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Spring Flight: Heather Mooney Reports on Craftsbury

Back in West Yellowstone, racing excitement through the roof and the upcoming season sitting ahead of us full and promising, it never crossed my mind to even consider the last bib at the end of it all. But here it was Sunday morning, staring right at me, tantalizing me into going out and destroying myself one more time. But within all that, there’s something about the finality of a last bib that makes that last race really exhilarating.

This weekend, Kaitlin and I headed over to Craftsbury to try to stuff ourselves full of racing for one last time. As a mini tour format, with three races over the weekend, culminating in a pursuit start classic 10/15k for the overall title on Sunday, it was a low key opportunity to bash our heads to the snow one more time. What made this weekend especially nice, and what I looked forward to the most going into it, was that for what felt like the first time this year, it would be an opportunity to race without any overhanging expectations or pressures. We were there for the love of racing and it was one more time to try to feel that fire. This time, I got to race solely for the sake of racing, for that mid-race deal-making, and to me that’s the best feeling there is in skiing.

Some highlights from the races:
#1 The coolest part of it all: for the prologue, we got to start on top of “Mt Craftsbury” (their big snowmaking pile), so out of the gate got to drop into a sharp downhill- SO FUN!
#2 We both got to race sprint heats on Saturday, a privilege we don’t often get in the college season, so that was also great.
#3 Lots of college kids were there- between Bates, UVM, Dartmouth and UNH it felt almost like a mini carnival!
#4 It is actually mid winter in Craftsbury, everyone, so in case your flights to Fllorida for spring break got delayed, you should probably change your plans to go to Craftsbury again.
#5 Lusty came and raced the 30k Spring Fling on Sunday, and won. Nice way to go out…winning!
#6 After the races were done the sun came out and there was a barbeque and sugar on snow. That felt how last races in the spring are supposed to feel. Especially with the sugar on snow part. So happy to end it in the homeland of VT.

Thanks to Stratton and Kate Barton for taking care of our wax this weekend, to Craftsbury for putting on yet another fantastic set of races, and to everyone back at school who’s put up with our craziness in the last two weeks for wanting to keep racing!

That aside, I can now say that the season has officially ended for the Middlebury Ski Team. Here’s to a great year!!

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NCAAs Through The Lens of Team Member, Stella Holt:

2013 NCAA Championships from Stella Holt on Vimeo.

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The Big Show

It’s been the better part of a week and I’m still daunted by the task of writing up a blog summary for NCAAs. It isn’t just the finality of the races for me, my last as head coach at Middlebury, rather, its the cumulative effort of so many people and so much invested in the process of having these races that makes recapping them so large a challenge. Let me try: when we bid for NCAAs nearly four years ago, they seemed like such a far off happening, a gee-that-will-be-fun deal that we’d toss around in recruiting conversations and small talk with local folks. “Yep, we’re hosting the NCAAs in 2013.” It became a chorus that just fell out of our mouths, a collegiate skiing type of blessing. We knew the effort would be large and gratefully, Terry Aldrich came out of retirement to handle the lion’s share of the work, Mike was on top of every detail that came streaming at him, and the rest of the organizing committee (Stever, Patty, Peter Mackey, and the staff’s of Rikert and the Snowbowl) played a huge part in just the Nordic races. (I don’t deign to speak on the alpine events, though I understand they were similarly well received.)

No, putting together a recap of things like the Tormondsen trail’s national unveiling to a collection of strong skiers, the importance of snowmaking in having the events take place and the general love for skiing that the event drew out form folks is not easy. Likewise, just how lucky we were to have the weather we did for both races is nothing short of a miracle. Let me just say, I’m grateful to those that made this happen, selfishly, because it was a movie script scene at Rikert for the week of those races.

But more about the racers: Kelsey, Ben, Austin, Annie & Heather emerged from the rigors of a race season to qualify for the big show. Through the week leading up the event, they prepared well and didn’t lose focus, a feat when the races are happening on home turf with noisy dorms and unfocused classmates uncertain of the culture around nordic skiing. Again, support from friends, in this case the Marston family, helped keep folks directed. “It is so nice to be in a house,” Heather said while we prepped dinner one night. It was, indeed.

The classic race at NCAAs is, for a coach, the most stressful day of the collegiate year. March is not kind on kick wax conditions and this year was no exception. We tested beginning days before the event and ski choice was paramount. The men opened competition and the last moments between testing wax and waiting for the first splits to roll in were the longest of my year. I watched Austin (bib 2) climbing his first trip up the A-climb with a mixture of elation and relief. He was kicking well, skiing well and making time on the racer in front of him. Similarly, Ben lit out from his 30th starting spot with a fierceness he hadn’t boasted since early in the season. When skiers are going well, there’s an energy that a coach gets to live in, it’s intoxicating and both Austin’s 28th place and Ben’s 4th, a first-team all-American result and his strongest race of the year were a joy to see. The tension lifted slightly, as we prepped the women’s skis.

