The Panther ski teams successfully fortified their place on the podium by finishing third overall at the home carnival this past weekend. Nordic standout and U.S. National Team member Annie Pokorny ’15 earned her second win this season in the women’s 5K classic. Sophomore Mary Sackbauer ’15 once again proved herself to be instrumental to the alpine team as she came in second overall after finishing just 0.4 seconds behind the first place finisher in the women’s giant slalom.
The alpine races were held at the Snow Bowl while the nordic events took place at the Rikert Nordic Center. Since both of the venues will host the NCAA Ski Championships in a few weeks’ time, a lot of teams in the conference saw the Middlebury Carnival as an important trial run and a prelude to Nationals.
The changing and unpredictable weather played a role in the competition, particularly in the cross-country contests.
“Both days, I made a last minute ski choice based on the weather. On Friday, we were waffling between klister and zero (waxless) skis; luckily, I chose the right one on my way to the start,” Pokorny explained. “On Saturday, even though it was colder and snowing, the man-made snow called for a warmer, softer ski. Even though Heather Mooney ’15 and I raced on our colder skis, the wax and atmosphere was so good, we managed just fine!”
At the Snow Bowl downhill skiers enjoyed much better conditions.
“We have a lot more snow on the alpine hill than the nordic hill,” said Sackbauer. “The Snow Bowl crew worked really hard to make enough snow, so we could have perfect conditions for our race. The few warm days before the race actually helped our snow because it added moisture into it during the day and then it froze at night, which makes a rock hard surface just the way we like it.”
On day one of the 90th Middlebury College Winter Carnival, the Panthers came out in front with Pokorny’s victory in the women’s 5K classic. The outstanding skier dominated the course, finishing 20 seconds ahead of her opponent. Pokorny believed that a last-minute decision in changing her skis and her familiarity with the racing course were some of the most crucial factors to her success.
“I was lucky to have changed my skis on my way to the start pen. Being last on the start list allowed me the time to test skis as the weather changed. (This) definitely helped sway things in my favor,” said Pokorny. “Although it was my first time racing on our course, I had skied it enough to know that the last hill is the most difficult, and even though I was four seconds down on the second hill, my having trained on course so much gave me the confidence to really put the hammer down in the last two kilometers.”
Her teammates, Mooney, finished at 17th, and captain Hilary Rich ’13 followed, placing 25th. In the men’s 10K classic, Ben Lustgarten ’14 spearheaded the men’s nordic team with yet another solid performance. As one of the skiers in the leading pack throughout the two laps, he snatched a fifth place finish. Dylan McGarthwaite ’15 and Austin Cobb ’14 came in 15th and 24th place, respectively.
As for the alpine squad, Sackbauer paced the team at eighth place in the women’s slalom alongside classmates Katelyn Barclay ’15, who finished ninth, and Kerry Daigle ’15, who rounded off at 17th place.
“The girls have stepped up and I believe it is the result of the dedication of the [girls] team to fundamentals and being accountable for making positive change in technique,” said head coach Stever Bartlett in regards to the women’s recent upsurge in confidence. “They had the environment and training opportunity to learn and improve, and they demanded that of themselves. It is a good feeling to see them work hard at some very specific goals and have success in achieving them.”
The men had encouraging results as well. The one-two punch of anchors Andrew McNealus ’13 and Hig Roberts ’14 resulted in a promising third-fourth finish in the men’s slalom.
On day two in the women’s 15K freestyle race, Pokorny picked up a good eighth place finish. Mooney and Issy Pelletier ’16 completed the course one after another in the 19th and 20th positions. In the men’s 20K freestyle, Lustgarten was less than one second short from a podium finish, coming in fourth just behind Darmouth’s Scott Lacy. Classmate Austin Cobb ’14 was 13th and McGarthwaite placed 22nd.
Meanwhile, back at the Snow Bowl, the giant slalom races were well underway. On the men’s side, star skier Dave Donaldson ’14 fell just short of another win. His winning streak snapped with a third place finish, behind former teammates and alpine veterans Jonathan Nordbotten and Travis Dawson from the University of Vermont.
Following 0.01 seconds behind Donaldson was classmate Roberts, who has been a consistent top-10 finisher recent carnivals. McNealus and captain Bryan Shpall ’13 finished in the 10th and 12th position, while Liam Mulhern ’14 was the 18th skier to cross the finish line.
On the women’s end, Sackbauer showed her prowess.
“Mary Sackbauer is on fire,” said Bartlett.
The sophomore continued her hot streak and pulled off an exceptional performance finishing in second place. She thoroughly enjoyed the race and it showed in her results.
“It is one most exciting events I could ever be included in,” said Sackbauer. “As my captain [Christine Schozer ’13] mentioned in the meeting the night before the race, it may be the only time in our lives we have hundreds of people cheering for us. On the alpine giant slalom course, the spectators stand in the middle of the run, so even though you are completely focused you can hear them yelling at you. It is an incredible feeling and makes you want to go that much faster.”
In the same event, first-year Kara Shaw ’16 rounded off at 14th place.
Looking ahead, the Panthers will travel to Sunday River, Maine for the NCAA Regionals, also referred to as the EISA championships, hosted by Bates College on Feb. 22 and 23.
“We will be looking for the guys to win either the slalom or giant slalom team events as well as placing more men on the podium,” Bartlett said. “The girls will be skiing for NCAA qualification. Top fives and top 10’s will help in that cause. (Sackbauer) has been in the top 10 in all of the last four races. Don’t rule her out for a win.”