Gold for Brennan, silver for Treinen at ski championships

It's not just Alaska girls who kick you-know-what.

On a day when Alaska women again collected two-thirds of the medals up for grabs at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, the Alaska men came through with a show of force that put five of them in the top eight.

Birthday boy Lex Treinen of Anchorage led the way by claiming the silver medal in the 30-kilometer classic in Houghton, Michigan. Eric Packer of Anchorage finished fourth, David Norris of Fairbanks placed fifth, Reese Hanneman of Fairbanks was sixth and Scott Patterson of Anchorage eighth in the best showing by Alaska men in three races on the Michigan Tech ski trails.

So let's hear it for the boys, who have been somewhat overshadowed in recent years by the likes of Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and other Alaska women.

"It feels amazing," Treinen said in a videotaped interview after earning his first national-championship medal. "I looked behind me after I came in in second and saw that four of my teammates were back there, so it was just an incredible feeling."

Packer, Norris and Patterson are first-year members of the Alaska Pacific University team and Treinen and Tyler Kornfield, who placed 15th Thursday, are in their second year with the team.

All were top junior-level racers while growing up in Alaska and all raced at various colleges. Now they make up the men's elite team at APU, arguably the most successful nordic training group in the country.

"I've been trying to get these guys back for the last couple of years, but they all scattered," APU coach Erik Flora said from Houghton. "We've been able to provide an opportunity where they can come back and train together.

"The whole intention of our program is to help give Alaska skiers a place to come after college. It's really cool."

APU's Rosie Brennen led Thursday's efforts by winning the women's 20-kilometer, mass-start classic race for her second gold medal of the championships. Anchorage's Caitlin Patterson took the silver medal and two other Alaska women made it into the top five -- fourth-place Chelsea Holmes of Girdwood and fifth-place Becca Rorabaugh of Fairbanks.

Brennan, Patterson, Holmes and Rorabaugh have all collected medals, giving Alaska women six of the nine awarded so far.

Brennan, 26, is the only skier in Houghton with a medal in all three races. She will race in Saturday's freestyle sprint, the last race of the championships, and then join the U.S. Ski Team in Europe for a couple of World Cup races, her reward for strong early season results.

"We see Rosie getting faster and faster and faster," Flora said. "You can see she's just really excited to race."

Brennan is among 30 skiers from APU at the championships, a group that trains year-round and gets critical on-snow time during the summer at Eagle Glacier near Girdwood. Of the six Alaska women and six Alaska men who finished in Thursday's top 15, only Caitlin Patterson does not train with APU -- she races with Vermont's Craftsbury Ski Project.

"In our training over the summer the group was moving in a good direction, and now it's all coming together. It's just really exciting," Flora said. "Everything we watched over the summer has moved into place, and with a big team like this, that doesn't always happen."

The men's elite team is making big strides this season. Hanneman competed in some World Cups before the holidays, and Erik Bjornsen has spent the whole season on the World Cup circuit along with Randall and his sister, Sadie. Knocking on the door is young Thomas O'Harra of Anchorage, who placed second in Thursday's 10-K junior boys race.

Over the summer, Flora said, the men made their intentions clear: "They said, 'We're really gonna make this men's team go someplace,' '' he said.

Not only did they commit to training, Flora said, they took steps to raise the program's already high profile. While in Houghton, for example, Packer is conducting interviews with APU's top finishers and sharing the videos with members of the Alaska media.

Treinen, a West High graduate who turned 25 Thursday, won a three-man battle for second place, his second top-10 finish this week and the fifth of his career.

Kris Freeman, a four-time Olympian from New Hampshire, won the race in 1 hour, 31 minutes, 14.8 seconds. Treinen finished in 1:31:18.6, edging Northern Michigan's Kyle Bartrud (1:31:18.9) and Packer (1:31:9.7), who sprinted hard at the end to gain a couple of spots.

Norris was next in 1:31:26.0, followed by Hanneman in 1:31:27.9. Also in the top 20: Patterson (eighth,1:31:39.1), Kornfield (15th, 1:33:44.2), Forrest Mahlen (16th, 1:33:48.5), Andrew Dougherty (17th, 1:33:58) and UAF's Logan Hanneman (18th, 1:34:04.4).

Brennan dominated the women's race in 1:10:42.4, five seconds ahead of Patterson (1:10:47.9.), who picked up the second national-championship medal of her career. Patterson, who turned 25 on Saturday, won bronze in last year's 10-K classic.

Holmes, who won silver in Sunday's 10-K freestyle, finished with the lead pack and placed fourth in 1:10:56.2. After a gap came fifth-place Rorabaugh in 1:11:21.3. Two more APU skiers cracked the top 15 -- Rosie Frankowski (8th, 1:12:24.8) and Jessica Yeaton (15th, 1:13:28.8).

O'Harra, the leader of APU's junior contingent, placed second in the 10-K boys race in 31:15.1, well off the pace set by Northern Michigan's Ian Torchia (30:46.6). Max Donaldson of the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks was eighth in 31:32.9. In the junior girls 5-K, APU's Taryn Hunt-Smith was the top Alaskan in 15th place (16:45.7).

The championships conclude Saturday with the freestyle sprint and the naming of a couple of national teams that will head to Europe for international competition. At this rate, APU skiers will claim some of those spots.

"We've had such a good championships," Flora said. "It's fun because we're all staying together and it's been a really fun environment. The young athletes are watching really strong role models, and it's just really cool.

"This is the reason I got into coaching. We're building strength as a group. It's the whole spectrum of athletes, and they learn from each other."