VIRGINIA — Three and a half seconds away from qualifying for state in his freshman year, VAAST alpine skier Jacob McCarthy set himself a goal to make it to state his sophomore season.
And that’s exactly what he did.
McCarthy became the first state qualifier for the Virginia Area Alpine Ski Team since 2014 with his 15th place finish at this year’s Section 7 meet.
McCarthy then followed that up with an impressive run at the state meet, where he moved up 13 spots from his start position to finish in 44th out of 88 skiers.
For his efforts this year, McCarthy has been named the All-Iron Range Boys’ Alpine Skier of the Year by the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
A skier almost his entire life, McCarthy has had his eyes set on state for quite some time, but when it comes to the fast-paced sport, sometimes more patience and experience can be the one thing that makes the difference.
“Not making it last year was a motivator for me,” McCarthy said. “But I was better prepared this year and I got the chance and I took it. The biggest difference was just more training and then on the day of sections I just had two good runs and I made it.”
The difference from last year to his year was very noticeable, according to McCarthy’s coach, Benji Neff.
“I think just being a little bit more of a seasoned skier allowed him to have a better gauge of what you have to risk and what you can’t risk when you get out there,” Neff said. “He’s getting better in a technical sense: bigger, faster and stronger. But his commitment to the sport and just being a year older and having that many more races under his belt was the big difference maker.”
With his eyes set on state for quite some time, McCarthy said skiing had been a family affair for essentially his entire life.
“My sister Britt got me into it when I was young,” the sophomore said. “She kind of started it up for the family. After that I kind of just took over after her.”
McCarthy’s sister originally joined the Giants Ridge Alpine Club and eventually helped the VAAST girls make it to state during her high school career.
“I’ve been skiing since I was young as two and racing from three or fours years old. It’s been my whole life.”
McCarthy recalled his father took him down the bunny hill at Giants Ridge on a harness, but from then on, McCarthy only wanted to go down the big hills.
Eventually, due to low numbers in the alpine club, McCarthy started running the gates with Virginia Area team before eventually joining the team himself in the 2017-2018 season.
At the state meet, McCarthy’s first run clocked in at 38.49, a time he was very pleased with.
“I got a good feeling of the hill on my first run. I felt pretty well prepared.”
And while his second run of 41.79 wasn’t what he had hoped for, McCarthy says, overall, he was very pleased with his performance.
“It was a good experience. I was happy to make it to state and it really felt like a huge accomplishment.”
With McCarthy being the first VAAST skier to make it to the state meet since 2014, Neff says McCarthy’s style of skiing could easily allow him to keep moving up.
“He’s a very solid skier,” Neff said. “Some people just have a natural ability for speed but Jake does a very good job of executing and being very intentional in the way he skis. I guess you could say he’s a very smart skier. He knows when to take risks and knows when to dial it back and everywhere in between. He’s very calculated.
“Similar to what allowed him to make it to state this year is going to allow him to keep moving up in the coming two years. Just by making it to state, he’s going to have some more confidence to push himself next year and maybe start trying some things that he might not have tried before. He knows he can start going for some of the more technical things in skiing and he’ll start to shave off time because of it.”
McCarthy agreed with his coach and says he noticed the difference between the two years himself.
“Every year I learn more and I figure out how to react to things and I learn how the courses work,” McCarthy said.
Another big key to his success, according to McCarthy, was the amount of work he put in during the dry land season.
“Dry land is very important because if you’re not strong enough for the course then you won’t be able to push as hard as you can and get a good time. Everyone will pass you up.”
McCarthy extended his dry land advice to future skiers looking to tackle the sport.
“It’s good to know about dry land. If you’re putting in the time before the season starts, you’re going to have a better time on the hill.”
Making it to state as just a sophomore, Neff said McCarthy’s success didn’t come as a surprise due to the amount of time and effort he puts into the sport.
“His dedication to it all is huge,” Neff said. “He skies as much as he can. He trains with us and he trains in Duluth at Spirit Mountain for the USSA (US Ski & Snowboard) team. He’s traveling to many races. That’s dedication to the sport.
“It’s a testament to his character too. Not every kid has that. There have been kids that come through with tons of natural ability but if they don’t dedicate themselves then they don’t find that success that Jacob has found.”
For his success so far, McCarthy gave thanks to his family and coaches (Benji Neff, Eli Little, James Eichholz, Lance Larsen and Scott Neff) for the encouragement and support they provided..
“I’d like to thank my mom and dad for all of their support and the countless hours that they had to stand outside and freeze to watch me go down the hill.
“Secondly, I’d thank my coaches for all of their training and help that they have given me. If not for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Including McCarthy, the following were named to the All-Iron Range Boys’ Alpine Ski Team: Chris Jacklen (VAAST), Blaine Walli (Hibbing), Noah Vinopal (Hibbing), Ryan Osborne (Hibbing).