Monday, February 24, 2014

UVM Women Complete Sweep at Regionals; Caldwell Wins Again

RIPTON, VT. — EISA racing flew into the postseason for the Middlebury Carnival and EISA Regional Championships this weekend, and while UVM and Dartmouth traded race wins in Nordic competition, the Catamount women achieved a level of dominance they had been dreaming of all year: the sweep of a race podium. Yet despite their team's dominance on Saturday, none of the individuals topping the medal stands this weekend were named Gruber or Danvind-Malm.

Middlebury's Benjamin Lustgarten completely dominated the field on his home course Friday morning. (Ian Nesbitt/EISA)
Friday morning's 10k classic race saw periods of cold, driving rain and gale-force winds that made unprotected parts of the course feel more like uphills than flats. Teams had a difficult time finding klister that worked, and many skiers opted for zero skis over wax, as they tended to run slightly faster.

None of that seemed to bother Ben Lustgarten of Middlebury, however. Lustgarten put a massive fifty seconds into Scott Patterson by the end of ten kilometers and, incredibly, appeared rather comfortable doing so. His lap time consistency was impressive as well, skiing 25-up the first lap and 50-up at the finish. Unfortunately, Lustgarten was not available for comment due to a Saturday injury, but his show of strength on Friday has huge National Championship implications, provided that he is healthy in March.

Patterson, to his credit, skied just as consistently and was similarly far ahead of the rest of the field. He and his teammates Jack Hegman, Rogan Brown, and Jorgen Grav occupied the 2, 3, 4, and 6 spots, giving UVM a formidable chokehold on the top-10 and a sizeable win in the team points competition. Patterson, Grav, and Brown are the Catamounts' top three scorers on the qualifying list for the NCAA championships, hosted by the University of Utah.

UNH turned in a solid team performance, slotting second on the day. Eirik Fosnaes led the way in fifth and in doing so, recorded his third top-5 of the season. Per Lindgren was 11th and freshman Gavin Hess was the third scorer for the Wildcats in 21st. Both Fosnaes and Lindgren have qualified to compete in Utah next month. Johnny Springer currently sits in the first alternate position.

Dartmouth was third on the day, with Patrick Caldwell, David Sinclair, and Silas Talbot finishing 7th, 9th, and 10th respectively. The Big Green has five skiers inside qualifying range, including Talbot, Caldwell, Sinclair, Fabian Stocek, and Cam Woodworth. Coaches Cami Thompson and Ruff Patterson often use discretionary picks in order to send their senior skiers to compete.

Will Wicherski of Williams College was 8th on Friday, completing the top-10.

Dartmouth's Annie Hart took a narrow victory over Linda Danvind-Malm in the 5k classic. (Ian Nesbitt/EISA)
The morning's rain cleared slightly, but the women faced much the same conditions as the men on Friday afternoon. Annie Hart of Dartmouth skied to a six-second victory over Linda Danvind-Malm of UVM, ending Anja Gruber's classic race winning streak. Hart has skied consistently in classic races all season, never finishing worse than fourth, but was still searching for the elusive victory going into Friday. "It's a great confidence-booster going into NCAAs," she said of her performance. "I've been second a lot this it's encouraging to know that on any given day I'm in contention for wins." Hart was joined on the podium by Corey Stock in third—her first podium of the year. Isabel Caldwell finished off Dartmouth's scoring, in 9th, to beat UVM by a mere two points. Hart, Stock, Emily Hannah, Carly Wynn, and Isabel Caldwell are all inside NCAA qualification range.

UVM scored Linda Danvind-Malm, Anja Gruber, and Maggie Williams, in 2nd, 4th, and 6th respectively, a performance that would get them a win most days. Gruber, Danvind-Malm, and Stephanie Kirk are UVM's top three qualifiers for NCAAs.

