The 2015/2016 awards continue this week, chosen by the FasterSkier staff based on performances from last season. While not scientific, these points of recognition are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review.
There are a few teams which have dominated college skiing in the last few years: Denver and Colorado trading back and forth for 10 of the last 12 NCAA titles. Northern Michigan University dominating Midwest cross-country skiing.
And, in the East, the University of Vermont. The Catamounts won 21 straight Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) carnivals coming into this season, meaning no other team had won in almost four years. They also won the 2012 NCAA Championships, one of the few teams to break Denver-Colorado dominance.
But at the Colby Carnival in Maine, the second weekend of the 2016 EISA season, the other team to break the Denver-Colorado pattern – 2007 NCAA champions Dartmouth College – began their rebound, edging UVM by four points for the combined men’s, women’s, alpine, and nordic title.
“It has been a long spell of 2nd place finishes and we all knew we could do it,” Dartmouth Director of Skiing Cami Thompson-Graves wrote in an email this spring. “It was just a matter of putting things together at the same time. Certainly the strength of our Alpine teams helped, but we also had some solid performances on the Nordic side too.”
Helmed by Thompson-Graves on the women’s cross-country side and Ruff Patterson on the men’s cross-country side, and with a storied past, it’s hard to ever consider Dartmouth the underdogs in a ski race. But it still seemed like an upset.
Then Dartmouth won the UVM Carnival. Then UVM won the Dartmouth Carnival. It was competition that the Eastern circuit hadn’t seen in years.
“The excitement of the team was great,” Thompson-Graves wrote. “I knew it had been a while but hadn’t considered just how long it had been, and so winning early in the season was a great boost, and helped keep the team fired up through the season, despite the lack of snow and constant wondering of where/what we would be racing from week to week.”
Dartmouth went on to earn fifth place at NCAA Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the top team from the Eastern division.
After the whole Championships with only one race remaining, UVM trailed Dartmouth by just two points. That race was the women’s 15 k mass start; UVM had won seven women’s cross-country races over the course of the season, compared to three for Dartmouth.
But Thompson-Graves’s Dartmouth women’s team pulled away, with Dartmouth securing fifth place and UVM slipping to seventh.
“Steamboat was fun — I always like racing there, despite the elevation,” Thompson-Graves wrote. “The first race was tough, and the results were average but it was great to put it together for some stronger results in the final race. Of course, we want more, but 5th was a result to be proud of this year.”
Dartmouth wasn’t the best college team in the country, even when breaking things down into nordic and alpine. National titles, however, are not the only measure of coaching success. Thompson-Graves and Patterson have shaped a large segment of skiers who are contributing to American success internationally, as well as fueling the ever-more-competitive senior domestic circuit.
This year alone, Dartmouth alumni women made up half of the World Championships team for U.S. biathlon (Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker) and three-eighths of the U.S. Ski Team’s senior team (Sophie Caldwell, Ida Sargent and Rosie Brennan).
When the Ski Tour Canada picked up extra American and Canadian quota spots, three more Dartmouth skiers joined the World Cup: Annie Hart, Eric Packer and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess. Elsewhere in the ski world, fellow alum Erika Flowers finished third in the American Birkebeiner, and Paddy Caldwell, still college-aged but skiing primarily with a senior team, was the top American finisher in the 15 k skate at U23 World Championships.
Only four U.S. athletes stood on individual World Cup podiums in nordic sport this season, and half came from this group: Dunklee (second in a biathlon World Cup in Fort Kent, Maine) and Caldwell (who won a Tour de Ski stage in Oberstdorf, Germany).
(Brennan was also part of the third-place U.S. relay team in Lillehammer, Norway.)
And the other two podium finishers – Jessie Diggins and Simi Hamilton – happen to be part of the SMST2 team, which is coached by Patterson’s former All-American skier Patrick O’Brien. Their head coach on the U.S. Ski team is another of Patterson’s former athletes, Chris Grover.
Those are just a few Patterson and Thompson-Graves’s former athletes who have gone on to coach at every possible level, with some encouraging participation at a young age and building the U.S. skiing pipeline from the bottom, while others help point talented college and senior athletes towards elite success.
Thompson-Graves is also now a member of the International Ski Federation’s Ladies Cross Country Committee, where she is pushing for better representation of women at all levels of skiing.
Patterson is retiring after this season, but Thompson-Graves will continue to helm the program into the future. While watching their former athletes excel at the senior level must be satisfying, there’s still plenty going on in their day jobs.
“It was great to knock UVM off the top a couple of times this year!” Thompson-Graves wrote in her email.