Ski teams take 12th for a third straight year at the NCAA Div. I Championship

Consistency has been the rule this season for the ski team. Having skied all year in their fifth-place spot, the Ephs went to nationals looking to match or improve upon the 12th place mark that they have posted for the last two years. In a gutsy showing at the NCAA Div. I National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska, they did just that, placing 12th despite numerous disadvantages going into the races.

Two weeks ago, when the coaches announced the national teams, the Williams squads found themselves in a tight spot. For the last two years, the Ephs have sent complete or near-complete teams, the full 12 competing in 2000 and 11 of a possible 12 in 2001.

This year, as a result of different factors, the teams found themselves sending only seven skiers, nowhere near the 12 they would have liked to enter.

Fortunately for the skiers, coaches and fans, strong performances from the alpine teams enabled Williams to fend off University of Alaska Fairbanks and Western State to take hold of their perennial spot.

Led by an 11th place finish from Mark Heinrich-Wallace ’04 in Friday’s slalom race, the men’s alpine team’s three skiers notched the most points for the team. With the only full Williams squad in Alaska, the men’s team skied incredibly against stiff competition.

Behind Heinrich-Wallace on Friday were Chris Frank ’05 in 22nd, and Brad Nichol ’02 in 25th. Ashley Carter ’04, the lone alpine woman making the trip north finished the slalom in 22nd.

“I feel that the race went well,” said Heinrich-Wallace. “I had a pretty big mistake on my first run, and I felt a little discouraged, but I was able to put it together and have a solid second run. As a team we had a solid day, Chris moved up to put us into seventh, which was okay, but I know we can ski better.”

Wednesday’s giant slalom race went equally well for the alpine teams. Frank led the way for the men with his 18th place finish, placing him sixth among eastern skiers.

Following him was Nichol in 28th and Heinrich-Wallace in 31st. In the women’s race, Carter notched a 28th place finish. These impressive performances put Williams into 10th place after the first day of competition.

For the Nordic teams, the weekend was equally impressive, even though Saturday’s skate races proved to be extremely difficult. Without the services of Head Coach Bud Fisher, who had to come back east after the races on Thursday due to a death in his family, the racers “skied it in” to respectable finishes.

In the men’s 20k race, Ben Connard ’02 came across the line in 34th. Right behind him was Eric Tietze ’03 to round out the Williams crew. Erin Graham ’02 took 38th in the women’s race.

Fortunately for the skiers, Thursday’s classic races were much kinder. In the men’s 10k race, Connard grabbed a scrappy 24th place finish, making him the eighth eastern skier across the line. Tietze finished behind Connard in 34th. Graham finished the women’s classic race in 34th as well.

In other ski news, nine skiers earned National All-Academic Ski Team honors this winter. From the alpine team, Carter, Nichol, Alex Hood ’02 and Pete Endres ’04 were honored.

On the Nordic squad, Graham, Connard, Karl Remsen’03, Hilary Hackmann ’02 and Matt Holland ’02 were all named.

Also, three Nordic skiers have been competing at Junior Nationals this week in McCall, Idaho. Pete Leonard ’04 and Magali Suttion ’05 have been racing for New England, while Jenny Abraham ’05 has been skiing for the Midwest team. Leonard has had an impressive week, placing eighth in the skate race, and skiing the first leg of the first place relay team. Abraham has also notched a podium finish, taking third in the sprint.

As the snow melts away from the mountains, the skiers already have their sights set on next season. “We have a fairly young team so most of them will be back next year,” Hackmann said. “The team had an overall strong season with lots of personal bests and great races.”

After a season devoid of the usual highs and lows, the returning skiers will definitely be looking to mix things up on the carnival circuit next year. The Ephs were unable to dislodge themselves from the fifth place rut in which they found themselves during the regular season carnivals. While those finishes were by all means respectable, Williams will hope to better its fortunes next season. In any case, the experiences from this year will surely help them in the future, particularly for the younger members of the team whose confidence can only benefit from the races held this winter.