Cone Takes NCAA Giant Slalom Title

By Colin McIntyre

Middlebury skied its way to an eighth place finish at the NCAA Championships last weekend. Middlebury posted their best result since 2009, highlighted by a team win in the men’s giant slalom and Rob Cone’s ’17 national championship in the same event. Cone, Christopher McKenna ’17 and Mary Sackbauer ’15 all recorded All-American finishes on the weekend.

The nordic events took place on the first day of action on Wednesday, March 11 with the skate events at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. In the women’s 5K skate, the western schools swept the top-10 spots, and Kelsey Phinney ’16 was the first Panther across the line in 15:35, 70 seconds behind the winner, good for 20th. Stella Holt ’15 was next for the Panthers in 34th, coming in with a time of 15:56. Heather Mooney ’15 was behind her in 39th, with a time of 16:10. Overall, the women came in 10th in the event with 11 points. Utah won the race with 91 points, followed by Colorado and New Mexico.

In the men’s 10K skate, the lone Panther Patrick McElravey ’17 finished 27th in 27:16, two minutes back of the winner. A mix of eastern and western skiers finished among the leaders, with Colorado, Dartmouth and Vermont taking the top three places.

On Thursday, Whiteface played host to the giant slalom events. The women placed eighth in the team event after Sackbauer placed 12th with a time of 2:26.75. She finished four seconds behind the winner from New Mexico. Elle Gilbert ’16 was 17th after clocking a time of 2:27.54. Katelyn Barclay ’15 fell during her second run and was disqualified.

On the men’s side, McKenna and Cone turned in nearly identical first run times to sit in fifth and fourth, respectively. Cone then won the second run, and McKenna turned in the third fastest time to leap up the podium to finish first and third, both claiming First Team All-American honors. Riley Plant ’18 fell on the first run as he neared the finish line. The team won by six points over Denver, who had racers in second and fourth but, like Middlebury, had their third racer fall on his first run.

“The program has really been building and we have a great group of GS guys. We’ve got them for a couple more years,” Cone said after the race.

Friday saw the nordic teams return to the competition for the classic races. On the men’s side, McElravey fared slightly better, finishing 23rd with a time of 59:04 in the 20K classic. The western schools swept the top-eight individual spots, and Colorado, New Mexico and Dartmouth took the top-three team spots.

The women’s team finished tied for fourth place in the 15K classic race. They tied Vermont to finish behind Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Phinney led the Panthers with a time of 49:39, two minutes behind the winners, but just five seconds out of the top 10 as she finished 11th.

“I skied with the leaders for the first of three laps during Friday’s race,” Phinney said. “While I was upset that my fall in the last 1km left me one spot out of the top 10, I’m happy to know that I can ski with the best women in the country.”

Mooney and Holt, who had both been battling sickness all week, improved on their first outing. Mooney, who won the classic title on the EISA circuit, finished 16th with a time of 49:49. Holt grabbed a point for the team in 30th place with a time of 52:32.

“I think we did a great job of keeping the morale high,” Phinney said. “Heather and Stella are incredible athletes, teammates, and competitors, and they showed that with the way they raced in the face of being sick.”

On Saturday, the championships concluded with the slalom events at Whiteface. Sackbauer again led the women with a ninth place finish that earned her Second Team All-American honors. She sat tied for 13th after finishing the first run in one minute flat. Her impressive second run moved her into the top 10 with a time of 1:58.74. Teammates Barclay and Gilbert came in 23rd and 25th, respectively, with consistent runs. Barclay had a combined time of 2:02.25 and Gilbert took 2:03.07 to finish both runs. Overall, the women took seventh in the event.

Cone led the men in the slalom, placing 10th with a time of 1:58.22 after sliding down from a fifth-place first run. Plant turned in a solid second run to move up to 24th overall with a time of 2:01.76, while McKenna had to hike after missing a gate in his first run. He turned in a solid second run but finished the event 30th in 2:23.99. The men matched the women and placed eighth in the event.

The eighth place overall finish by the combined teams placed them third amongst teams from the east, and first among teams comprised only of Americans. Colorado won the championship for the 20th time, edging out Denver and Utah who finished second and third. UVM was the top eastern school in fourth, while Dartmouth finished sixth. 

The high NCAA finish rounds out a strong year for the teams overall. The women’s nordic team, despite having several key racers fall ill late in the season, scored more overall points this year than in any previous season. On the slopes, the men’s overall championship in giant slalom marks the third event championship for the men’s Alpine squad in the past four years.