Friday, January 20, 2017

EISA Nordic Kicks Off: Watts and Stocek Lead the Field on Day 1 of St. Lawrence Carnival

The 2017 EISA Nordic season began Friday with a 1.5-kilometer classic sprint at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg cross-country ski trails in Lake Placid, NY on day one of the Saint Lawrence Carnival.
A relatively flat sprint course featuring a gradual climb out of the stadium followed by a gradual descent back in led to tight qualification times and competitive heats. Going into the qualifier, a relatively easy course profile and fast snow conditions led many to consider double poling on skate skis rather than opting for kick wax and traditional classic skis. New this season too is the FIS imposed pole height rule which requires skiers to use poles 83% or less in comparison to their height in an attempt to deter double poling which often benefits from additional pole length. Despite this new rule, double poling on skate skis was common as much of the women’s field and almost the entirety of the men. 
Qualification proved to be competitive as both the men’s and women’s top-30 qualifiers were separated by less than 15 seconds. It was Silje Wilson of UNH who led the women’s qualification in 3:34.9 on classic skis. Behind her both double pole only and classic skiing proved successful for other qualifiers. For the men, the University of Laval’s Alexis Morin led qualification in 2:58.2. 
After a brief break competition resumed with five quarterfinals, two semifinals, and one final heat of six skiers for each gender. In the quarter finals, top qualifiers appeared dominant as the likes of Wilson and UVM’s Mattie Watts won their heats easily for the women and Morin and Colby College’s Andrew Egger did the same for the men. 
One of the biggest surprises of the day came in the semifinals when Wilson took a fall around the final corner to drop from first to last, giving her an early end to the day in the women’s first semifinal. On the men’s side, most top qualifiers advanced to the final, however, Dartmouth’s Luke Brown who qualified 4th narrowly lost out on a lucky loser spot. 
In the women’s final, it was Mattie Watts who opened up a lead on the field and tasted victory in the first race of the season. She was followed by Stratton Mountain School’s Katherine Ogden in second and Olivia Amber of Colby College in third. Alayna Sonnesyn (UMV) was 4th, Emily Hyde (Dartmouth) was 5th, and Laurel Jortberg (Dartmouth) was 6th in the final. 
On a day where many of the women faced the difficult decision in deciding if they should commit to skate skis, Watts felt confident in her decision. “I felt that double pole was a great choice each round,” she said. Rather than choice in technique, it was her mindset, Watts felt that made the difference and propelled her to success. “Right before (the final) I was just like, OK we’re going to hammer, it’s going to be a great day. Friday’s win leaves her optimistic for achieving more goals as the season progresses
Also on the podium, Amber noted that she also felt confident that she would find success on skate skis. “I felt really confident. The race seemed like it was won or lost in the flat backstretch after the downhill. Everyone who was striding seemed to be getting caught by people who were double poling.” While Watts and Ogden pulled away early, Amber was left to battle for the last podium position with the rest of the field. “The rest of us came together after the downhill and it was an all-out double pole sprint on the home stretch,” she noted. Amber felt excited about her result noting that while sprinting isn’t generally her strong suit, her strength in classic skiing showed on the course. 
In the men’s final, Fabian Stocek of Dartmouth College powered ahead of his competitors to win the competition.  Behind him finished Morin in 2nd and Peter Holmes (UNH) in 3rd to complete the podium. Other racers included UVM’s Henry and Bill Harmeyer in 4th and 5th respectively and Andrew Egger (Colby College).
Stocek was excited to lead both Dartmouth and the EISA on the first day of competition and was pleasantly surprised by the win after qualifying in 7th. Learning in his quarterfinals that leading from the start would be difficult, Stocek decided to wait until the finish to make his move in the final. “I got caught up in my quarter and I realized that leading was not the best idea,” he said, “I realized that where the race gets decided is in the final horseshoe turn.” In the final, Stocek felt that his strategy played out perfectly and that the decisive moment came when he was able to slingshot past Morin around the final turn. 
Holmes was also happy with his placement and thanked “the weather, the snow, and the great attitudes” for his success. Like Stocek, Holmes used the final turn to make a move past the competition and secure his third-place spot. Although a little disappointed from his qualification, Holmes noted that he kept a positive attitude which he felt was critical to his final success. 
Racing in Lake Placid continues tomorrow morning with intervals-start distance skate races. The distances will be 5/10k for men and women respectively.