The Panther ski teams had a pivotal breakthrough as they landed on the podium in third place at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival, after two fourth-place finishes at University of Vermont (UVM) and Colby. Junior men’s alpine standout Dave Donaldson ’14 won two more races and is still undefeated thus far in the men’s giant slalom, winning four of four races in the circuit. Nordic skiers Ben Lustgarten ’14 and Annie Pokorny ’15 had exceptional performances and were victorious in the men’s 10K classic at Colby and women’s 5K freestyle at UVM, respectively.
While the rest of the school was on break, the Panther skiers were competing on the road, beginning with the Colby Winter Carnival from Jan. 25 – 27. Then on Feb. 2 and 3, while the alpine teams took a breather, members of the men’s and women’s Nordic Team raced at the neighboring UVM. Finally, the nordic and alpine squads joined forces again this past weekend at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
Middlebury had solid showings at Colby and UVM, coming in fourth overall on both occasions. The Panthers were 77 points and 71 points behind UNH in each competition.
Highlights of the Colby meet include Donaldson’s unceasing reign and Hig Roberts ’14 finishing sixth in the men’s giant slalom, Donaldson’s second place and Roberts’ fifth place accomplishments in the men’s slalom, as well as Lustgarten’s career-high win in the men’s 10K classic, his third place finish in the men’s 20K freestyle and Kelsey Phinney ’16 finishing sixth in the women’s 5K classic.
Lustgarten commented on the mindset the team adopts in being the best and competing against the best.
“I have high expectations for myself,” said Lustgarten. “I want to put Middlebury on the map and break up the UVM/Dartmouth podium finishes at the carnival. It is hard to be in the shadow of last year’s Patrick Johnson [’12] but I am trying to ski my own races and do the best that I can.”
For Donaldson, belief in self is instrumental.
“Confidence is very important,” he said. “I think that confidence is won one drop at a time and lost in buckets. So its important to keep focused every day of training, and really take it ‘one day at a time’.”
In the nordic portion of the UVM Carnival, Pokorny was able to translate the experience gained from World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic to the collegiate scene. She captured first place in the women’s 5K freestyle in a convincing manner. Following in the eighth position was Heather Mooney ’15, who also represented U.S.A. in Europe. In the women’s 10K freestyle, the one-two punch of Pokorny and Mooney crossed the finish line second and forth.
On the other hand, Lustgarten led his team once again, placing third in the 10K classic and sixth in the 10K freestyle. Back at the U-23 World Championships, Mooney — an experienced international skier — nailed a top-20 finish and placed 26th in another. Pokorny, despite catching the “Vermont Flu,” managed to reach the top 30 in two races.
“Making the jump to third was definitely a big move,” said Donaldson.
It was a combined effort – the outstanding performance of the women’s alpine team and the consistency brought by seasoned skiers – that allowed Middlebury to overtake UNH by 78 points so far.
The men’s and women’s slalom events were forced to be postponed to this coming Sunday due to blizzard Nemo’s incursion into New England during the week.
“As a team, Middlebury has historically taken fourth in almost every carnival (at least since I’ve been around),” said Pokorny. “To make the leap into the top three was a big deal for us. Our alpine team absolutely slew it – the women in particular stepped it up for the weekend and our placing is a result of strong finishes across the board.”
Donaldson achieved a stellar ‘4-peat’ in Hanover with the time of 1:59.66 and veteran Andrew McNealus ’13 followed closely in the third position in the men’s giant slalom. The women’s alpine team was also on a hot streak. Mary Sackbauer ’15 led the team with a career-first fifth-place finish, and Yina Moe-Lange ’15 and Kara Shaw ’15 rounded up by placing 10th and tenth in the women’s giant slalom.
For the nordic crew, Pokorny cemented her spot as a perpetual title contender, coming in second in the women’s 5K classic, and Lustgarten picked up a seventh-place finish in the men 10K classic. In addition, the relay team of Pokorny, first-year Kelsey Phinney ’16, and senior captain Hilary Rich ’13 came fourth in the women 3x5K freestyle event.
Looking ahead, the Panthers will return to the Snow Bowl this weekend at the long-awaited annual Middlebury Winter Carnival. Since the College will be hosting the NCAA Championships this year, the races this weekend will surely serve as a crucial learning opportunity for the ski teams.
“We’re racing the same distances on the same course as NCAAs, so this weekend is definitely a trial run for the big show,” said Pokorny. “We take pride in our course being especially difficult, a lot of work has gone into its building and maintenance to ensure that it challenges a field as deep as that at NCAAs.”
In addition, the Rikert Nordic Center recently installed an $850,000 snow making system.
Heading into the second-to-last carnival before Nationals, Lustgarten has a lot of belief on the Middlebury Ski Team.
“I know that our team has worked very hard all year long,” he said. “We have amazing talent and the skill to continue to have team podium finishes for the next two carnivals. We may not have the depth yet to crack the top two – UVM and Dartmouth – but third place is possible for us and hopefully we can do that again.”
“I think we can definitely make it into the top three next weekend,” said Pokorny. “You ski differently when you race at home. Finally making it onto our home course, which has been a challenge the last two years due to snow conditions, will make a difference as well – having fans on site changes the game.”