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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Ski Team On Fast Track to NCAA Success

Author: Andrew Zimmermann

Approximately two-thirds of the way through the season the alpine ski team is skiing well and is poised for the final stretch of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) season and the NCAA National Championships. In the four carnivals completed this season some standouts have emerged yet the team's supporting cast is deep and has allowed them to compete with the larger schools as was evident over February break when Middlebury skied at the Dartmouth College and University of Vermont (UVM) carnivals.

In both competitions the team finished third yet progress was made. Middlebury has continually edged closer to the likes of UVM and Dartmouth which are perennial leaders in the EISA. At Dartmouth, the leader board was whitewashed with Middlebury racers crashing the top 10. When the snow cleared two racers found themselves as the second-ranked skiers in EISA in their strong discipline. Jessica Smith '04 is currently the second-ranked women's slalom skier in the league. John Rusten '05 holds the same spot in the men's giant slalom (GS) ranking. Numerous other Middlebury skiers rank among the league's elite when it comes to accumulated Carnival points

Yet this team is like the close-knit Patriots of recent Super Bowl fame — no one person guarantees its success. The strong squad continues with names like Tyler Conrad '02, Eric Rygg '03, James Cochran '05 and Fred Coriell '02. For the women, names like Laura Scripture '04, Lea Davison '05, Sarah Brophy '02 and Brie Pike-Sprenger '04 have all been high on the leader board. These racers are supported further by the rest of the team who, along with Coach Mark Smith, push them in practice and races everyday.

At UVM the team finished a solid third-place with a well-rounded performance by the women and UVM-like domination by the men in the GS. Rusten took the race at Stowe nipping his closest competitor by one-hundredth of a second. Rygg and Cochran finished fourth and fifth respectively to strengthen the Middlebury cause.

Between the gates of the GS, Smith and Scripture made some noise finishing sixth and seventh with a consistent Davison right behind in a tie for ninth. Smith, who has said her better event is the GS is starting to show signs of coming around after limited training in the event. In the slalom she and Davison teamed up skiing beyond their years to fifth and sixth-place finishes.

The Dartmouth Carnival followed and is typically a different challenge than most other Carnivals due to the nature of the skiing surface at Dartmouth Skiway. The race favors a skier who can ride a flat ski well in the flat sections and with that in mind the Panthers were up for a difficult competition. Rygg who skied well in GS at Dartmouth a year ago carried that experience with him to a third in the GS and a 19th in the slalom. Conrad, one of the few veterens, continued his strong midseason push by garnering a sixth in the GS and a 14th in the tight gates of the slalom.

The women showed a propensity to carry speed in the flats as well, as Smith and Scripture took a third and 10th in the demanding GS. Smith then won the slalom by nearly one second, a margin that in skiing racing is actually quite large. Davison and Pike-Sprenger snuck into the top 15 to make the day a success for the Panthers as the team headed home with a respectable result in hand.

As momentum builds for the very important Middlebury Carnival two weekends from now, the team heads to western Massachusetts for the Williams College Carnival next. In about one month the season will end and Middlebury will have the chance to assess its place among the nation's best. Until then, the team will continue to push itself each day at practice and stay moving in the right direction.