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McNeill solid heading into North Americans

Sports briefs: Riddle second at worlds; Humphries and Rahneva finish in IBSF top three

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It has been, quite literally, a perfect season for Olivia McNeill.

The local freeride skier has brought home five gold medals in five events, including the Whistler Junior Freeride Challenge last weekend.

McNeill once again topped the field as she prepares for the IFSA North American Junior Championships at Kirkwood, Calif. from April 5 to 9.

As she looks to snag the North American title for the third time, McNeill acknowledges the Kirkwood set-up may provide her some challenges.

"I've never skied in California," she noted.

However, after looking at video of the mountain from prior competitions, the 15-year-old got pumped for the new snow she'll have the chance to tackle in just a couple of weeks.

As she looks to secure another title a level higher, McNeill said her major focus this season has been to avoid leaving points on the course and bringing a regret or two down with her. She hopes each run showcases all she's capable of, but she just looks to become more fearless with each passing competition.

"Approach-wise, I'm not changing all that much. I have to find a way to be less nervous before I drop in," she said.

Other local skiers performing well in Whistler were Arabella Repard-Denniston and Alexa Dodds, who were top two in the female 12 to 14 division, respectively, while Jacob Jewett and Wei Tien Ho were first and third on the male side. In McNeill's division, Mary Power placed third, while Alex Brooks took seconds on the male side. Complete results are available on the Whistler Freeride Club's Facebook page.

Riddle second at worlds

After a bit of a challenging year on the World Cup circuit, Squamish's Mike Riddle came through in the clutch.

The halfpipe ski veteran pulled off a second-place finish at the FIS World Ski Championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, scoring 89.60 to place 2.2 points back of American Aaron Blunck while edging out France's Kevin Rolland.

Riddle, the 2011 gold medallist, has battled injuries this season, but started to put things together as the season progressed, peaking at the right time in Spain.

"It feels amazing to be here," Riddle said in a release. "I'm coming back from injury and I was just trying to put down my run as well as I could. As soon as I found out I was going to be on the podium, I was happy because this is what I came here to do. I'm unbelievably happy with silver."

Fellow Canadians Noah Bowman, Brendan Mackay and Whistler's Simon d'Artois also hit the top 10, placing sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively.

On the women's side, Squamish's Roz Groenewoud was the top Canadian, placing seventh while Keltie Hansen was 14th and Megan Warrener 22nd. Coming off a win in Tignes, France, Whistler resident Cassie Sharpe went big but did not qualify for finals.

In the slopestyle contest, Teal Harle ended up placing 13th after winning his first World Cup at Silvaplana, Switzerland earlier this month. Alex Bellemare was the top Canadian in seventh.

Meanwhile, in the ski-cross race on March 18, Crystal Globe winner Marielle Thompson wrapped her season with a fifth-place showing. She was nipped by Germany's Heidi Zacher in the semifinal, but bounced back to emerge in the small final.

"My season couldn't have been much better," Thompson told the Alpine Canada website. "I won my third Crystal Globe, which was awesome. I finished the small final today with some strong skiing but I was hoping to be in the big final. Fifth is a disappointing result but I'll have another chance at it in another two years. Right now I'm really looking forward to taking a break for awhile and I'll get back to skiing in April."

Alpine Canada also announced Thompson as the women's ski-cross racer of the year as it released its Canadian Ski Racing Awards winners on March 21. Thompson was the lone Whistlerite honoured. A complete list is available at www.alpinecanada.org.

Humphries, Rahneva finish in IBSF top three

Canadian athletes took results that boded well for next year's Winter Olympics in bobsleigh and skeleton action in PyeongChang, South Korea.

In March 17 action, Mirela Rahneva placed fifth in women's skeleton to secure her spot as third overall for the season. The rookie from Ottawa clinched the bronze with her performance on the track for the upcoming Olympics.

"I can't believe I ended up third overall. It's very exciting, but I also am looking for more next year," Rahneva said in a release. "I have a ton more work to get to where I'd like to be, but that's what summer is for."

Calgary's Elisabeth Vathje was sixth and North Vancouver's Jane Channell, a regular at the Whistler Sliding Centre, took 13th. Germany's Jacqueline Loelling earned the win, edging Russia's Elena Nikitina and the Netherlands' Kimberley Bos.

In the men's race, Calgary's Dave Greszczyszyn was the top Canadian in 12th, while fellow Calgarian Barrett Martineau took 19th and Saskatoon's Evan Neufeldt was 23rd. Latvians Martins and Tomass Dukurs were first and third, respectively, while South Korean Sungbin Yun was second on home ice.

In bobsleigh, Kaillie Humphries just missed out on her fourth Crystal Globe, settling for second after giving up a lead in the standings entering the race.

Humphries and Melissa Lotholz placed fifth in the race as American Jamie Greubel Poser and Aja Evans took the victory in both the race and the overall title competitions. Fellow Yanks Elana Meyers Taylor and Lolo Jones were second while Canadians Alyssia Rissling and Cynthia Appiah hit their first-ever podium in third. Rissling became the first Canadian women's pilot other than Humphries to medal on the World Cup stage.

"You always go to bed wishing you have a chance to medal, but whether it is realistic or not is a different story," Rissling, of Edmonton, said in a release. "Cynthia and I went into this race with high expectations of ourselves. We were pushing fast in training and considering it's the last race of the year, our bodies felt good. Over the next seven months I'm going make sure I do everything I can throughout the summer so I'm prepared when I get to this spot again in February."

WBFSC members shine at Stoneham

Four Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club members hit the top 10 to wrap the Canadian Open Tour slopestyle season in Stoneham, Que., on the weekend.

Josephine Howell put up a season-best result of fourth after scoring a 63.2, while Skye Clarke suffered an injury and could not compete.

On the boys' side, Chase Ujejski took a fourth-place finish while twin Anders, who has battled injury this season, took eighth. Both were coming off recent top-20 finishes on the NorAm Tour. Luke Smart, meanwhile, took a sixth-place finish.

Local soccer players star in Surrey

The Whistler U15 girls' soccer team captured their division at the 2017 Surrey Mayor's Cup earlier this month. The club was strong defensively, allowing just two goals and posting a pair of shutouts en route to a sparkling 4-0 record and defeating Chilliwack, Surrey and Comox. Individual game MVP awards went to Jaden d'Artois-McCurry, Annalise Aldrich, Zoe Lacroix and Alexa Hunter.

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