Wren Acorn went into the Canadian Junior Short Track Championships ranked 10th and came out higher than when she went in.
And she very nearly made a bit of history in the process.
Acorn was part of the 32-skater field on the ladies side in Calgary this past weekend and ended up seventh overall with a cumulative point total of 8,607, easily beating her score from last year and beating her ranking by three places.
“I really didn’t know what to expect going in,” said Acorn. “I had the thought of ‘Will I finish lower than my ranking?’, but the first day was definitely a boost for my confidence for the rest of the weekend.”
That first day on Nov. 29 saw Acorn race in the 1,500-metre event, her bread and butter distance, and she came within an eyelash of hitting the podium. She would finish fourth by a mere two-tenths of a second behind Megan Boudrias of Quebec, narrowly missing the bronze medal which would have been the first for a NWT junior female skater at a national competition.
“The three skaters that finished ahead of me are all part of the national junior program so that’s not bad company to be a part of,” said Acorn. “I managed to close the gap with a lap to go but I couldn’t catch Megan.”
The pair even locked eyes as Acorn came barreling in for that third spot, she added.
“I just stayed focused on the task at hand,” she said. “I had made a pass on two skaters to get into the fourth position and all I was focused on was getting distance between them.”
The fourth-place finish was an unexpected one for Acorn and she said it all happened thanks to a basket of improvement she’s made this season.
“Moving to Calgary certainly helped with that,” she said. “I went from three ice times per week to nine and I’ve seen drastic changes in the last four to five months. My speed is up, my tactics are improved and my awareness is greater.”
She also said working on her mindset was a factor.
“I always believed in psyching myself out before a big race but I’ve come to realize that I’m at my best when I’m totally calm,” she said. “No nerves, stay calm, remain focused – that’s where I’m at my prime mentally and then it’s going out and doing the best that I can.”
The following day was the 500-metre, the event Acorn admits isn’t her strongest, where she finished third in the E final to earn 833 points.
She said she managed to be as fast as most of the other girls she raced against but just wasn’t able to advance.
“I was hitting 45 (seconds) each time and the speed is there but there’s a method to the madness in the 500-metre,” she said. “I always thought the 1,000 and 1,500-metre races were the tactical ones.”
One thing Acorn said she worked on prior to the meet was her starts, which was something she said has always been an issue.
“I reworked my starts and it’s great to have coaches who can identify what I need to work on,” she said. “I’ve been diligent in watching some video and staying on the ice an extra 10 minutes or so to work on the starts.”
The final day of action saw Acorn race in the 1,000-metre, where she ended up third in the B final to earn 2,654 points.
The weekend saw plenty of people from Yellowknife and the North send messages of support and Acorn said she appreciated every single word of it.
“I had messages of congratulations from so many people and I can’t thank everyone enough for their support,” she said. “It’s amazing to know that I come from an awesome place where people are always paying attention and supporting what I’m doing.”
Acorn is now in Montreal getting ready for the Canadian Short Track International Invitational, which is non-ranked but is a chance for her to show what she can do against some of the best short-track speedskaters from around the world. The Americans will be sending their development team to compete while the Netherlands will be sending some of their best.
She said she’s using Montreal as a chance to try out some new things.
“I’m looking at it as a way to work on passing, strategy and other things at a high-performance level,” she said. “It does make a difference when the skaters are at a high level because they’re able to counter what I can do and I can try to counter their counter.”
The meet gets underway on Friday morning.