There are always learning lessons to be had when facing top competition from across the country, especially when that involves competing in a higher age category.

Jack Panayi competes during the 2018 Haywood NorAm World Juniors in Canmore Alta. photo courtesy of Shawne Kokelji

That was the mindset for four NWT skiers competing at the Haywood NorAm World Juniors in Canmore Alta. last weekend. The race was split into a number of age categories, but as an official qualifying event for the World Junior Championships, the meet boasted some of the top under 23 amateur cross-country ski athletes from across Canada.

“One of the major criteria was if they were one of the top racers of the weekend then they could represent Canada on a large scale,” said Kevin Durkee, the team’s assistant coach. “We took the four athletes that went with us as more of a learning and training (experience) for them and they did really well.”

Of the four athletes, three of them, Jack Panayi, Jack Kotaska and Ella Kokelj were using the race as a tune-up before they compete in the Canada Winter Games next February. The fourth racer, Makoa Kokelj, 13, was competing for the learning experience.

“It was a little bit of a tough weekend too in the sense that both of the Jack’s were fighting through sickness,” said Durkee. “Three of the athletes sort of raced up, in at least one race. So, what I mean by racing up is they were racing against people older than them, so it was definitely more of an experience building race .”

Durkee said the weekend overall was a positive experience for the NWT contingent and the numbers would agree with him. The top results from weekend saw two of the Northern skiers, Jack Kostaka and Ella Kokelj take a top five finish in races boasting 14 athletes, while Makoa Kokelji finished a very respectable eighth out of 36.

“They all excelled really well in terms of they put forth really, really good efforts,” said Durkee. “The process is really important and it was kind of a process building race.”

For the three athletes heading to the Canada Games next year, that process will continue when they head to the Western Championships in the new year. Durkee said it is important for them to continue to race down south in top tournaments such as the NorAms in order to get a feel for different tracks and to compete against top competition, which they will see at the games.

“I think it was a great trip too just for team building and for Canada Winter Games coming along the line I think it was really good for some of these guys to see who they will be racing against in a couple months,” said Durkee.

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