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Most New England ski racers are familiar with the courses at Black Mountain of Maine, perennial host of events ranging from the high school level up to the National Championships. Most of those racers are also familiar with the old New England weather adage, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” In classic East Coast fashion this first EISA competition, hosted by Bates College, featured a little bit of everything: cold, wind, sun and snowstorms…sometimes all within a single race.
Despite marginal coverage in places thanks to a January thaw, snowmaking, shoveling and other enthusiastic volunteer squads combined to create fair and exciting courses. All events were able to take place on full 5-kilometer loops. On Friday, “Chummy’s Loop” played host to 15 and 20-kilometer mass-start classic races. On Saturday, “Ray’s Loop” was the scene of 5 and 10-kilometer freestyle events.
Friday: 15/20k Classic Mass-start
A fast first kilometer of flat and downhill terrain caused both the women’s and men’s races to string out quickly. In each case, a lead pack of 10-15 skiers became established by the beginning of the second lap, with chasers eagerly battling for positions inside the top-30 and coveted points toward the NCAA Championships this year in Lake Placid, NY.
For the women, much of the lead pack consisted of racers from UVM, Dartmouth and Middlebury. Along various portions of the course leads would change, though there were no significant breakaways until the final lap.
Only a week removed from successful races at US National Championships in Houghton, MI, it was Heather Mooney of Middlebury and Annika Taylor of UNH who entered the final downhill into the stadium together with a clear gap to eventual third-place finisher Alayna Sonnesyn of UVM.
Taylor trailed slightly heading into the flat section and may have had an eye to slingshot into the lead down the final stretch, but once the double-poling ensued it was clear that the tall, powerful frame of Mooney would be too much to overtake.
Mooney sealed an individual victory for the Panthers, while the Catamount women of UVM topped the team score thanks to the podium by Sonnesyn (in her first EISA race), as well as sixth and eight-place finishes by Mary-kate Cirelli and Marion Woods, respectively.
The men’s race saw a similar situation form by the midpoint in the race, with a small pack of skiers breaking away from the rest of the field. A mid-race snow squall made conditions interesting, but did little to dramatically affect the outcome of the race.
One notable exception to the tactical skiing of the lead pack was Carleton racer Colin Abbott, who pushed away from the field early in the race and skied alone for much of the first three laps. At first glance, the name Carleton may be unfamiliar to some readers: located in Ottawa, the university was a guest of the Bates Carnival this season. Along with Universite Laval from Quebec City, the welcome addition of Canadian teams to the EISA circuit has added a new level of excitement and unique depth to the carnival events.
As the kilometers ticked away with Abbott still alone in front, the movement within the lead pack became more tense. Based on his recent success in distance and mass-start events, many spectators and coaches were likely all wondering the same thing: when was Paddy Caldwell (Dartmouth/USST) gonna chase this guy down?
Sure enough, the Sophomore from the Big Green made his move in the later stages of the race, catching up to Abbott and skiing with him up the brutal stretch of striding that encompassed the rear slope of the infamous “High School Hill”. Despite his push for the lead, Caldwell wasn’t able to surpass Abbott in the finish, crossing the line a few seconds behind.
The podium was completed by another racer from north of the border, Laval skier and former Canadian National Team member Frederic Touchette.
The Dartmouth men were able to take top honors in the team score, with Caldwell leading his teammates Fabian Stocek and Silas Talbot into fourth and sixth place, respectively.
Saturday: 5/10k Freestyle
After frigid temps the night prior and a windy morning with bitter wind chill values, the freestyle races on Saturday were postponed slightly. The wind barely died down for the women’s race, however, and competitors battled gusts in the stadium area strong enough to knock an unsuspecting racer off balance.
That was no problem for the Middlebury women’s team, who looked in absolute control of their technique and pacing on Saturday. Heather Mooney repeated her top performance on Friday to earn a sweep of the weekend, while her teammates Kelsey Phinney and Stella Holt crossed the line in sixth and tenth position, respectively. All three of Middlebury’s scorers looked particularly smooth, snappy and energetic despite the cold snow and wind.
UNH skier Annika Taylor also continued a great opening carnival weekend, finishing just over two seconds behind Mooney for her second podium in as many days. Dartmouth skier Corey Stock rounded out the top three.
The wind began to die down and conditions sped up slightly for the men, who raced two laps for 10 kilometers. In his preferred technique, it was Paddy Caldwell’s race from start to finish. Using a smooth, efficient tempo on the climbs and breaking into his unmistakable and deadly-effective V2 on flatter sections, Caldwell powered to a 46-second victory over Harvard’s Akeo Mayfeld-Carucci.
Mayfeld-Carucci earned his top EISA finish with his second-place result, while the ever-consistent Silas Talbot of Dartmouth claimed third to give Dartmouth a strong presence on the podium.
The third racer from Dartmouth, Fabian Stocek, placed seventh to give the Big Green another team victory.
EISA racing continues next week at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT with host UVM.
Adam Terko is the assistant coach of the St. Lawrence University Ski Team