HANCOCK — While the Middlebury College men’s basketball team has basked in the spotlight during its superlative season, athletes from the college’s Alpine ski teams have also been highly impressive — with multiple individual wins across all disciplines.
This Friday and Saturday, Middlebury College will host its 89th annual Winter Carnival, the fifth stop on the Division I ski circuit, and the site of this year’s NCAA Regional Championships.
“The Alpine and Nordic teams have been strong this season, placing third or fourth at every carnival, but it’s really the individual performances that have been exciting,” explained Alpine Head Coach Stever Bartlett.
On the Alpine side, Middlebury College junior Andrew McNealus will enter this weekend as a medal threat, having notched his first ever NCAA collegiate win at the Williams College Carnival last weekend. Sophomore Hig Roberts will also seek to build upon an impressive season, having won the slalom event at the Dartmouth Carnival in January.
Middlebury Nordic skier Patrick Johnson, a senior, has also turned heads, having secured four individual victories so far this season.
“Patrick has been amazingly consistent and powerful in his racing,” said Nordic Head Coach Andrew Gartner.
The women’s Alpine and Nordic teams have provided strong supporting roles this season. Junior Christine Schozer has notched five top-15 results in downhill races, and freshman Annie Pokorny has been in the top 10 in three cross-country ski races.
Despite the scant snowfall in the Champlain Valley this winter, the Middlebury College Snow Bowl up Route 125 in Hancock has provided optimal training conditions this season, and the Panther skiers hope to capitalize on that this weekend.
“Skiing at our home mountain will be a huge advantage, it’s a tricky hill,” McNealus said. “We’ve had a few great days up there, and the team is looking really good. I’m excited to see what we can do this weekend.”
Nordic events will be run at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, relocated from the Rikert Ski Touring Center in Ripton due to a lack of snow.
The University of Vermont and Dartmouth College will be the teams to beat. The Catamounts won the first two carnivals of the season, but had their streak broken on home soil by Dartmouth in January.
“UVM will be tough to top in the overall ranking, but you never know, if our Alpine and Nordic fire all at once, it could be good,” Coach Bartlett said.
Nearing the end of the season, teams will use the Middlebury Carnival to try and qualify for the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Bozeman, Mont., in March. The Middlebury Alpine team has already qualified four men — juniors Bryan Shpall and McNealus, and sophomores Nick Bailey and Roberts — but Schozer and freshman Katelyn Barclay are still looking to gain a berth to the championship.
The Nordic team likewise has qualified four athletes: seniors Chase Marston and Johnson, sophomore Benjamin Lustgarten and Pokorny. Three other Panthers — senior Sophia McClelland, and sophomores Stella Holt and Rachel Hall — will each use the Middlebury Carnival to try and secure a spot at the NCAAs.
Classes are cancelled at the college on Friday, and organizers hope that students and community members will take the opportunity to come and support Middlebury’s only Division I athletic teams as they compete against the best in the East.
This past Friday and Saturday, the Middlebury ski team placed third at the Williams Carnival. Dartmouth won (869), followed by Vermont (840), Middlebury (690) and New Hampshire (634). The men’s GS team placed three in the top seven to win the event.
McNealus won the GS with a time of 1:45.34. Finishing in fifth was Bailey in 1:45.90, followed closely by Roberts in seventh (1:46.03). Roberts paced the pack in the slalom, finishing sixth in 1:30.14. Shpall came in 13th (1:31.74), followed by Liam Mulhern in 15th (1:32.19).
On the women’s side, Schozer led the squad in the slalom, coming in 13th in 1:39.24. Placing 29th was Mary Sackbauer in 1:44.53, followed by Yina Moe-Lange in 37th (1:46.56). In the GS, Moe-Lange led the Panther finishers, placing 25th in 1:53.33. Sackbauer was next in 27th (1:54.57), followed by Schozer in 28th (1:54.63).
Only one race took place for the Nordic teams, with the classic relay event cancelled. The men performed well in the 10K classical event, placing third. Lustgarten and Johnson led the group, finishing the race in fifth (27:24) and sixth (27:27) places, respectively. Rounding out the scorers was Marston, who finished 11th in 27:53.
McClelland paced the women in their 10K classic race, finishing 17th in 33:13. Emily Attwood finished in 22nd place (33:35), followed by Pokorny in 24th (33:55).
Editor’s note: Reporter Bronwyn Oatley is a junior at Middlebury College.