It wasn’t to be a perfect day. Only Kelsey had a race close to where she’d been racing through the last part of the season, and even then she admitted to feeling the (not unreasonable) nerves of a first year skiers at NCAAs. Heather was essentially taken out of the race early by an oncoming virus that would crush her week and Annie found and unfortunate tree to connect with during a left hand corner descent from the A-climb. Many races, we’ve left happy but not content. In this case, the men felt content and the women unhappy. Herein lies a principle challenge in a week like NCAAs. It would be easy to overlook a feat like Ben’s 4th place or the debuts of Austin and Kelsey given the expectations for Heather and Annie. The crew didn’t. Patty and I didn’t. We merely doubled down and readied for the skate mass start.

Repeat meetings, ski prep, grooming, nerves. Insert perfect spectating weather and increase the spectators. Ratchet up the importance. Focus in on the last few seconds before the women’s mass start began Saturday’s racing. Conditions were fast and fun skiing. Unfortunately, the hopes of high finishes were dashed for Heather before the race in the form of a fever. Kelsey and Annie lit out with 39 other great racers. Five minutes into Annie’s race, her hopes too were dashed. Another fall near her Thursday’s crash knocked her to a physical place unable to ski. She was hurt. “I cracked.” She explained later. Kelsey was left as our only unaffected racer. She finished in 33rd. As there are no bad skiers at NCAAs, it was a respectable showing from the first year racer. Watch out for Kelsey Phinney. She will become a helluva skier in the years to come. On the results page behind Kelsey and Heather. On a second page, there lives a bold printed did not finish with Annie’s name under it.

Short of winning the race, there are few outcomes that could be better for her. Not the team score or the hometown pride. Skiing is fickle and harder than it looks. Annie’s rise to strong results was meteoric and based on her ability to lock out the expectations and pressures of racing. When that ability faltered under the tremendous pressure of hometown racing, parent visits, coach hopes, friend spectators, and movie picture finales, so did her results. Short of those reading this blog post and, perhaps, Annie, few people will think about it again. Lesson learned. Game on.

Like the first day’s fantastic opening, the second day’s tragic start had to be shelved in favor of more racing. We were lucky to have Eileen Carey, a great coach and an old friend, helping Chase, Patty and me as we dialed in skis for the warming conditions. After a few last minute structure applications, the boys headed towards the start line. Cue silence, expectation and the excitement of racing.

The race was a generally reserved affair. Many of the western racers had started hard on Thursday’s race. (I heard a lot about how easy the course was in the days leading up to the first race- not so much in the hours after it.) I can’t help but think it cowed a few racers into not lighting out. Fast conditions and a strong pack of skiers kept the group bunched together. Austin hung on strong in the teens for a long, long time before the effort proved too much and he fell back to no-man’s land. He continued to push and reach for the finish. He closed out the day in 31st place. Ben hovered near the front for the better part of the day. If you don’t know the kid, then you don’t know the type of sweetness he’s capable of- I’ll remember him smiling and nodding during the race when I shouted, “Ben, you’re having a GREAT race!”

The eight person pack that came into the finish was impressively close. A late effort from Miles Havlick earned the Utah skier his second NCAA title. Ben and Sam Tarling, who attends some small college in New Hampshire tied for seventh. (A great way to watch these racers end the year.)

The rest of the weekend was thank-yous and barbecues (again, Thanks Gregg Marston). The sunny temps and great skiing were hard to beat. The final days of the season felt full and happy, which is how final days are supposed to feel.

 

I don’t think it will be twelve years before we host the NCAAs again, which is good because this was a week that fired a lot of folks up. Including me.

 

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EISA Championships/NCAA Regionals. Bates/Sunday River

Here is the Panther team heading to Maine for the EISA Championships/NCAA Regionals at Sunday River, hosted by Bates College.

Barclay

Brown

Daigle

Moe-Lange

Sackbauer

Shaw

Donaldson

McNealus

Mulhern

Niederhauser (first carnival!)

Roberts

Shpall

 

 

 

 

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Stella Holt Captures Midd Carnival:

Check out more photos HERE.

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More Colby photos:

 

Thanks to Flyingpoint Photography..s…

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Where We’ve Been. What We’ve Been Doing.

With the first carnival behind us, we’re overdue in giving and update so here it be:

All of us here in the states went over to Lake Placid for St. Lawrence Carnival over the weekend. We were greeted by cold temperatures and a grueling race on friday, an individual start 15/20k skate. Needless to say, we were all excited to get the carnival season underway, and happy about the results we put up.

Saturday brought a new format to the carnival circuit, a 3k skate prologue. The shorter race definitely brought a completely different feel, a totally new type of difficulty. The team embraced it, and skied strongly yet again. A big thanks to SLU and Mt. Van Hoevenberg for getting the trails into pristine conditions despite the early week scare!

Carnival results here.

