Saturday, January 28, 2017

UNH Carnival Day 2: Utah Triumphs Again, Williams Men Keep Rolling, and UVM Women Surge Ahead

Saturday’s mass start races in Jackson, New Hampshire presented racers with challenging terrain and variable conditions. Both competitions saw many shake-ups over the course of the race. Ultimately Dartmouth’s Fabian Stocek and Utah’s Merete Myrseth surged ahead of the rest and scored victories in the White Mountains.

Lightly falling snow and gusting winds greeted athletes on the starting line. As the day progressed, sugary snow on the uphills and icy downhill turns presented skiers with numerous opportunities to use agility and strength to gain the upper hand on their competition. Despite these challenges, both the men’s 20-kilometer and the women’s 15-kilometer freestyle were ultimately decided in the final stages of the race.

In the men’s race, a lead pack was established early on with Williams skiers Eli Honeig and Jordan Fields in front. By the end of three laps out of four, Utah’s Martin Mikkelsen came through the stadium with a fifteen second gap back to a pack of skiers that included Stocek, Zane Fields of Colby College, and unaffiliated racer Jake Brown. A strong move by Brown on the final lap pulled Stocek and Fields back to Mikkelsen with two kilometers to go. On the final descent into the stadium, as the three powered ahead of Mikkelsen, a fall took Brown out of the lead leaving Fields and Stocek to contend for the win. In the final kilometer of the race, Stocek powered ahead to earn his second EISA victory of the season in 49:48.3, just three tenths of a second ahead of Fields in second. Third place went to Mikkelsen, fourth place to Brown. The top five was rounded out by Utah’s Martin Bergstroem.

Stocek felt that in the first mass start of the season, being patient and tactical were important components of his eventual success. “I was focused on staying relaxed for most of the race and began looking for an opportunity to move up at the end of the third lap,” he said. That move came halfway through the forth lap. Spurred on by Fields’ presence, the two “sent it and ran it out to the finish” to put the EISA on top.

Fields likewise bided his time behind the leaders in the early stages of the race which he felt both saved energy and added the extra challenge of navigating around other racers. After catching Mikkelsen, Fields’ midrace cheers of “Let’s go East!” bolstered himself and Stocek to catch and surpass the western racer and turn the final minutes into a two-man race. Reflecting on the experience, Fields felt that the experience gained this weekend was valuable to post-season success. “On this course, moves were made mostly on the flats,” he said, “It’s great to know that we will race this exact same course in March.”

The men’s team competition was won again by the University of Utah with 118 points. William’s College continued their EISA dominance with 111 points to take second. Third place went to Dartmouth College with 100 points.

The women’s race saw early leaders emerge that included University of Vermont’s Alayna Sonnesyn and Dartmouth’s Lydia Blanchet. As the kilometers wore on, it was Utah’s Merete Myrseth who pushed her way to the front and took the win in 43:06.6. Sixteen seconds back, Sonesynn crossed the line to record her second EISA victory in as many races. Third place went to Blanchet, fourth place went to Guro Jordheim (Utah), and fifth place to Taryn Hunt-Smith (Dartmouth).

After leading the east in Friday’s race, Sonnesyn entered the race with an open mind. “I wasn’t sure how much other girls would push it or how I would be feeling after yesterday,” she said, “All of us up front worked together to push the lead forward.” Sonnesyn’s performances this weekend leaves her optimistic for her chances at NCAA’s and her understanding of how to race the course, “It’s awesome to ski these courses before the races. I’ve learned that it’s really important to work on skiing smooth and strong on the uphills.”

Both Blanchet and Hunt-Smith also felt that keeping an open mind and working with the pack was key to their performance. According to Blanchet, “Sticking with the teammates and skiing smooth and relaxed through competitors,” were important elements. For a team like Dartmouth with high hopes for team results come NCAA Championships in March, Hunt-Smith mentioned that the chance to toe the line midseason against a powerful team the western division was beneficial. “I think we showed ourselves today that we can compete with them now and again come NCAAs too.”

Utah narrowly won the women’s race with 124 points. Runner-up University of Vermont improved from Friday and finished as the best of the east with 119 points. Third place went to Dartmouth with 113 points.

EISA racing continues next week at the University of Vermont Carnival in Stowe, Vermont. Nordic races will be held at Trapp Family Lodge. On Friday, racers will compete in a skate sprint. Saturday’s races will be 10-kilmeter individual starts for both women and men.