“Wolf Pack Skiers Look For Best Result Yet in Upcoming NCAA Championship”
By Kara LaPoint
The championship will be held March 11-14 at Sunday River and Black Mountain in Bethel and Rumford, Maine. The event combines scores from four areas of competition to determine the national championship institution: women’s Alpine, women’s Nordic, men’s Alpine and men’s Nordic. Eight competitions will be held in total, with two in each discipline.
All Alpine athletes will compete in Slalom and Giant Slalom races, while the Nordic events will consist of a five-kilometer classic and 15-kilometeer freestyle race for the women, and a 10-kilometer classic and 20-kilometer freestyle race for the men.
Participants for the event are selected based on a regional qualification process, which includes two regions for Alpine (East and West) and three regions for Nordic (Central, East and West).
With ten qualified athletes, the Pack is just two shy of a full championship squad. A full team is twelve qualified athletes, with three per gender per discipline. This is the closest Nevada has been to a full representation since fielding 11 athletes in 2004.
Though four teams will bring 12 scoring athletes to the championships this year, Director of Skiing and Head Nordic Coach August Teague feels his team can contend with any of them.
“We are shooting for a top-five finish overall, with five individual All-American performances,” he said.
Should the team accomplish that goal, they will achieve their all-time best performance at a national championship.
Senior Nordic competitor Chelsea Holmes said she thinks top-five is a “definite possibility.” Sophomore Alpine competitor Amy Harris agreed. “I think anyone of us can get in the top-ten. We have people that can win races if they ski their best,” she said.
According to Teague, one advantage of his squad is consistent performance.
“The good news for us… is we have the same guys scoring all the time. Other teams may have more depth, but the same people cannot always be counted on to perform. At the championship, they have to,” he said.
With eight competitions at the championship, a team has to be good in everything. The Pack boasts contenders in all disciplines.
On the Alpine side, seniors Katie Lyons and Taryn O’Flynn join Harris for the women. Male competitors are sophomores Gregory Berger-Sabbatel and Shane Collins, and freshman Martin Harris.
Lyons is making her third NCAA appearance, after earning All-America Honors in last year’s slalom race. She finished in the top-15 in five races this year. Harris and O’Flynn each make their championship debut this year, and both head into the week riding the best results of their respective careers. Harris turned in four top-ten showings this season, while O’Flynn posted three.
Berger-Sabbatel and Collins each make their second NCAA appearance. Berger-Sabbatel earned all-America honors with a ninth in the men’s Giant Slalom last year. He turned in six top-ten performances this season, with three podium finishes. Collins posted three top-ten results. Martin Harris heads into his first championship following a second-place at the 2009 NCAA West Regional Championships in February.
On the Nordic side, the pack fields senior Lutz Preussler and sophomore Jonathan Pluvinet for men. Holmes and Junior Kristin Ronnestrand make up the women’s team.
Preussler makes his fourth and final NCAA appearance this year, following a season in which he never finished out of the top-25, with a season-high placing of seventh. Pluvinet makes his championship debut after turning in four top-ten performances this season.
Holmes also competes in her fourth national championship, after turning in an All-American performance last year in the 15-kilometer classic race. She posted four top-ten results this season. Ronnestrand makes her second NCAA championship appearance after competing in 2007 for the University of Colorado. This season, she turned in five top-ten finishes, including one podium.
“All season in Nordic we have skied with only three women,” said Teague. “They are used to having to perform every time, and never come up short.”
The Wolf Pack heads to Nationals riding the momentum of a third-place finish in the Western Regional Championships. The performance was the best ever for the Wolf Pack.
“It is inspiring, and also a realization and a reassurance,” Holmes said “It was a head's up to say ‘this is what we can do.'”
Coach Teague said he thinks the result reflects what his team is capable of, and where they should always ski.
“We have been skiing faster and faster,” he said, “as proven by this last performance. It took time to catch up with the other schools who were on snow early, but we have come into form and are skiing where we should have been all season.”
Teague said that to attain the goal of a top-five finish, all athletes must to ski to their maximum potential. For that to happen, “People have to relax, have fun, and ski smart, like they know how to do,” he said. “Everyone is already there, now we just have to get it done.”
His team is on the same page.
“I think it needs to be relaxed and natural. Too much pressure can be destructive,” said Holmes.
Both Preussler and Amy Harris said they think the race should be treated “just like any other.”
“We have been skiing well all season, and this is just another race,” said Harris. “It shouldn’t be any different.”
There is one difference, though, and that is location.
Racing in the East brings different conditions, as well as the challenge of low altitude, but Teague said he is not worried.
“Location doesn’t matter, our team is strong enough to ski anywhere,” he said.
“We have been exposed to all the elements this year, so we are prepared for everything.”
Holmes shares Teague’s confidence in the team’s ability to adapt to adverse conditions. “Every athlete will be facing some challenge during the week. We won’t let it hinder us mentally. The athlete’s mind has greater power and influence on the body than anything else, and we know that.”
Overall, Holmes said the team is “positive and determined” heading into the championship. “It is a focused excitement. Everyone knows there is a lot of potential to do well,” she said.
Personally, she is ready to leave it all on the course for her team. “It’s my last year, so I feel like whatever I need to do as an athlete needs to be done now. If some part of me has been holding back this year, this is the point where I have to let go of anything and everything… and just do it.”
Preussler feels equally determined to finish his collegiate career with a strong showing.
“Sometimes it’s your day and sometimes it isn’t, but I hope I will have one of those days out in Maine where I finish and can say ‘today, everything was perfect,’” he said.
Behind the experience of its seniors, the determined spirit and focus of its rookies, and the “best coaches out there” according to Amy Harris, the Wolf Pack skiers are ready to prove themselves out in Maine. With big ambitions, they bring even bigger determination, and most of all, talent.
“I know from [past years] that the NCAA Championship is the highlight of the season,” said Preussler. So if all goes according to plan, with “no reason not to improve on the results from previous years,” this one will be the highlight of his career.