Winter Sports Preview

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Skiing

A year after hosting the NCAA Championships at the Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center and placing 10th as a team, the Middlebury men’s and women’s nordic and alpine ski teams hope to repeat that level of success next March in Utah.

A big part of achieving that goal will rest on the skis of nordic co-captain Ben Lustgarten ’14. Last year at the NCAAs, Lustgarten placed in the top 10 of both the 10K classical race and the 20K freestyle.

Three other NCAA nordic competitors return this season in the form of co-captain Austin Cobb ‘14, co-captain Heather Mooney ’15 and Kelsey Phinney ’16.

Middlebury will also return two more All-Americans, as alpine captain Hig Roberts ’14 and Mary Sackbauer ’15 are back to compete.

Though bringing back a successful group of skiers, the nordic side will undergo a change at the helm this year, as Middlebury alum Andrew Johnson ’99 takes over for Andrew Gardner as head coach. Johnson was a three-time All-American at Middlebury, a two-time Olympian and has previous coaching experience at Utah and the University of Vermont (UVM), where he was an assistant to the 2012 national championship team.

“As a team we were excited for new energy and a fresh perspective,” Cobb said. “Andrew has brought a more simple method for training that focuses on the fundamentals and doing the basic things right.”

For the alpine team, head coach Stever Bartlett returns for his eighth season, coming off of back-to-back NCAA championships for the men’s slalom team. Barlett has been assisted this season by Bobby Poehling ’10 who trains the US Men’s Ski Team and who has adjusted the alpine team’s training program.

The nordic squad ships off to Foret Montmorency north of Quebec City over Thanksgiving break for training camp, while the alpine team heads to Vail, CO for their preseason preparation.

Men’s Hockey

The men’s hockey team laces up for the 2013-2014 season with a good chance to improve on last year’s up-and-down results.  The team is captained this year by Louis Belisle ’14 and Rob Donahoe ’14.  Five more players, John Barr ’14, Tom Freyre ’14, Mike Longo ’14 and Ben Wiggans ’14 and goalie Nick Bondurant ’14 also look to make their final season a special one.

Last season looked promising at points for Middlebury, but team sees room for more consistency.

“Last year we got off to a really hot start, but coming back in December we hit a big skid,” said Freyre ’14. “We recovered a bit before NESCACs but never quite all the way.  We had some guys get hurt who we definitely want to keep healthy this year.”

After starting the season 5-1-1, the team dropped seven of the next nine games.  The Panthers recovered some momentum but finished 13-11-2 with the season-ending loss to Bowdoin in the NESCAC semifinal game.

Freyre got visibly excited talking about new players who would make an impact right away this year.
“Mike Najjar ’17 has incredible hands and really good vision,” Freyre said. “He is going to be very fun to play with. And Cameron Romoff ‘17 too, he skates extremely well.”

The Panthers will definitely miss the influence of departed seniors Mathieu Castonguay ’13 and Chris Steele ’13, but the team will look to replicate the services they did for the team.

“Those guys were a big part of our team, so I don’t want to diminish what they did for us, but I think we have people who are going to step up to fill those gaps,” Freyre said.

The Panthers expect big crowds when they break the ice at Kenyon arena against Bowdoin on Saturday, Nov. 16th.

Women’s Basketball

After a much improved 2012-2013 season, which saw the Middlebury women’s basketball team reach the NESCAC quarterfinals and finish with an overall record of 14-12, the Panthers look to build on a solid foundation and keep progressing forward.

The Panthers will especially miss the influence of Tracy Borsinger ’13, the top scorer and the only Middlebury member of the All-NESCAC squad. Head coach Noreen Pecsok will look for all members of her team, including four first-year players, to step up and contribute to scoring.

“We have a group of four first-year players that we are very excited about,” Pecsok said. “Barring injuries I expect them all to make an impact on this year’s team.”

The Panthers are led by a solid senior class made up of Laura Lowry ’14, Sarah Marcus ’14, Katie Pett ’14, Scarlett Kirk ’14, and Kristina Conroy ’14. Lowry and Kirk especially bring an attacking threat, with Marcus returning stronger from a season where she was frustrated by injury. Pett will look to continue her tireless work on defense after leading the team in rebounds and steals.

