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Ski Teams Finish in Seventh and Eighth

By Jonathan Shefftz
head coach

The men's and women's alpine squads of the ski racing team completed their second of five regular season race weekends on Jan. 25 and 26. At the race, hosted by the University of Massachusetts, the teams battled the slopes, competing colleges, and the ever uncooperative New England weather.

The team had already run training courses at nearby Wachusett Mountain for two-and-a-half weeks prior to their first weekend race on Jan. 20 and 21. The team races in the Eastern Collegiate Ski Conference's Osborne Division, which contains the second most competitive collection of teams in the Eastern United States: Boston College, Plymouth State College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Smith College, Babson, Saint Anselm's College, Brown University, University of Connecticut, and Trinity College.

Each weekend competition has each skier taking two runs down a slalom course on Saturday and two down a giant slalom course on Sunday. The slalom course consists of quick short-radius turns, while the giant slalom consists of longer-radius turns at higher speeds. Each day's run times are added together to determine each skier's finish for that day. The times of the fastest five men and the fastest three women determine the team standings for each squad.

The relatively short slalom course at Berkshire East Ski Area seemed tame in comparison to some of the team's training courses, as well as to the previous weekend's steep, long, and icy course at the individual warm-up race at Pats Peak, N.H. However, a tightly set series of fast turns took its toll on the team.

The women's squad struggled to produce its three finishers because of many crashes and missed turns. The finishers were Sarah Carlson '00, Valentina Sequi '97, and Chrissy Hartmann '98. Carlson and Sequi both made their college debuts in the meet. In spite of the difficulties, MIT did beat out Trinity for ninth place out of 10 teams.

The men also had their share of crashes but so did their competitors. As a result, MIT finished sixth out of nine teams. Dave Kurd '98, in his college debut, led the team with a 25th-place finish, followed by Mike Protz '97, co-captain Nate Kushman '98, Jeremy Gerstle '99, and Andy Boral '98, who was also in his college debut.

The Berkshire mountains produced some extremely cold weather for Sunday's giant slalom, but that did not stop Brooke Baker '99 from turning in some hot skiing for a 15th-place finish, with supporting finishes from Hartmann and Marj Rosenthal '98, scoring her first college points of the season. The women settled into a comfortable eighth place, making the previous day's loss to UConn look like a fluke.

The men, by contrast, had trouble keeping a fast line through the difficult bottom section of the course, and were edged out of sixth place by Babson by only one second - which translates into one-tenth of a second per finisher per run. Kurd once again led the team, with the other four scoring finishes coming from Protz, co-captain Geoff Johnson '97, Gerstle, and Sean Lavin '97.

During the next week, the team kept one eye on their Wachusett Mountain training courses and one eye on the evolving weather forecast for the Waterville Valley Ski Area in New Hampshire, for the Jan. 25 and 26 races hosted by Plymouth State College. A pattern all too familiar from last year's Waterville races was emerging. Snow fell Friday night but had changed to rain and a heavy fog Saturday morning.

Consequently the soft snow led to large ruts and holes in the long World Cup level slalom course. On her first run, Baker hooked a ski tip on one of the gates and spun around, with subsequent acrobatic recoveries, but managed to finish along with Rosenthal and Hartmann to lead the women to an eighth-place finish.

The men had entered the weekend tied with Babson for sixth place, and needed at least a sixth-place finish in the slalom to take the lead over their Boston-area rivals. After the first run, MIT was, as usual, packed right in there with Brown, Babson, and St. Anselm's.

Although anything can happen in the second run, MIT still had seven finishers from the first run, from which only five finishers would be necessary for the scoring. The afternoon got off to a strong start, with Kurd finishing 19th and Johnson 28th.

However, the next two racers exited the course within sight of the start. All three of the remaining racers would now need to finish the long and difficult course, now mostly shrouded in fog. Lavin, next in the gate, skied off and successfully completed the course. Next up was Dan Zelazo '99, who made it through for his first scoring opportunity.

Gerstle, the sole remaining skier, headed off into the fog but was able to finish. The five successful finishers put MIT in sixth place - but ahead of St. Anselm's this time, but not Babson, which had turned in an astoundingly strong performance with all of their top skiers finishing.

As is almost on cue from last January, the temperature plummeted overnight and turned the soft snow into bulletproof ice. Then the winds started to blow, which prevented any of the ski area's chairlifts from operating. Instead, skier had to use a short t-bar lift and an invigorating hike to the top of the giant slalom course. Baker took 10th place for the women, followed once again by a much-improved and speedier Rosenthal and Hartmann, with the team finishing its usual eighth place.

The men finished in seventh place, three seconds off Brown, and five seconds off Babson - only half-a-second per racer per run. Kurd led the team with 29th place, followed by Protz, Lavin, Gerstle, and Johnson.