Three Lake Superior Freestyle Athletes Podium at USASA Nationals

Olivia Jones won girls 17-18 snowboard slopestyle, Noble Knutson won boys 11-14 snowboard rail jam, and Doca Pepelnjak took third in 11-12 ski slopestyle.

DULUTH, Minn. – “Get top 10 and have fun,” 13-year old freestyle skier Doca Pepelnjak said.

Those were the expectations the handful of Lake Superior Freestyle athletes had going into USASA Nationals. And you could say those expectations were met, with three podium finishes which included winning two titles.

“I get right out of the course, and my friend comes up to me with her mom on the phone and goes Olivia, you won! And I was like what, you’re kidding, you’re lying. You’re joking, you’re funny and she goes no you really won my mom just called. I was in complete shock,” 17-year old freestyle snowboarder Olivia Jones said, who won the girls 17-18 snowboard slopestyle event.

“It felt pretty good, there was a lot of hype. I thought I might podium after I competed but I didn’t think I was going to win,” 14-year old snowboarder Noble Knutson said, who won the boys 11-14 snowboard rail jam event.

“I was really happy, I just was kind of in shock for a while,” added Pepelnjak, who took home third in the boys 11-12 ski slopestyle event.

The wins were a big deal for these athletes, competing for the first time at Copper Mountain in Colorado, which is much different than their home at Spirt Mountain.

“It was pretty cool. It didn’t even feel that real because I always watched videos of people riding in there and then I just got there and it was super cool,” Pepelnjak said.

“I thought it was pretty cool that more people podiumed then I expected and normally people from Duluth or Minneapolis podium at nationals because we don’t have the same kind of jumps that mountain kids do,” Knutson added.

“We’re used to our little tiny park and we think have big jumps here but it’s not even close to the size of the jumps out there and these kids have to go out and hit these massive jumps for the first time ever with two hours of practice,” team director with Lake Superior Freestyle Jon Schmidt said.

But for these three and all of the Lake Superior Freestyle athletes that went, the best part was sharing those moments with each other.

“It just feels like a family to me. I see a bunch of teams out there and I just feel like we’re all super close,” Pepelnjak said.

“I actually struggled a lot in middle school and high school trying to find that sport. When I came out here, everyone was so inviting. All of my teammates started coming and crowding me and toppling me over and I think that’s when it really hit me. I was the happiest I’ve ever been,” Jones said.

“We’ve worked so hard for that and it’s so amazing to see them finally get that big, huge achievement that they’ve worked so hard for, four days a week and all of the time and effort that went into it. We have is really, really tight knit and family oriented and really, really close group. Seeing them go up on that podium, and they do their picture and everything, but when they come down from that podium and seeing that whole entire team swarming around that kid and give them a huge hug and they’re crying and their family is crying and I’m crying and everyone’s so excited. That was my favorite thing,” Schmidt said.

Now, Lake Superior Freestyle says they’re already looking forward to bringing home a few more medals next season.

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