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Nordic Ski Team Ends Season on High Note with Kleiss' Win

By James Berry
Team Captain

Last week, the MIT Nordic Ski Team travelled to the foot of Mt. Washington in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire for the United States Collegiate Ski Association Championships. Teams from all over the country came to compete in the final races of the season.

The Women's 10K Classic and Men's 15K Classic both took place on Wednesday, March 11. Competition began in the morning with the women's 10K classic race. At 9:00 a.m., the thermometer just peeked over 10 degrees. Cold temperatures didn't phase the skiers in the long race, however, as Jessica Kleiss '00 finished strong in 11th place, and Adrienne Slaughter '98 broke into the top 20.

Later that morning the men's 15K Classic, also a mass start, got under way. Several kilometers into the race, one of the skiers in the lead pack fell, bringing down five people behind him. Jim Berry '99 found himself in the middle of this mess, and it took him several seconds to get untangled. He came back strong, however, to finish in 4th place, just 50 seconds behind the winner. Jeff Doering '99 also had a strong race, finishing 13th in a pack of five skiers. Derek Southwell '01 raced hard to a 20th place finish. First-year skier Chris Bruce '98 enjoyed good conditioning and solid waxing to finish ahead of a pack of more experienced skiers.

Competition continued on Friday with the Women's 7.5K Freestyle and the Men's 10K Freestyle. The conditions had changed significantly since the race on Wednesday. By Friday, the trails had become icy and fast. The women raced first in the 7.5K Freestyle. This race demands intense concentration from skiers because the interval start gives makes it unclear who is in what place during the race. Kleiss, a strong skater, tore up the course, beating rival Katie Johnson from Clarkson by almost 30 seconds and earning the title of National Champion. Slaughter also improved on Wednesday's performance, finishing 13th.

"I had no idea I had won until after I finished," said Kleiss, who had never won a race during the regular season, "But I knew I was doing well. The conditions were perfect for me." Kleiss, a sophomore, looks forward to the next two years and hopes to improve and dominate the league.

The weather warmed up a bit before the men's 10K freestyle, making the conditions even faster. Doering posted the best MIT finish with 14th place. Berry powered his way through the hilly course to finish only five seconds behind Doering. Southwell showed his strength in skating by improving to 17th place. Bruce picked off a few more racers for 30th place.

The competition wrapped up on Saturday with the Women's 3 * 5K Relay and the Men's 3 * 7.5K Relay. The conditions had drastically changed for these relay races. Cold, near-blizzard conditions swept through Mt. Washington Valley as the team prepared to race. The men's team of Berry, Southwell, and Doering posted a strong 5th place finish in the 3 * 7.5K relay. Since the women could not field a full team, Bruce joined forces with Kleiss and Slaughter to form an unofficial team for the 3 * 5K relay. Starting one minute behind the official teams, they skated to a first place finish among the unofficial teams.

With one National Champion and several other strong individual finishes, the Nordic ski team finished its season on a high note. And with only two graduating seniors, they look for an even better season next year.