Friday, January 12, 2018

Alpine Skiing 2018 Season Preview

Dartmouth College's Foreste Peterson

Carnival season is upon us


Get your Deli’s order ready, and clear your schedule for a few drinks at The Bag: we’ve got some catching up to do.

One week from now, the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) alpine ski teams will trek to Carrabassett Valley, ME, to kick off their Carnival season. Colby College hosts the year’s first collegiate races at Sugarloaf: Saturday, January 20, is the Giant Slalom (GS) race, and Sunday features the Slalom (SL). 

The most striking feature of the 2018 season is the familiarity of the top competition. Specifically, the women’s field and the Dartmouth College squads.

Nearly the entire women’s field sent by EISA to the 2017 NCAA Championships are back for more: 14 of 16 competitors return, and competition is sure to be fierce.

The two GS leaders, Caroline Bartlett (MID) and Foreste Peterson (DAR), return. As do the two SL leaders, Paula Moltzan and Laurence St-Germain, both of UVM. Bartlett and Peterson traded wins in the GS every single weekend last year, and the two Catamounts similarly took turns atop the podium at five of the six Carnival slaloms. Moltzan was stellar in both events: she stood second on the GS podium a few times as well.

Will this year yield more of the same, or will someone new shoulder her way to the top of the podium? Or, will one of these skiers rise to yet another level and dominate consistently?

Behind these four leaders are a number of really excellent skiers: Dartmouth’s Alexa Dlouhy, Kelly Moore, and Steph Currie; Anna Willassen from Saint Mike’s; Freydis Einarsdottir from Plymouth State; and Lisa Wedsjoe and Genevieve Frigon from UNH…

When you add in a fresh class of first-years, there is nothing to conclude except that there will be some really high-quality racing this season.

Williams College's Hannah Hunsaker (second from R). With so many top EISA women returning, this year's NCAA championships will hopefully field more Eastern skiers atop the podium.

Perhaps no team is poised to dominate as much as Dartmouth. Their lineup is formidable — and quite familiar. They return their entire NCAA Championships alpine squad. Three women and three men. And they were the top Eastern team at last year’s Championships, finishing fourth.  

If the stars had aligned as precisely as the solar eclipse in 2017, Dartmouth might have won NCAAs last year. This season, the odds are undoubtedly better. (Their Nordic team, which also fielded a full squad at last season’s NCAAs, graduated only one contestant from the 2017 Championships.) 

After adjusting the EISA NCAA Championships qualifying list to account for athletes who graduated last spring, Dartmouth men hold the top three spots this year: Brian McLaughlin, Tanguy Nef, and Thomas Woolson. All three skiers earned All-America honors at last year’s Championships. McLaughlin stood in third atop the GS podium, while Woolson and Nef earned their certificates in SL (4th and 6th, respectively). As a whole, the men’s alpine squad graduated only two athletes last spring.

The women’s team fielded by Head Coach John Dwyer has similar depth. They are led by Peterson, fresh off a couple of World Cup starts. She took the GS title at last season’s EISA Championships, and went on to place third in the SL at the NCAA Championships. She is joined by Dlouhy and Moore, both of whom earned All-America awards at last year’s NCAA championships (Dlouhy: 6th SL. Moore: 12th GS; 11th SL.) Dwyer brought in four first-years to bulk up his team, but it will be tough to break into his stacked lineup: every racer he brought to last season’s EISA Regional Championship is back.

If Dartmouth succeeds at NCAAs this year, they would be the first Eastern team to bring home the crown since the University of Vermont in 2012, and it would be Dartmouth’s first national title since 2007.

But, nothing is sure in ski racing. 

Dartmouth will face weekly challenges from perennial powerhouse UVM. Though the Catamounts graduated two of their biggest contributors, Gabriel Coulet and William St-Germain, all three of their top women are back in 2018: Moltzan, last year’s NCAA SL Champion; Laurence St-Germain; and Madison Irwin. Between the two of them, Moltzan and St-Germain have seen the start gate of more than a few World Cup races already this season; they should be more than ready for some Carnival competition. 

Last year UVM won 10 of 24 contested alpine events during Carnival season — just behind Dartmouth’s 12 victories. They also fielded the second-best EISA alpine finish at NCAAs. So let’s not rule them out. 


But what about the rest of EISA? 

Broadly speaking, there is some hype around the Dartmouth / UVM match-up this season. And, the women’s racing will be excellent. But there are any number of EISA sub-plots to follow as we head into the race season. Below, we highlight a note or two about each EISA alpine team as we head into the season.

Middlebury College was the most consistent performer after Dartmouth and UVM last year, especially during the latter half of the season. Their roster took a big hit this spring when longtime frontrunner Rob Cone (2015 NCAA GS Champion) graduated. Any time a national champ leaves, it hurts — and Midd also bid farewell to Colin Hayes, another consistent top performer. The sting of these two losses, though, is eased a bit by incoming stud recruit Erik Arviddson. Arviddson will compete alongside Riley Plant and Devon Cardamone, both seniors with significant carnival (and NCAA Championship) experience. And on the women’s side, Caroline Bartlett and Jackie Atkins return for the Panthers. Like Plant and Cardamone, these two women bring significant carnival and NCAA experience to the race hill.

