Gig Harbor athletes prepare for international adventure

Canoe and Kayak club sending five athletes to compete in Hungary in late July

Staff writerJune 4, 2014 

Various members of the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team have qualified for Junior Worlds and Olympic Hopes.

LEE GILES III/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The city of Gig Harbor will be well represented at the 2014 Junior Worlds Canoe and Kayak Championships this July in Sveged, Hungary.

Five of the six canoeists on the United States’ 2014 Sprint National Junior World Championship Team all hail from Gig Harbor.

Gig Harbor High School junior Erik North will be competing in the C1 (one-person canoe) classification, while Haydon Tieman and North will be teaming up in the C2 (two-person canoe). On the women’s side, 17-year-olds Makenzie Sousley and Savannah Jones will be paired in the C2.

Sousley and Jones took fourth in the world last year in the C2, and are gunning for a top-three international finish at this year’s competition, which will take place July 17-20.

“Last year, we dropped 15 seconds in our time,” Sousley said. “That’s a lot. So I think if we drop 10 more seconds this year, then it would definitely be realistic.”

Jones, who has only been paddling for three years, said she’s excited for the opportunity.

“If we work really hard, and get through some obstacles, then it’ll be right in our pocket,” Jones said. “I really want to bring home some flowers.”

Flowers, along with medals, are given to the top three qualifiers from each event.

Peninsula High School senior Alyson Morse and Harbor Christian’s Andrew Field swept all their events in last month’s U.S. trials competition in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, propelling them into Junior Worlds. Field will be racing C1, while Morse will be racing K1, the only Gig Harbor kayaker to qualify. Morse won the 200- and 500-meters events in OKC, and is already familiar with Hungary’s course, having competed there two years ago in the Olympic Hopes competition (16 and under).

“I’ll have experience racing that course, and I’ll just have to worry about myself in the K1s,” Morse said. “I hope that’ll help a little bit.”

An estimated 50,000 fans will attend the four-day event in Hungary, making for a frenzied crowd that most of the athletes are unfamiliar with. Morse said the crowd doesn’t intimidate her.

“I’m not too worried about that part. When I’m in my racing mode, I don’t really care about the crowd too much,” she said.

Morse said the only thing she worried about is her competition. Morse is aiming for an “A” final, which is the top-9 in the world, but she’d be pleased with qualifying for the B final.

Field, who will be competing in the C1 200-meters, as well as the 1,000, has never been to Hungary before. But he’s been to Berlin, and was in Canada last year for Junior Worlds, so he’s no stranger to the level of competition he’ll be facing. Field is shooting for an appearance in the A final in both events, and is excited about the prospect of facing international competition.

“Hungary is really big for canoeing and kayaking,” Field said. “I’m excited to see what they do over there and what makes them so fast.”

Traveling abroad is a unique opportunity for the high school athletes. They get to experience different cultures, languages, ways of living — and best of all, different food. Sousley, who has been to Berlin, Germany, was unimpressed with Germany’s culinary offerings.

“For breakfast, they ate like meat with Nutella on bread,” Sousley said. “That’s like all they eat. I heard the food is better, and the race course is amazing.”

North will be competing in the C2 with Haydon Tieman. The tandem is young and is hoping to use this year as a jumping off point to gain experience.

“It’s the next level of competition,” said North, 17. “I’ve put a lot of time in. I wrestled for three years, (and) I gave that up to put it all on the line this year to make Junior Worlds. So I’m just excited to get a nice level of competition. Hopefully with that experience, next year is really when we plan to hit it hard and make a statement.”

Immediately after the school year lets out, the Junior Worlds qualifiers will be taking off for New York to train at the Olympic Training Center and compete in the Lake Placid International Regatta in early July. Additionally, several of the younger team members qualified for the Olympic Hopes squad.

In addition to all the international competitions, the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team is shooting for its third U.S. Nationals win in a row. This year’s competition is in Georgia on July 28, just a week after the Junior Worlds competition in Hungary.

Jon Manley: 253-358-4151 jon.manley@gateline.com Twitter: @gateway_jon

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