Note: This is the third preview in our series on U.S. elite teams, which we’ve dubbed the “The 12.” We asked coaches to tell us what’s new and whom to look out for in the coming season and will publish additional previews in the coming weeks in no particular order.
Team: Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2)
Coaches: Gus Kaeding (head coach), Sverre Caldwell (nordic program director) Senior roster: Andrew Newell (U.S. Ski Team) Simi Hamilton (USST), Skyler Davis, Eric Packer; Jessie Diggins (USST), Sophie Caldwell (USST), Annie Pokorny, Erika Flowers
Post-Graduates: Ben Saxton (Lakeville, Minn., formerly of F.A.S.T Performance Training), Mollie Hoopes (Hanover, N.H.)
Who’s new: Hamilton (formerly of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team, Middlebury College), Pokorny (skied two seasons for Middlebury)
Who’s missing: none.
Top results last season: It starts with World Champion Diggins — who teamed up with fellow U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Kikkan Randall to win the 2013 World Championships freestyle team sprint in Val di Fiemme, Italy — and the talent doesn’t drop off from there. Half of the roster is on the national team.
Newell finished fifth in the overall World Cup sprint rankings last season. Hamilton struggled with respiratory illness after a breakthrough 2011/2012 season. Caldwell made the most of her World Cup starts and was rewarded with her first nomination to the USST.
In Kaeding’s opinion, the optimal athlete-to-coach ratio is 4-to-1; 6-to-1 is pushing it. 8-to-1 is really pushing it. So the current eight-person roster is probably at its max unless a coach or two joins his staff, he said, which he doesn’t foresee in the near future.
The SMST2 squad added two skiers to the original six they debuted as an elite team with last year. Already familiar with Vermont, Hamilton and Pokorny both went to Middlebury College, a couple of hours north of Stratton.
Originally from Aspen, Colo., Hamilton, 26, previously raced domestically for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Gold Team. He had two top-10 finishes in World Cup sprints two seasons ago, but got sick right before World Championships last winter. “I think the biggest thing I learned while I was living [in Park City, Utah] is that for me personally, I needed to be training with other people,” Hamilton said. “Especially guys that are right around the same [ability] level.”
Born in Washington state, Pokorny, 20, cracked the top 10 twice at U.S. Cross Country Championships in January and qualified for the U23 World Championships. After two stellar years of college racing, she decided to focus on skiing full time.
“I think what’s really fun about this team and this program is that the entire summer is like one big training camp,” Pokorny said. “We have so many good people here that we don’t really need to go anywhere else.”
Caldwell made the quarterfinals in her first World Cup sprint in Quebec City in December and was the second-fastest American in the classic sprint at World Championships.
A former USST Development Team member, Davis was not renominated to the national squad despite scoring his first World Cup points in Canmore, Alberta. He placed fourth in the classic sprint at U.S. nationals.
Packer injured his foot in March, but before that, notched 40th place in the 30-kilometer skiathlon at the U23 World Championships.
Flowers finished a career-best eighth in the 10-kilometer skate at U.S. Nationals and was fifth in the SuperTour Finals hill climb.
Coach’s comment: Two weeks ago, the entire SMST2 Team united for the first time this summer in Stratton to help out with hosting the annual Eastern REG Camp. Now, for the most part, they’re staying put. According to Kaeding, the goal is training consistency and to counter all the travel the World Cup skiers endure during the season.
“We have six returning people out of eight,” he said. “They all know how I work and I know how they work. I haven’t really had to do too much with the new members. They’ve just kind of fallen into the flow.”
As far as USST camps go, Diggins is headed to Eagle Glacier to meet up with other members of the USST later this month, and Newell and Hamilton are headed to New Zealand for three weeks in August. It makes for some adjustments, but Kaeding said it hasn’t been a problem.
“When you’re here, you are on the U.S. Ski Team, but you’re not any different from anyone else on the team,” he said. “It’s just a difference of what jacket you’re going to wear at some point this winter and maybe what races you’re going to do.”