Friday, February 24, 2017

New Champions Emerge at NCAA Regional Championship Classic Races

Friday’s races at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine challenged racers to navigate Black Mountain’s trails twice for the men’s 10-kilometer or once for the women’s 5-kilometer classic competition. Temperatures well above freezing coupled with the infamous High School Hill located 4-kilometers into the course challenged racers to hang tough and allowed new champions to emerge and upsets to occur in both the men’s and women’s competitions. Ultimately, it was Eli Honeig of Williams College and Sadie James of Bates College who took individual wins with the Williams men and Vermont women taking the team honors. Bates College reclaimed the Chummy Broomhall Cup.

The Williams men, who have been at or near the top of the EISA all season, showed top form and placed five racers in the top twelve including the top two finishers overall. Early on it was Williams’ Braden Becker who posted the top split ahead of teammate Honeig. As the race wore on, Honeig responded and went on to claim a nine second victory in 28:56. Becker finished second to claim his best ever EISA finish. Third place went to University of Maine Presque Isle’s Connor Hyynuk. Fourth and fifth place went to a pair of Dartmouth skiers in Fabian Stocek and Callan Deline.

While both Honeig and Becker rose to the occasion in Friday’s tough conditions, Honeig emphasized that even skiing close to the lead, it was hard to feel strong. “I didn’t know that I was doing well on the second lap, I was feeling very tired.” On successful tactics for the warm racing, Becker emphasized that, “taking the downhills aggressively and staying relayed on the climbs was key.” Both felt that aggressive skiing was critical to success and believed their strong early splits propelled them to eventual top placement. Both Honeig and Becker were excited with their team’s dominance and felt that it was a long time coming saying, “The whole team has been completely focused this past year, we decided then that we wanted to be the best team in the EISA.” With one goal arguably achieved, Honeig added another to the list, “Williams Men’s Nordic is going to win NCAAs.”

The other major story of the men’s race was the surprising third member of the men’s podium. Prior to Friday, Connor Hyynuk had yet to finish in the top-20 of an EISA race and his school had yet to finish in the top five. One race later and Hyynuk stormed to the podium, turning heads in the process and leading his team to third. “I knew it was going to be a hard day and the race would take a lot of guts, I just threw down and went for it.” In the end, Hyynuk’s gutsy effort paid off. He summed up his result simply, “This is absolutely the best ski race I’ve ever had.”

The men’s team competition was won by Williams College with 134 points. Second place went to Dartmouth with 111 points. Third place went to University of Maine Presque Isle with 91 points.

In the women’s race, University of Vermont’s Alayna Sonnesyn looked among the early starters and established a dominant lead ahead of the field. Soon after however, James was on course and blazing her was to a dominant first EISA victory in her home carnival. James crossed the line in 16:05, twenty-one seconds clear of the field. Second place went to Sonnesyn and third to her teammate Iris Pessey. Fourth place belonged to Olivia Amber of Colby College. Fifth place went to Bowdoin’s Hannah Miller.

For James, the win was made sweeter by where it took place. “This is my home course, and I love climbing, and I love High School Hill” she said, “It’s my last race, so it’s an amazing feeling to finish out my EISA racing here.” James has been slowly climbing up the results page throughout the season. To make it to the top she felt that it was important to keep it simple. “I just wanted to stay relaxed and have fun,” she said, “It’s also the Chummy Cup and that definitely added some fuel to our fire.” As part of the Chummy Cup winning team, James was thrilled, “It’s exciting to have it come back to our school.”

Sonnesyn and Pessey echoed the thoughts of others on what it took to succeed in a short distance race in warm conditions. “I knew it was going to be a hard day,” Sonnesyn said, “It felt like a slog and I want in preparing myself for that.” Pessey explained that rather than focusing on place. Technique was critical to her success. “I wasn’t expecting this, I was focusing on staying relaxed when my coach ran up next to me and told me where I could finish.” Both credited their success to staying tough in the races final minutes on the smaller climbs back toward the stadium. Going into the NCAA Championships, both Sonnesyn and Pessey have their eyes set on top team results. “It’s great to be racing at home. We feel prepared, we feel ready.”

The women’s team champion was the University of Vermont with 122 points. Second place went to Bates College with 94 points. Third place went to the University of New Hampshire with 91 points.

In addition to competing for NCAA regional honors, many skiers had another goal in mind on Friday. The day’s classic races served as the competition for the 2017 Chummy Broomhall Cup which is awarded to the top scoring Maine College when out-of-state finishers are removed. When asked about the importance of the cup, one coach kept it simple, “It’s a big deal.” It was Bates College that rose to the occasion and took the cup from defending champion Colby College with 248 points to Colby’s 222 points.