Skiers race Olympic courses for NCAAs

Nordic skiing head coach Bud Fisher can walk pretty much anywhere on Williams College’s campus and find enough purple to keep him satisfied for a while. But Fisher never imagined that he could see that same traditional purple by simply looking in the mirror.

Several years ago, Fisher made a friendly bet with his skiers that if a full Nordic team ever qualified for the NCAA Championships (three men and three women), he would dye his hair purple along with the skiers. This season, the Williams Nordic team did not let Fisher down; a full team has qualified for the NCAAs for the first time in over 25 years.

Williams’s qualifying Nordic team consists of captain P.J. Spina ’00, Jason Lemieux ’01 and Noel Johnson ’03 for the men, and captain Helena Johnson ’00, Erin Graham ’02 and Melody Scheefer ’03 for the women. Matt Holland ’02 also qualified for the NCAA’s but, due to a three-skier limit for the men, cannot attend. Instead, Holland will compete at the Junior Championships in Jackson, New Hampshire.

Two Alpine skiers will also compete in the championships: Brad Nichol ’02, and Zoe Unger ’02.

“I’m extremely pleased to have a full cross-country team this year,” said Fisher. “It’s the first in all the years I’ve been here that we’ve had such.”

The NCAA Skiing Championships will be held in Park City, Utah from March 8-11. Williams, one of nine schools from the East Region, will be one of approximately 20 schools throughout the country represented. With eight team members, Williams has the fifth largest Eastern conference representation.

The week’s events will be held at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic venues. The Nordic team faces a very hilly course at a higher altitude than it is used to. The two Alpine skiers also look ahead to very difficult skiing.

“The race course is steeper and longer than anything we have raced this year, and it is at 10,000 feet, which will make the air a lot thinner than we are used to,” said Nichol. “But it will provide for top-notch competition.”

The first event of the week will be the men’s and women’s giant slalom on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, the Nordic skiers first take action in a 10K freestyle race. On Friday, the Alpine skiers compete in their second event with two runs of slalom, and on Saturday, the Nordic team concludes the week with a 20K classic race.

The Ephs, who usually place fifth in Eastern team events, are looking to place in the top ten overall. They acknowledge that this will be difficult, as teams with full representation (twelve skiers) have a clear advantage. This year’s defending champion is the University of Colorado.

“Top ten is a realistic aspiration for us, but it won’t be easy,” said Lemieux. “I also think we’ll be a little tentative out there.”

“On the other hand, we will be skiing with the best in the country, and the higher level of competition should make us better,” added Spina.

Many of the East schools are small, liberal arts colleges that are typically Division III. However, all NCAA skiing is Division I, which poses an extra challenge to the Ephs.

“Skiing DI at a DIII school is tough,” said Nichol. “Last season I tried to do too much, and in the end, everything suffered. I’m so excited everything has been coming together for me in the last few weeks.”

Much of the Ephs’ success can be attributed to solid team efforts this season and a very close team.

“We probably have the most team camaraderie in the circuit,” said Spina. “Some of the other teams come together for a team score, but it’s more of an individual effort for them.”

Results of the NCAA’s will be posted online throughout the week at www.bart.chipco.com.