notre-Dame) - JB - 33rd
Bailey Raymond (Notre-Dame) - JG - 35th
Ivy Schulte-Hostedde (Lockerby) - SG - 37th
Cody Raymond (Sacré-Coeur) - SB - 41st
Lea Lemieux (Lockerby) - JG - 46th
Misaki Diavolitsis (Lockerby) - JG - 48th

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