The Williams ski team wrapped up a very successful season this week at the NCAA Championships held in Park City, Utah. After four days of competition — two days of Alpine and two days of Nordic — the Ephs finished in twelfth place. Denver University won the event, followed by the University of Colorado and the University of Vermont, the top eastern representative.
The qualifying team for the Ephs consisted of two alpine skiers and a full team of six Nordic skiers. This was the first time in over 25 years that Williams has sent a full team of Nordic skiers to the NCAAs.
The first event of the week was the men’s and women’s giant slalom, held on Wednesday. Zoe Unger ’02, the only female skier to qualify for the Ephs, finished 23rd with trial times of 1:11.71 and 1:24.44. She moved up eight spots from the 31st seed. Brad Nichol ’02, the only member of the men’s qualifier, finished 28th, also moving up from the 31st seed.
All of the events were held at the future site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, to be based in Salt Lake City. The courses were more difficult than any the Ephs had experienced in the Northeast.
“The alpine events were as challenging as anything we have seen,” Nichol said. “The giant slalom hill was deceptively steep and did not let up until you were trough the finish. The slalom hill was very intimidating for those who had never skied it. It was steep and long but it turned out to be manageable.”
On Thursday, the six Nordic skiers took to the snow in the 5K freestyle competition. The combined men’s and women’s team raced to a very impressive eighth place finish. Fifth in most of the eastern ski races during the season, the Ephs finished ahead all but two of the eastern teams in the freestyle race.
The men’s Nordic skiers were led by Jason Lemieux ’01, who raced extremely well to finish 12th (31:08.2). This was a six-place improvement for the 18th seeded Lemieux. Next for the Ephs was Noel Johnson ’01, who finished 21st (31:55.2). Finally, senior captain P.J. Spina finished 29th (32:48.1). Only two minutes separated Lemieux from first place, and the race was very close throughout.
The top finisher for the women’s team was Melody Scheefer ’03, who consistently led the team in freestyle races this season. She finished 19th with a time of 19:23.0. Teammates Erin Graham ’02 and captain Helena Johnson ’00 finished back-to-back in 32nd and 33rd, respectively, with times of 20:41.6 and 20:50.2. This was the first time at NCAAs for all three of the women.
“The eighth place finish was a huge victory for us,” Graham said. “To put it in perspective, we were third among teams from the east and second among non-scholarship schools. These championships included powerhouses such as the Universities of Denver, Colorado and Vermont which do offer scholarships and whose teams are comprised mostly of foreign skiers. So to do well in that field is an accomplishment.”
On Friday, Unger and Nichol once again took the slopes for the slalom. Unger finished in 24th with trial times of 56:01 and 54:31.
Nichol also finished in 24th place with trial times of 53:42 and 56:92. Unger and Nichol again moved up in the field from their 31st seeds.
“The competition was outstanding,” Nichol said. “There is a lot to be said for teams that can recruit the top athletes. We were skiing against past Olympians and U.S. Ski Team athletes which made it very difficult to move up in your seed.”
The men’s and women’s Nordic teams had a bit of trouble maintaining the high level of skiing they exhibited this season. Lemieux fell back to 25th place in the 10K (49:26.5).
His two teammates, Noel Johnson ’01 and captain P.J. Spina ’00, were right behind him, finishing in 26th and 28th, respectively. Johnson finished in 50:04.9, and Spina finished in 50:20.6. Although disappointed with their results, all three skiers moved up from their pre-championship seeds.
The women’s Nordic team was led once again by Scheefer, who finished 18th in the 10K with a time of 50:39.5. Johnson was next for the Ephs in 32nd place (53:03.2). Finally, Graham finished in 37th (57:38.4).