MIT Men's and Women's Alpine Ski Teams Perform WellBy Jonathan Shefftz
The men's and women's varsity alpine ski teams recently completed their third of five regular season race weekends. MIT competes in the Eastern Collegiate Ski Conference's Osborne Division, which contains the second-most competitive collection of NCAA teams in the Eastern U.S. Among those schools are Boston College, Plymouth State, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Smith College, Babson College, St. Anselm's College, Brown University, Colby-Sawyer College, New England College and University of Connecticut. Since NCAA skiing competition is non-divisional, skiing is one of the few sports in which MIT competes against Division I and II schools, in addition to its more typical Division III rivals.
Each weekend competition consists of two runs in two separate categories. On Saturdays, races are held on slalom courses and on Sundays, they are held on giant slalom courses. The scoring for the runs is cumulative over the two day event. The times of the fastest five men and the fastest three women determine the team standings for each squad.
The team got an early start for its on-snow training back in October at Killington, but was not scheduled to run any race training courses until the beginning of IAP. An unusually warm November and December closed many race training hills, but fortunately winter kicked in just in time for some excellent IAP training in northern New Hampshire. On the second day of training camp, Nick Kulkarni '02, one of the top prospects for the team, suffered a season ending knee injury.
UMass Amherst hosted the first race at Berkshire East on January 16-17. The team was well-prepared, from the previous two weeks' training and a non-collegiate race the previous weekend at Mt. Sunapee.
Co-captain Brooke Baker '99 led the women's team with 13th place in Saturday's slalom, while Monica Taylor '01 and Marianne Okal '02 provided the other two scoring times. MIT finished eighth out of 11 teams after one day of competition. In the giant slalom on the following day, the Engineers were able to improve to seventh, finishing ahead of Babson, UConn, St. Anselm's and New England College.
The men's team had a rough time in the slalom course, with scoring times from co-captain Ryan Maupin '00, Todd Dumond '00, Brett Vasconcellos '99, and Sanjay Raman '01, and rookie Tom McBride '00. MIT finished last out of ten teams, two-tenths of a second behind St. Anselm's. The giant slalom the next day proved to be more successful with Jeremy Gerstle '99 joining the scoring crew as the team edged out UConn for ninth place.
Another week of training was followed by a noncollegiate Super-G race at Waterville Valley, in which Vasconcellos and Dumond from the men's team both cracked the top ten while Taylor and Faye Schwartz '01 also did for the women's team.
Plymouth State hosted the next collegiate race at Waterville Valley on January 23-24. For the fourth year in a row a week of cold temperatures was followed by warm, wet weather as the fog settled in for Saturday's slalom, obscuring the trail. Baker skied to 13th again, with Taylor and Okal right next to one another in 35th and 36th, as the women's team finished in seventh place overall. Co-captain Daniel Zelazo '99 joined the scoring crew for the men, helping them to eighth place, ahead of St. Anslem's and New England College.
For Sunday's giant slaloms rain soaked both the team and the race hill. Head Coach Jonathan Shefftz and several other coaches tried to cancel the race on account of the questionable course conditions, but the first run went ahead as scheduled, although the rapidly disappearing snow caused a cancellation of the second run. Baker took 20th, followed by Taylor in 28th and then Lisabeth Willey '02, for the usual seventh place. Maupin lead the men with 27th for a ninth place team finish, ahead of UConn.
Brown and UConn hosted the next race at Loon Mountain (New Hampshire) on January 30-31. Baker led the women's team to their typical seventh-place finishes on both days, but this time with record individual finishes of 10th in the slalom and fifth in the giant slalom. Willey also scored her first points in a slalom race.
The men's team endured a challenging weekend since each school's top five finishers' time counted. Each school was also split into an A-Team and a B-Team, with only each team's top three finishers counting. MIT could not rely on the depth that had allowed it to pull ahead of other teams, and would have to rely instead upon some strong finishes at the top. In Saturday's slalom, Maupin, Vasconcellos, and Gerstle provided three solid times, but they were not enough to keep MIT from finishing tenth among the A-Teams. On a more positive note, Zelazo led the B-Team to an unofficial sixth place finish among the other schools' B-Teams, once again demonstrating MIT's depth.
A difficult course on Sunday took its toll among the men's field, including two racers out of MIT's five-person A-Team, although Vasconcellos, Raman, and Gerstle all turned in their best giant slalom performances of the season. Nevetheless, MIT expected that the count-three format would still work against them, which made it all the more shocking for the team to find itself in sixth place, ahead of northerly rivals Colby-Sawyer, St. Anslem's, and New England College, plus Division I powerhouse Boston College (which is currently third overall in the cumulative league standings).
With the end of IAP training reverted to nearby Blue Hills, and thankfully the strong rains avoided falling during MIT's training slots. The team will be in fine shape for their next race against Boston College at Ascutney on February 6-7.