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Missoula MT played host to an old-west style shoot-out this weekend as the US Freestyle Kayak Team trials were held at Brennan’s Wave on the Clark Fork River. It wasn’t exactly high-noon at the OK corral and absent were the Hatfield-McCoy like bitter rivalries, but the “Young Guns” certainly came out with both barrels blazing. When the dust settled and the final points were tallied both the mean’s and women’s teams were announced. The 21 men, women, and juniors are set to represent the United States at the International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championships in Platting, Germany next summer.

The future looks especially bright for the US team. The trials were dominated by a couple of 16 year old guys, Dane Jackson and Jason Craig, along with 14 year old Jr. women’s competitor Lauren Bess. These “Young Guns” should represent the US very well in Germany next summer and for years to come.

Dane Jackson, 16, not only qualified but outright topped the winner’s stand in three classes, OC-1, C1 and Junior Men. In fact, Jackson’s rides in the junior men’s events were among the top-scoring rides of the entire competition. A flurry of McNasty’s and Space Godzilla’s in both directions, a barrage of loops, lunar orbits and more scored 1250. Jackson said that coming into the event he had hoped to make all three teams but surprised even himself by being the first place finisher in all three classes. Jackson also won top honors in all three classes in the USA Freestyle Kayak Point Series translating into three national crowns.

Jason Craig, the reigning Junior Men’s Champion, put himself in a unique position when he competed in the Senior Men’s semifinal on Saturday because the event also served as the final event of the national point series. Craig’s 1265-point ride stunned the crowd and propelled him to a second place finish in both the event and the Senior Men’s point series. Though he earned a spot on the Men’s team Craig rescinded that spot because as reigning Jr. Men’s World Champion he already has an automatic entry into the World Championships and he is looking forward to defending that title.

In an ironic twist, the seat Jason Craig gave up allowed Bryan Kirk to claim the final spot on the Sr. Men’s team. Kirk is the man who finished ahead of Craig in the national point series to become the 2010 point series National Champion.

Dominating the junior women’s division was 14-year-old Lauren Burress whose top scores in both rounds of competition were more than double that of the second-place finisher. Burress’s prelim round ride of 440 would have qualified her for the senior women’s finals.

In the OC-1 finals the top three finishers making the US Team include:
Dane Jackson, 85; Jeremy Laucks, 75; and Eli Helbert, 60. Normally, just the top two finishers would make the team, however, since defending OC-1 World Champ Jeremy Laucks gets a bye, third-place finisher Helbert also earns a slot on the team.

Despite a cool, overcast day in Missoula, the men’s final round rides were scorching hot, as scores ratcheted progressively higher climaxing with Stephen Wright’s first-place 1380-point ride. Wright said he was inspired to throw down the sick ride by Dustin Urban who immediately preceded Wright in today’s start order. Wright said though Urban had started slow in his third-round ride “he just kept rapid-firing tricks all the way through the buzzer” to tally 1250 points which landed him in third place at this event.

Wright predicted it will be scores like those seen here today, if not higher, that will determine the next champion at the International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championships in Platting Germany next June. Wright noted that at home in Reno, NV he and others have been practicing three- and four-move combos and while none were thrown this week, he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see them next season in even higher-scoring rides.

Also on the team again is four-time world champ Eric Jackson who commented that the depth of field on this year’s team in all the divisions was really impressive. Jackson noted the US team is among the hardest of any national team to earn a spot.

Day 3 Finals Results

MENS C1 (US Team members in italic)
1. Dane Jackson – 700 (Point series National Champ)
2. Jordan Poffenberger – 620
3. Seth Chappelle – 590
4. Eric Jackson – 220
5. Brad McMillan – 200

JR Women (US Team members in italic)
1. Lauren Burress – 240 (Point series National Champ)
2. Hannah Kertesz – 125
3. Emery Tillman – 40
4. Brooke Hess-Homeier – 15
5. Taylor Cote – 0

JR Men (US Team members in italic + Jason Craig, world champ)
1. Dane Jackson – 1240 (Point series National Champ)
2. Will Rudisill – 405 (too old for Jr team in 2011)
3. Nico Tonozzi – 380
4. Eric Bartl – 290
5. Jordan Poffenberger – 220
6. JP Griffith – 150

SR Women (US Team members in italic)
1. Emily Jackson – 470
2. Jessie Stone – 310
3. Erin Clancey – 260
4. Haley Mills – 215 (Point series National Champ)
5. Kat Levett – 205

SR Men (US Team members in italic)
1. Stephen Wright – 1380
2. Jason Craig – 1265 (on JR team for worlds)
3. Dustin Urban – 1250
4. Eric Jackson – 1030
5. Clay Wright – 780
6. Bryan Kirk (not competing today – Point series National Champ)