The 20-year-old member of the SUNY Morrisville woods sports team has proven himself as one of the best lumberjacks in the country after earning a ticket to the national STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® Series Championships, July 27-29 in Milwaukee, WI.
O’Connell will compete in the collegiate championship, which features eight elite collegiate athletes going head-to-head in four disciplines: standing block chop, single buck, stock saw and underhand chop.
Along with United States collegiate, other contests are men’s professional, featuring 20 of the top male professionals, and women’s professional, featuring the best eight female athletes.
O’Connell’s journey to the nationals was earned by his performance at the Northeast Collegiate Qualifier held at Dartmouth College in April, where he finished an impressive third, and took home a new, high-quality axe and a wild card berth to the championships.
The weeks leading up to the July competition will be spent practicing — namely perfecting his form and concentrating on his swing. “I plan to go through as much wood as possible and get myself as prepared as I can.”
Seth Carsten, head coach of Morrisville’s woods sports team, plans to help O’Connell train this summer. A former professional woodsman, Carsten will also accompany him on the championship trip, which is being funded by STIHL.
“Andrew is an outstanding athlete and a natural at competitive lumberjacking as we know it in our current environment,” said Carsten. “I am excited for the opportunity to travel with him to Wisconsin in July.”
Heavily favoring the standing block chop contest, O’Connell wants to improve his skills in single buck, a sawing event. “I just need to focus on doing well in all four events,” he said of his overall strategy.
“Nervous” isn’t a word that describes O’Connell’s mindset leading to competition. “Determined” is more fitting for the tall, lean and deceptively strong athlete. “I really want to win,” he said.
A victory would give him the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2019 Rookie World Championship.
Long before he came to SUNY Morrisville, O’Connell was wielding axes in his hometown of West Falls, a hamlet in the town of Aurora, in Erie County, cutting down trees and splitting fire wood for fun.
Precision and a power-packed swing come from years of playing baseball. “If you can hit a fast ball, you can hit a spot you are aiming for,” he said about chopping wood.
O’Connell came to Morrisville to study natural resources conservation, with plans to become an environmental conservation officer or a state trooper. His vision still on track, he would like to add champion to his lifetime feats.
About O’Connell and the SUNY Morrisville woods sports team:
- O’Connell’s favorite competition is standing/vertical block chop, which simulates the felling of a tree.
- He will take two or three axes with him, including his favorite, “Bella,” his best racing axe. O’Connell spent an entire summer saving up for the axe, which cost him more than $500.
- He graduated from SUNY Morrisville with an associate degree in natural resources conservation and is currently completing an internship at the Erie County Bureau of Forestry.
- O’Connell is the son of Sue O’Connell and Andrew O’Connell, both of East Aurora.
- During the two years he spent on the SUNY Morrisville woods sports team, O’Connell learned the most from his coach, Seth Carsten, a former professional woodsman who has a rare dedication to the sport and his team.
- SUNY Morrisville’s woods sports team started in 2015. O’Connell is the first team member to make it to the nationals.
The following are descriptions of the four categories in which O’Connell will compete, according to the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® website:
Single buck – The competitor makes one cut through 19 inches of white pine using a single man cross-cut saw. The competitor may have a helper wedge his cut into the log to prevent the saw teeth from sticking.
Standing block chop – Mimicking the felling of a tree, the competitor races to chop through 12 to 14 inches of vertical white pine.
Stock saw – The stock saw discipline is a true test of operator ability. The competitor uses an MS 660 STIHL Magnum® chainsaw and begins with both hands on the log and the chainsaw idling on the deck.
Underhand chop – The competitor stands with feet apart on a 12- to 14-inch white pine log. At the signal, he begins to chop through the log with his racing axe.