Bates College put up impressive numbers on blazing fast skis on Friday, with three women in the top 20. Tara Humphries skied to the first top-10 result of her career in 8th, Sadie James was 14th (a season-best) and Grace Wright was 20th (another season-best). The Bobcats will send Hallie Grossman to NCAAs for the second year in a row.

Amy Bianco of Colby was 5th on Friday, and Katrin Larusson was 10th.

Patrick Caldwell of Dartmouth celebrates at the finish of the 20k freestyle mass-start. (Ian Nesbitt/EISA)
Patrick Caldwell is hitting excellent form at just about the right time this season. Caldwell matched Scott Patterson stride-for-stride for about 19 kilometers on Saturday, then won a spectacular drag race with Patterson down the final 300 meters of Rikert Nordic Center's race course. With two individual wins in the last three races, Caldwell is poised as one of the East's top competitors heading to Soldier Hollow. His win on Saturday gave his team the lift it needed to overpower a strong UVM team performance by just four points. "Scott and I sort of went back and forth as the race went on, and I just felt stronger at the end," Caldwell remarked after his race. "Really pumped for the Championships." Caldwell was followed by David Sinclair in third, his second skate podium of the year, and senior Cam Woodworth in seventh. Also finishing well were Silas Talbot in 8th, Fabian Stocek tied for 9th, and Erik Fagerstrom in 11th.

Led by Patterson in 2nd, UVM took 3 of the top 6 spots, but wasn't able to get the team win. Patterson was followed by Rogan Brown in 4th and Jorgen Grav in 6th. Jack Hegman tied for 9th as well.

The Williams men were third on the day, led by Will Wicherski (5th) who skied to his second top-5 of the year. Eli Hoenig was 12th, and his brother Isaac was 19th to score points for the Ephs. Will Wicherski and Eli Hoenig will represent Williams at NCAAs.

Scott Patterson (Leader bib), Patrick Caldwell (3), and Ben Lustgarten (11) lead the pack on the second half of their first lap. Lustgarten was injured in a fall on the third lap. (Ian Nesbitt/EISA)
Ben Lustgarten, Middlebury's standout men's skier, was injured in a crash during Saturday's competition. Lustgarten has qualified for the NCAA Championship. Hopefully he will be able to compete at Soldier Hollow, but at the moment his health is in question.

Linda Danvind-Malm (2) and Stephanie Kirk (7) on their way to third and first on Saturday. Not pictured is Anja Gruber, who finished second. (Ian Nesbitt/EISA)
The women's race, discussed above, featured several interesting results. While UVM took the top three spots, Dartmouth took the next five, and just two non-UVM or Dartmouth skiers had top-10s. Stephanie Kirk outsprinted her teammates for the first win of her career and shortly after, the elated trio embraced in the finish chute. Kirk said that the team had been trying to achieve this result all season without success. "When we realized we were 1-2-3, we let out little screams...we were all just so pumped. And it didn't matter at that point where we finished," she said after the race. "At the finish, I couldn't even stop fast enough to turn around and hug them." It's been rare this year to encounter such team dominance, but UVM put up a performance reminiscent of the strongest UVM and Dartmouth teams of years past, and made a serious statement about their focus on winning a national title in Utah.

Dartmouth finished a distant second, but made a statement of their own with five skiers in the top-10. The Big Green placed Annie Hart (4th), Corey Stock (5th), Carly Wynn (6th), Emily Hannah (7th), and Isabel Caldwell (8th) all within two minutes of each other.

UNH just barely eked out Colby for third, with Elizabeth Izzo skiing to 11th, Annika Taylor 12th, and Katrin Larusson 20th. Larusson and Taylor will represent the Wildcats at Soldier Hollow in two weeks.

Rounding out the top-10 were Hannah Cole of Williams in 9th and Amy Bianco of Colby in 10th.

The NCAA Skiing Championships will run March 5-8 (Nordic races will be held at 10am and 12pm on both the 6th and 8th) and will feature the same venues used in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. The events will be broadcast live via the web on the NCAA's official Championships website.