Note: This is the sixth 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: Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC)
Coaches: Will Sweetser (competitive programs director), Seth Hubbard (biathlon coach), Amber Dodge (development coach)
Cross-Country Olympic Development Team (ODT): Kris Freeman, Sam Tarling, Welly Ramsey; Hilary McNamee, Anna Van der Rhee (trying to qualify for Sochi Olympics for The Netherlands). According to Sweetser, McNamee is focusing on finishing her studies at Dartmouth and will race primarily in New England.
XC Post-Grads: Emily Ramsey (New Sharon, Maine), Zoe Chase-Donahue (Freeport, Maine), Sarah Becker (Yarmouth, Maine), Abby Popenoe (Portland, Maine), Austin Huneck (Clifton Park, N.Y.)
Collegiate Summer Program: Nick Michaud (Bates College), Gabby Naranja (Bates).
Biathlon ODT: Russell Currier (U.S. Biathlon), Raleigh Goessling, Casey Smith, Annelies Cook (U.S. Biathlon), Katrina Howe
Biathlon Post-Grads: Brian Halligan (N.Y.), Maddie Pfaneuf (N.Y.), Mikaela Palusek (N.H.)
Adaptive ODT: Omar Bermejo
Who’s new: Tarling (2013 Dartmouth graduate), Smith (formerly of Montana State University), Bermejo (Grand Rapids, Mich.), all post-grads except Emily Ramsey (second year).
Who’s missing: None.
Top results last season: Sweetser intends to send a minimum of four athletes to the Olympic Winter Games or in Bermejo’s case, the Paralympics. The most-obvious four that could make that goal a reality are Freeman, Currier, Cook, and Bermejo. But look out for the new guys, including Tarling and Smith, training with the Caribou-based MWSC on the northeastern tip of Maine.
A three-time Olympian, Freeman, 32, was not renominated to the U.S. Ski Team for the first time in a decade. He won his 16th national title last January in the 50 k classic, but finished the 2012/2013 World Cup season with with three top-30 results. Sweetser said Freeman and Ramsey have had some very productive training sessions this summer.
“[Freeman] is nowhere near the crazy specific fitness he had late last summer, however, he is lighter, faster [ran fastest 5 k (15:53) since 2004 in June] and happier than he’s been in years,” Sweetser wrote in an e-mail.
Sweetser added that Tarling has been an “instant plus” in MWSC’s community programs, which include juniors, high-school skiers and adults. He was a presenter at the Maine Team Camp in Fort Kent earlier this month, which hosted 43 of the state’s best high school skiers.
The 2011 NCAA 10-kilometer freestyle champion won twice on the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) circuit in his senior season at Dartmouth and finished fifth in the 30k classic at U.S. nationals.
“(Tarling) is very professional in his approach to creating a career as a ski racer,” Sweetser wrote. “He is gelling well with our entire team and is a fantastic addition at junior training camps.”
Van der Rhee (formerly Sprague), a native of Stockholm, Maine, and Utah alum, married a man from The Netherlands and has since established citizenship there. To qualify for the Olympics, she needs World Cup starts, which may be earned with either a sub 100-point distance race or sub 120-point sprint in International Ski Federation (FIS) competition. Last year, in returning to racing after a seven year hiatus, Van der Rhee had one sub 150-point race.
Cook leapt 38 spots (83rd to 45th) in the biathlon world rankings last year. She tallied her first World Cup top 20 in Italy and two more in the pre-Olympic races in Sochi, Russia. This will be her second year with MWSC.
Currier, 26, is trying for his first Olympics as a returning member of the U.S. Biathlon Team. The MWSC veteran pulled out a pair of sixth-place finishes on the World Cup in 2012 and was a critical component of the U.S. relay team that finished fifth in January in Oberhof, Germany.
Smith, 21, is one of the most promising young biathletes in the country. He competed in the International Biathlon Union (IBU) youth and junior World Championships four times each, with his best junior-world finish coming last January in the 12.5-kilometer pursuit, where he was 23rd. Smith got a feel for northern Maine when he competed at U.S. Biathlon Nationals in Fort Kent last March.
“As expected, Casey has been a great fit with our program,” Hubbard wrote in an e-mail. “He has great energy and focus.”
“From my perspective as director, this group is more of a team than we’ve ever had,” Sweetser said of the multi-tiered elite team, now in its 11th year. “We are prioritizing group training twice each week with biathletes and XC skiers together. There is no doubt that our program will have one of the best men’s distance teams in U.S. XC. These guys could easily meet all of their goals this year given the progress we’ve seen thus far.”
Steven McCarthy discovered a passion for sportswriting in the classrooms of the University of Maine school of journalism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 2010, while complementing his studies covering two years of UMaine sports and summer college baseball on Cape Cod. He resides in southern Maine and works in a private school for kids with autism. In his spare time he's training for his next marathon (running or skiing) or coaching at a local high school.