Back home at Rikert, as we prepare for Colby Carnival this weekend, the snowmaking system is up and running! On our ski yesterday there were a few guns spewing snow all over first loop. These, as well as a blinding blizzard, definitely help to get a nice cover on the Rikert trails. The snowmaking is really exciting as it provides the promise of skiing no matter what ma nature brings from year to year.

Meanwhile, over in Liberec, Czech Republic, Annie and Heather are competing in U23 and World Junior Championships. They headed across the pond a couple of weekends ago and had a beautiful looking pre-camp in Ramasau, (Austria, I’m pretty sure). Then they headed to Liberec, where Heather has already posted a strong 19th place finish in the classic sprint! They each have two more races later this week, so see how they do against the best in the world here!

Until next time,

Austin

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US Nationals: Heather Mooney Reports

We just finished up the second race of the week and the news that’s most on my mind is that: Annie was fourth in the skate race! Two seconds off the podium. So that was pretty awesome!

The women got to go first, which meant it was really cold, but the course was really firm and the grooming was great. I went out first for our team and Annie started a few minutes behind me. I wasn’t sure how many minutes it was, but I knew it was a lot of time, so when she came across the line just as I was leaving the finish area, I knew she must have gone really fast! And then we saw the live timing, and she was in fourth. That was really, really exciting! Today only added to our good start in the sprint and it’s been pretty cool to see how people responded to the team doing well. Middlebury is turning some heads, so that’s fun!

On the women’s side, the rest of us all had solid races, I ended up 32nd, Kelsey 38th, Emily 45th and Stella 55th. The great thing about racing first is that we got to go watch the men’s race afterwards.

Their race was three laps on the same tough course, so we picked out the most miserable section and cheered them on. All of our men looked really good, so even though they might not have had results they were looking for, they skied really technically well! We had great skis too, which isn’t a surprise. Thanks to the coaches for that![gallery columns="2"]

Today is yet another bluebird day. Its pretty awesome how nice its been here all week! I’ve been told it’s always like that here, but I’m still amazed every morning when I wake up and there aren’t any clouds in the sky.

 

Thanks to Chris Holt and the Phinneys for keeping us well fed while we’ve been racing here.

 

We have a classic mass start tomorrow, so get ready for some more exciting racing! Go Midd!

 

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US Nationals: Annie Pokorny Reports

Greetings from the west, the land of little oxygen and many-a-sunburn!

When I used to play soccer, my coaches always preached the importance of starting a tournament off well. They would tell us how the first game sets the tone for the rest of the weekend, and therefore it should be considered the most important. In skiing the same could ring true, but in terms of attitude, not results. Well, either way, we’ve started this week off REAL well.
Because of its name, juniors, seniors, masters and coaches alike treat US Nationals like the end-all be-all of skiing. Luckily, we prefer to see it as a hard week in January, and thus walked into the sprints yesterday calm and excited, which appears to have worked. We landed four women in the senior heats and two men in the junior heats. Whether in the heats or not, with such a competitive field, everyone finished the day with a respectable result.
During the qualifiers, our main plan was to not freak out. The sprint course begins with a long gradual uphill followed by a little kicker, a long downhill and a deceptively long finish. Combined with cold air, slow snow and about 5500 feet of altitude, that course provides a recipe for lactic explosion after about a minute and a half from the start. Thus, and easy start was necessary. “I felt like I was skiing a five k” said a one Heather Mooney. She qualified 15th. Surprise. Calm works.
Kelsey, Stella and I also qualified into the senior heats (26th, 19th, and 13th) but didn’t make it through the heats. Jack and DMac qualified into the junior heats, but both were crashed upon by their competitors and didn’t make it through. As I write this, we are designing a training program for elbow throwing, ski crossing and trash talking–next time we’ll all make it through!One girl clearly versed in all these techniques made it to the B final, tying her best ever nationals finish at 8th place. It was so much fun to watch Heather race through the rounds, nothing energizes you like watching your teammate slay it. We are so proud!
We skied each race on stiff skis and hard wax. The tracks were perfect, the grooming was tight. The only thing that was missing was a few tubes of sun screen (actually, that’s more of a non-issue, pre spring break tanning? DMac and Eliot?) Yep, at this point, we couldn’t be in a better place. The skiing is phenomenal (despite being manmade, despite being slow), the competition is tough, and, best of all, the team is psyched. We’re looking forward to the rest of the week!
Hope everyone is enjoying the snow out East and elsewhere!
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The Eastern Cup in Photos: Craftsbury

We had a fantastic opening weekend thanks to the efforts of the Craftsbury Crew and their man-made loop of fabulous skiing. Congratulations to Heather Mooney, who notched the first podium of the year for Middlebury with a sharp effort in the (second) sprint qualifier of Friday. Thanks also to the Stitt family for the tasty lunch, to alums like the Ogdens, Hodges, Cam MacKugler, Kate Barton for joining our crew in kicking off the season. Many thanks to Stella Holt for her keen photo eye. We’re off to US Nationals (and Jackson, New Hampshire) following the holiday break. Best to everyone!

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