Tightening up the defense will continue to be a major focus, especially in the second half of games, where the Panthers conceded a total of 150 more points than in the first half in 2012-2013.

Pescok is hoping her team will bring a level of intensity that never drops whether its in practice or NESCAC play.

“My goals and our goals as a group are focused on the team operating on the highest level possible in all areas from work ethic to competing to how we challenge and support each other,” Pescok said.

Indoor Track and Field

This year’s indoor track team will combine an impressive field of returners and an exciting crew of newcomers to pursue success despite the challenges that field house construction has caused.

On the men’s side, key returners include Kevin Chu ’14, Bryan Holtzman ’14, Peter Hetzler ’14, Jason McCallum ’14, and distance veterans Sam Craft ’14, Wilder Schaaf ’14.5, Nate Sans ’14, and Kevin Wood ’15.

On the women’s side, key returners include Laura Strom ’14, Alex Morris ’16, Jackie Kearney ’16, and distance runners Alison Maxwell ’15 and Sarah Guth ’15.

The old guard will welcome the talents of an impressive class of first-years, which includes athletes like Alex Nichols ’17 for the men and NESCAC Cross Country champion Erzsebet Nagy  ’17 for the women.

The ongoing construction of the bubble has relegated the team to running laps around Nelson Arena as well as pushing their ability to run outside in the cold weather conditions to the limit, but distance coach Nicole Wilkerson is not too worried about the lack of an indoor track this season.

“The training will be a bit different this year since we do not have a track but I am looking forward to the challenge,” Wilkerson added.

This seems to be the attitude of the team as a whole, one of positivity that they can get the job done regardless.

“Both men’s and women’s teams are well rounded…with terrific senior leadership and a wonderful balance of talent in all classes,” head coach Martin Beatty said.

Men’s Basketball

The men’s basketball team opens the season as the 18th-ranked team in the country, marking the fourth consecutive year the Panthers have tipped off a season nationally ranked in the d3hoops.com preseason poll.

Led by head coach Jeff Brown, who is entering his 17th season at the helm, Middlebury returns just two starters from its 2012 team that went 25-4 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Graduated are Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-NESCAC guard, Nolan Thompson ’13, Middlebury’s career assist leader, Jake Wolfin ’13 and the team’s top scorer last season, Peter Lynch ’13, who is playing professionally in Ireland. The 2013 graduates represented the winningest class in program history, accumulating 104 wins over four seasons.

The cupboard is far from bare, however, as preseason All-American and captain Joey Kizel ’14 returns for his senior season with a talented supporting cast and a promising first-year class. Other key returners include center Jack Roberts ’14, who started all 29 games a year ago, swingman James Jensen ’14, and three-point threat, Hunter Merryman ’15 who averaged 8.3 points per game in 2013, while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. Notably, Dylan Sinnickson ’15, who missed the entire 2012-13 season with a broken arm, will provide instant energy, athleticism and, the team hopes, shot creation in his return.

Sophomores Henry Pendergast ’16 and Matt Daley ’16 will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact this year after spending their first-year seasons in developing roles. First-years Jake Brown ’17 and Matt St. Amour ’17 may also contribute.

“We have guys that are capable [of winning],” Kizel said. “It just takes meshing, finding the right units and gelling together. We may not look great to start and it’s difficult with the tough schedule right away but it will only improve us and [help] us towards our ultimate goal.”

The Panthers open their season Friday, Nov. 15 in the Franklin & Marshall tournament against 22nd-ranked Alvernia. Middlebury has won each of its past six season openers.

Swimming and Diving

Middlebury swimmers and divers have finally hit the water this season and are seeking to build on their success from last season. The men and women finished fifth and fourth, respectively, at the NESCAC Championship last spring.

The men are led by captains Nick Keenan ’14 and Mike Oster ’14. The team also returns its top swimmer, Ian Mackay ’14, who set a Middlebury and NESCAC record with a time of 20.34 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle last season. The men welcome nine first-years to their team. The diving team is led by Skylar Dallmeyer-Drennen ’14, who finished eighth at NESCACs last year.

