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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Nordic Team Finds Midseason Groove

Author: Andrew Zimmermann

The Middlebury nordic ski team is skating on a fast ski these days as it along with the alpine team has finished a solid third place in the last two carnivals. While the team has found its niche behind the giants of the University of Vermont (UVM) and Dartmouth College and ahead of the University of New Hampshire, the improvement has been anything but stagnant.

In fact the women finished six racers in the top 21 places this past week at Darmouth in the 10-kilometer pursuit race. The progress is typical of the team as it has shown in the past to be a slow starter. Men's captain Tim Weston '03 said, "We are heading in the right direction. It is not so important to be 100 percent perfect in the early races but now everyone is starting to come around." Weston also stressed the importance of being ready for the Middlebury carnival less than two weeks from now, which is the final race before the all-important NCAA championships in Alaska.

At the beginning of the February break the nordic team traveled upstate to the UVM Carnival. The women's side was very steady each day without having any standout performances. In the five-kilometer classic race three racers were bunched in the top 16 while five of the women finished in the top 25 the next day in the 15-kilometer freestyle event.

Among those rising to the occasion were Kate Whitcomb '04, Hillary Patzer '02 and Berkley Leach '04 who were all able to earn valuable points by finishing the short five-kilometer race in 22 minutes or less. Patzer was very strong in the longer 15-kilometer freestyle race with a fourth-place followed by Kate Newick's 11th.

Weston led the way for the men as the team leader mustered a fourth in the 10-kilometer classic race, a format that he prefers. "I've always been better in the classic events but am really getting into the skate-style events." The captain has adopted his role ever since he was named the leader of the men's side and followed his strong showing at UVM with a fifth at the 10-kilometer pursuit race in Dartmouth. "I like to lead more by example," said Weston who along with Colin Rodgers '04 has done so all season.

In the 10-kilometer event Weston was backed by Shams Helminski '02 and in the longer distance race Rodgers held a solid eighth-place.

At Dartmouth the team continued its upward trend with the consistent trio of Patzer, Whitcomb and Newick who battled to a ninth, 11th and 13th respectively in the 10-kilometer classic event. In the same event for the men, the talented sophomore Rodgers finished third in a time of just over 28:04.4 followed by Weston in 12th place finishing just 50 seconds later.

As has been the tendency this year, coaches and race officials have been trying to spice up the collective interest of the competitors and fans with new formats for racing competition. At Dartmouth the event was a pursuit, which takes place over two days. The first day consists of a 10-kilometer race in which all competitors start at the same time and finish in a particular order. The following day the racers start in reverse order with a staggered start depending on the difference in how each racer finished the day before. The times are then combined and a winner is determined.

Patzer and Whitcomb, the steady forces on the women's team, finished fifth and sixth in the pursuit, both having better races on the second day to move up the order. Rodgers finished third again but this time doing so over the space of two days in the pursuit event. Weston who actually won the second day of competition with the fastest time had the fifth-best combined time, giving the men and women a respectable result in the pursuit discipline.

With many top 10 results in the past carnival the team heads to the Williams College Carnival next weekend. After that race Middlebury will play host for the final competition on the eastern circuit before heading to the NCAA Championships. As Weston said, the stretch run of the season brings the largest burden to perform and the team, of late, has been responding.