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Erin Bianco finishes fifth at U.S. Nationals

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by Tom Coombe

Two former Ely Timberwolves made their mark at a national skiing competition last weekend in northern Michigan.

Erin Bianco placed fifth in the Freestyle Sprints to lead the way at the 2023 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, a week-long event that wrapped up Jan. 7 at Houghton.

A former NCAA national qualifier for Colby College, Bianco skied for Team Birkie at the Michigan event, which attracted top college, professional and junior skiers from across the nation.

Another Ely graduate, Jasper Johnston, also took part in the event. He skis collegiately for Michigan Tech.

Both participated in a series of sprint and distance events, with Bianco coming home with a top-five finish in the Freestyle Sprints.

She advanced through earlier heats and was one of six athletes to qualify for the finals.

There, she was fifth with a time of 2:47.45 in a race dominated by Hailey Swirbul of APU Nordic.

Bianco also placed 14th out of 182 skiers in the 10-kilometer Freestyle Intervals held Jan. 2. She finished in 29:27.8.

Four days later, Bianco took 21st out of 60 skiers in a 20-kilometer classic race. Her time was 1:03:51.8.

Johnston took part in both the Freestyle Sprints and Classic Sprints in the Junior Division at Houghton.

In the Freestyle, he moved on to the semifinals after placing third in a quarterfinal heat.

Johnston was eliminated after placing fifth (2:34.07) in a semifinal event.

In the Classic Sprints, Johnston placed third in one of five quarterfinal heats with a time of 3:10.09.

Johnston’s best outing in a longer race came in the Jan. 2 Freestyle Intervals.

The Michigan Tech sophomore wound up 83rd, in a whopping 254-competitor field, with a time of 28:01.

Last winter, Bianco finished her senior year at Colby, located in Maine,  and had top-20 finishes in two races at the NCAA Championships.

Bianco graduated from Ely in 2017, when she won the state, single-class individual championship in Nordic skiing. That finish helped the Wolves win the state team title that year as well.

She was a six-time state meet qualifier and earned All-State status her freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.

Johnston, meanwhile, is in his second season at Michigan Tech after a prolific high school career that included four consecutive All-State performances.

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