SEASON RECAP: Young Talent Boosts Skiing in Standings

Women’s Nordic team shines at regionals, team moves up to ninth

It seems that the days of double-digit finishes may be over for the Harvard ski team—and no one is feeling any nostalgia.

The Crimson’s consistent ninth-place finishes may not have turned too many heads, but the team’s improvement and individuals’ flashes of brilliance have Harvard eager to hit the slopes again in 2011, when the seasoned freshman class will lead the charge once more.

“I thought it was pretty darn successful for both the men and the women,” alpine coach Tim Mitchell said.

For both the alpine and Nordic squads, the women led the charge, posting historically high finishes on both sides. The team highlight of the season was when the women’s Nordic team took second in the classic event at the regional championships, led by junior Cara Sprague’s sixth-place finish.

“I think we opened a lot of eyes,” said Nordic coach Chris City ’94. “That was extraordinary. We had a sense that we had the depth to ski with just about anybody in the league, and we happened to put it all together.”

The women’s alpine team put up some impressive finishes in regionals as well. Rookie Catherine Sheils, currently ranked in the top 10 among junior skiers, won the second run of the slalom event to take eighth place in the slalom overall—a finish Mitchell estimated to be the best by a Harvard alpine skier in the past 25-30 years.

“To win that second run is outstanding,” Mitchell said.

Both of the women’s teams posted consistent middle-of-the-pack finishes—the alpine team doing so while one of its top skiers, freshman Meg Luck, was frequently injured.

The efforts of the Nordic squad’s top four skiers—co-captain Audrey Mangan, Sprague, and freshmen Alena Tofte and Esther Kennedy—allowed the Nordic team to make the leap from the middle to the top in the final classic race of the season.

Strong finishes from Sheils and sophomore Caroline McHugh, combined with a strong incoming recruiting class for next year, have the women’s alpine team optimistic for next season.

“It was an extremely, extremely successful season,” Mitchell said. “Everyone on the women’s side had their career-best result. When you have a year where everyone gets their best result, it was probably pretty successful.”

From a team perspective, the men did not have the same success as the women’s team did, but the men’s alpine team posted several strong individual finishes, including in the regional championships, when co-captain Chris Kinner placed in the top 30 in both the slalom and giant slalom events.

“I think we had two or three [finishers] in the top 30,” Mitchell said. “The men’s collegiate field is a little bit deeper than the women’s field. Putting two [finishers] in the top 30 is a first for us.”

But for both alpine teams, many of the best results did not appear in the scorebook. They came in exhibition races, such as the Sunday exhibition after the Williams Carnival, when Sheils took third in the region and sophomore Kevin McNamara took 22nd.

But more importantly, the Crimson’s potential for improvement has helped it attract stronger recruiting classes for all four squads.

“The better the team performs, it lends more credibility to the program for prospective students who want to pursue ski racing at a really high level,” Mitchell said. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds in terms of what we can offer the athletes.”

That freshman boost will help the men’s Nordic team continue to make strides next year. The men couldn’t match the strong finishes of the women’s team, consistently placing 10th and 11th. The freshman duo of Kevin Sprague and Anthony Ryerson showed promise throughout the season, and City expects them to lead the charge, along with a strong recruiting class, next winter.

“Tony skied at the Junior Olympics, represented New England, and really had some stellar results,” City said. “Both Kevin and Tony have good plans for training over the summer. They’re going to have good seasons.”

So while not all the squads were able to make the jump from the bottom of the pack to the middle, and the team as a whole stayed planted in ninth all season, the 2010 campaign gave reason for optimism across the board. Now that the team has achieved single-digit finishes, a surge to eighth and beyond doesn’t seem out of reach.

—Staff writer Christina C. McClintock can be reached at ccmcclin@fas.harvard.edu.

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