Saint Michael’s College continues to bring in talented skiers, and Head Coach Gus MacLeod develops them well: he was named EISA 2017 Coach of the Year last season. Most notably this time around, the Purple Knights have become a powerhouse of sibling skiing. MacLeod brought in two more Grimsrud siblings, Julianne and Tiril, to complement the existing duo of Torjus and Mathias. All four hail from Norway and will surely be in the mix this year. And let’s not forget the Grands, either. Guillaume and Meggane Grand return for the Purple Knights. Siblings from both clans competed at the NCAA Championships last year: Mathias Grimsrud (15th SL, DNF2 GS) and Guillaume Grand (16th GS, 10th SL).

St. Lawrence University has expanded their roster and brought in no fewer than eight (8!) first-year women to the team, as well as three men. Though Head Coach Willi Steinrotter graduated a number of solid skiers last year, it will be interesting to watch the trajectory of such a large class of young athletes. A few to watch out for: Lauren Turner and Tarrah Price from the women's squad, and Griffin Knorpp and Sam Matel for the men.

Williams College is at the other end of the spectrum. While the St. Lawrence’s lineup is full of new faces, the Ephs graduated not one athlete from last year’s squad. Though team leader Hannah Hunsaker (the top EISA finisher in the GS at last year’s NCAA Championships, in 6th) will sit out the season to recover from an ACL tear, the Purple Cow lineup looks solid. Bryan Bailey, Charles Harrison, and Marc Talbott lead the mens team, and first-years Maddie Dekko and Anna Bruce join junior Izi Torres, who returns to racing this year after missing last season due to an ACL tear as well.

The two Maine schools are the only EISA colleges to graduate female athletes from last year’s NCAA Championships. Colby College graduated Mardene Haskell (10th GS, 14th SL), and Bates College graduated Kelsey Chenoweth (20th GS; 20th SL). But, these two teams have significant young talent on their rosters. 

Colby’s notable recruits include Rosie Hust and Julia Chahine for the women’s team. First-years Colbey Derwin and Matt Wilson join the men’s squad, led by senior Max Richard. Though the team will surely miss the presence of graduated senior Michael Boardman (14th GS and 21st SL at last year’s NCAA Championships), Head Coach Danny Noyes did fine work recruiting to fill the gap.

Bates College Head Coach Micaela Holland has a lot to look forward to in her second year leading the Bobcats. Though NCAA Championships qualifier Kelsey Chenoweth graduated last spring, Holland’s women will be led this year by seniors Hannah Johnson and Sierra Ryder, both of whom have a shot at qualifying for NCAAs after being on the cusp in previous seasons. Michael Cooper (26th GS, 29th SL at last year’s Championships) is back for his junior year, and sophomores Taggert Mueller and Ryan Clermont are hot on his tail.

UNH is well-positioned this year for top performances. Like UVM, the Wildcats return all three of their female NCAA qualifiers (Lisa Wedsjoe, Genevieve Frigon, and Emma Woodhouse). Their sole male representative at NCAAs last year, Chris Steinke, is also back. If UNH sees breakthrough performances from new recruits or returning athletes, it could make for an exciting challenge at the top of the standings.

Colby-Sawyer College lost a solid group of skiers last spring, but Head Coach Jake Fisher is gearing his team for a fresh start. Though the absence of Frederik Maurstad (21st GS, 26th SL at the 2017 NCAA Championships) will likely impact CSC’s standings in the results, the Chargers have a group of sophomore skiers poised to make moves this year after dipping their toes in the EISA water last season: Keep an eye on Katy Harris and Courtney Couture, as well as Cody Wilson.

Much of our attention falls naturally on the athletes, but there are significant changes to a couple of coaching staffs this year: Andrew Gannon, the longtime coach of Plymouth State University (PSU), left for Waterville Valley Academy after seven years at PSU. During his time at Plymouth, he transitioned the Panthers from the USCSA league to the EISA and won coach of the year in 2016. Gannon leaves his program in familiar hands: Geoff Ouellette, the PSU Assistant Coach last season, has taken over the program. The Panthers will be led this season by returning NCAA Championships contenders Freydis Einarsdottir (19th GS, 15th SL) and Karl Kuus (30th GS, 11th SL).

Harvard College underwent a similar coaching transition this summer. Head Coach Tim Mitchell stepped down after 11 years coaching the Crimson, and his assistant, Scott MacPherson — who spent the past two years at Mitchell’s side — will lead the Harvard College squad into a new era. MacPherson has significant experience coaching at the collegiate level (he coached previously at Tufts and Boston College). A couple of athletes to watch: Kelly Steeves and Nellie Ide.

And, last but not least, the other Boston-based EISA member: Boston College. Head Coach Ben Deflavio is in his third year leading the Eagles, and one of the athletes with him for the entire journey is senior Carter Robinson. Robinson’s best finishes during the past few years have been just outside the top-10, and if he can raise his skiing to the next level, this Eagle could have a high-flying year.  

If you made it all the way to here, congratulations. Next week’s report about the first Carnival races will not be nearly as long — but it will certainly be more exciting!