“Our biggest strength this year is going to be our depth,” said Oster. “Ian will be the one to watch, but also look out for sophomore Stephan Koenigsberger ’16 to build off a great freshman year and make a run in the breaststroke events. We would be able to put together some great relays and surprise a lot of people at NESCACs.”

The women’s captains this year are Alex Edel ’14, Jenna Meyer ’14, and  Andie Tibbetts ’14. Also returning is Jamie Hillas ’15, who captured the NESCAC title in the 50-yard breaststroke last year. She holds the school records in all individual breaststroke events. Tibbetts, meanwhile, is the school record-holder for the backstroke.

The diving team is highlighted by Colleen Harper ’14, who finished fourth in the one-meter event last year.

Head coach Bob Rueppel enters his third year as head coach, while Lisa Gibbs, now in her 17th year with the school, will coach the diving team.

Both teams will open their season at home Saturday Nov. 16 in a tri-meet against Tufts and Connecticut College. It is the first of their two meets before winter break.

Squash

With a new facility and talented first-years both the Middlebury men’s and women’s squash teams come into this season with their usual high expectations. As both teams are playing Division I competition, the upcoming season poses to be fraught with challenges from quality opposition.

The men’s team appears primed to have a successful season, with a full lineup’s worth of players returning. While the loss of last year’s number one and three players is significant, such returnees as Will Moore ’14, Andrew Jung ’16 and Robert Galluccio ’15 are skilled players who should fill in bigger roles with success. Also adding to the mix is a talented first-year recruiting class, with players such as Andrew Cadienhead ’17 and Ben Krant ’17, both very capable players who should be able to contribute early on. A NESCAC Championship and improved showing at the NCAA’s are well within reach for the team this year.

“We believe that we can compete at a higher level this year with a talented class of freshman in addition to a healthy returning core of players,” said Rob Galluccio ’15.

A strong contingent of the women’s squash team returns as well, the extra year of experience likely improving on last year’s already impressive season. Graduation was minimal, with the top seven players in the lineup returning, including First Team All-NESCAC selection Charlotte Dewey ’15 in addition to Second Team All-NESCAC players Abigail Jenkins ’14 and Anne Wymard ’15. With a recruiting class of only two players, much of the contributions are expected to come from the returnees. Captained by Jenkins and Amanda Chen ’14, the team could find success not only at the NESCAC level, but on the national stage as well.

Women’s Hockey

The powerhouse program that is Middlebury women’s ice hockey looks to come out of the gate gunning this season, with high hopes already set in place. After a trip to the NCAA Championship game last season, which ended in a tough loss to Elmira College, the Panthers are eager to prove they still belong firmly in the elite of Division III women’s hockey. The team is young, with eight first-years and only four seniors, but they are hungry to show their youth isn’t reflective of their skill.

Coach Bill Mandigo hopes that the senior leadership will quickly rub off onto the less experienced freshman.

“We are a young team and my hope is the older players will help to teach the younger ones,” he said. “We should have a great deal of depth, but it will be a work in progress.”

Sarah Ugalde ’14 and Madeline Joyce ’14, both forwards, are back to lead the team as captains, while goalie Laura Pinsent ’14 will look to hold down the back of the defense. Jennifer Krakower ’14, who is the only remaining fourth-year defenseman on the roster, will lead the young defensive corps.

Mandigo will take the reins for the 26th year in a row this season as head coach. Mandigo remains a tour de force in the women’s hockey realm, with more wins than any other coach in any division – 471 to be exact. A newcomer to the coaching staff, Lauren Greer ’13, joins the team after graduating Middlebury last year. She is well adjusted to Panther hockey, as she was a team captain just last year.

The team has its sights set on a pair of away contests at Colby this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15 and 16, to open up its NESCAC season. The Panthers outscored the Mules 14-3 in three wins last year.

This preview was compiled by the SPORTS EDITORS and STAFF WRITERS.