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Doug Hoover, Stephanie Blackstone emerge as 2008 national champions

Twenty women and twenty-nine men from ten states competed in the 2008 USBA Summer Biathlon World Championship Trials and National Championships held July 18-20 at the Whitetail Preserve in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
After three days of competition, two Pennsylvanians emerged as the 2008 National Champions. Douglas Hoover of Williamsburg, a graduate of Tyrone Area High School, won his third consecutive men’s national title by winning both the Mass Start and Pursuit races and finishing fourth in the Sprint race. Stephanie Blackstone of Everett, won her first national title as she also posted the fastest times of the Mass Start and Pursuit races. These two central Pennsylvanians lead a group of seven nominees to the USA World Championship Team.
Mass Start  (Friday, July 18)
In the women’s 5 km Mass Start race, Blackstone jumped out to a huge lead with a strong run and three prone penalties through the first two stages. Although she struggled with nine standing penalties in the final two stages, she continued to dominate on the running course and won the race by 3:30. This was the first time she had competed in the National Championship.
Leading the chase pack was junior Molly Susla of Freeport, Maine, who competed in last year’s World Championship. Susla’s thirteen penalties and a strong run put her nearly a minute in front of fellow junior Katie Sick of Millville, PA, in third.
The top master woman in the Mass Start was 2005 national champion Ann Sick of Millville, PA. She finished sixth overall.
In the men’s 6 km Mass Start, Hoover shot a consistent two penalties in all four shooting stages and ran solid to lead the men’s field. He moved to the front of the field after the second stage of standing and never relinquished the lead after that point.
“My shooting was not as good as it has been up to this point of the season. I’ve been shooting much better all year long. But, I think the conditions and the challenging course were really detrimental to everyone’s shooting.
“I was very pleased with my running. I’ve not done much speedwork in training yet this season because I want to be running my best in September, not now. Despite the lack of speedwork so far, I felt great on the run. I was able to push harder than I’ve pushed all season long. Both aspects of my biathlon racing really seem to be coming together.”
Master competitor and former national team member Danny Fink of Morgantown, West Virginia, was the closest competitor, finishing 44 seconds back after recording twelve penalties. In third place was another former national teal member, Patrick Bragassa of Rigby, Idaho.
Anthony Rizzo of Wapwallopen, PA, finished in fourth place overall and was the fastest junior.  With nineteen penalties, he had to run very strong to capture the junior title.
Sprint (Saturday, July 19)
The men’s 4 km sprint race was led by three master’s competitors as Bragassa and Fink took first and third, respectively.  Bragassa recorded five penalties while Fink recorded four. Those two finished within ten seconds of each other. Sandwiched between them in second place was five-time national champion Keith Woodward of Stowe, Vermont. With just two penalties, Woodward nearly captured yet another race victory as he finished just four seconds behind Bragassa and six seconds in front of Fink.
Finishing fourth and winning the senior division was Hoover, who recorded four shooting penalties.
Pursuit (Sunday, July 20)
In the women’s 5 km Pursuit race, Molly Susla recorded the second fastest time of the day and extended her lead over the field to win the third major race of her young career. Starting with a 1:07 on the field, she recorded twelve penalties and extended her lead over second place to 2:38.
Meanwhile, Blackstone moved all the way from fifteenth place at the start to third place at the finish. Since she did not race in the Sprint race the previous day, she started last on Sunday and made up 1:44 on the leader as she recorded the fastest time of the day.
In the men’s 6 km Pursuit race, Hoover produced a relatively solid 70% shooting performance to move from fourth at the start to capture his second overall title of the weekend, recording the fastest time of the day and winning his third senior division title.
Patrick Bragassa recorded the second fastest time of the day and held onto second place overall at the finish. He recorded eleven penalties and ran consistently to capture his second masters division title of the competition.
Danny Fink held onto his third place starting position while Keith Woodward dropped from second at the start the fourth at the finish.
Anthony Rizzo recorded the third fastest time of the day to move up from ninth at the start to fifth at the finish and capture his second junior title of the weekend.
“My shooting was not as good as it has been up to this point of the season,” said Hoover. “I’ve been shooting much better all year long. But, I think the conditions and the challenging course were really detrimental to everyone’s shooting.
“I was very pleased with my running. I’ve not done much speedwork in training yet this season because I want to be running my best in September, not now. Despite the lack of speedwork so far, I felt great on the run. I was able to push harder than I’ve pushed all season long. Both aspects of my biathlon racing really seem to be coming together.”
Final Rankings
The final rankings for the 2008 Summer Biathlon National Championships and World Championship Trials are based on each competitor’s best two race performances.
Based on these results, two women (Blackstone and Susla) and five men Hoover, Bragassa, Fink, Woodward and Rizzo) were nominated to represent the United States at the 2008 IBU Summer Biathlon World Championship in France this September: