Glancing at the whole of something doesn’t mean you understand all of its parts. Imagine this: you assume that Australia doesn’t have any decent winter athletes just because its total medal count—two—falls far behind winter powers such as the United States, Germany, and Norway, the current medal leaders. Then you’d be denying the existence of Australian Olympian Torah Bright, who took gold in the women’s half pipe, beating all the top U.S. riders in the process.
Likewise, it would be foolish to look at the Harvard ski team’s ninth-place finishes and assume that a top ski team, like the University of New Hampshire or Middlebury, could easily beat them in any given event.
To do so would be to discount the women’s Nordic team, a squad that has emerged this season as a consistent contender and a threat to some of the top programs in the country.
This past weekend at the Williams Ski Carnival, the team placed fifth in the 5k classic and sixth in the 5k free event.
To understand the magnitude of these results, it’s important to understand the caliber of the opponents they beat.
Take the University of New Hampshire for instance, whom the Crimson topped in the classic event. The Wildcats, lurking just behind the power struggle between the University of Vermont and league’s pacesetter Dartmouth, took third in the overall carnival scores and finished ninth at the NCAA Championships a year ago.
The win over Middlebury was arguably even more significant. The Panthers, as their website boasts, are the only NCAA team with two alums skiing in Vancouver, including Nordic skier Simi Hamilton, and the team took the eighth spot in last year’s national championships.
In addition to recent success at the national level, both of these schools—along with all of Harvard’s other Carnival competitors—have a clear advantage over the Crimson in one critical area.
While last Tuesday’s snowfall satisfied many students’ long desire for a white winter, that day of frosting would hardly cut the cake up North, where ski resorts abound, and deep snow covers campuses all winter long.
All of which makes it even more impressive that Harvard’s skiers have been able to beat them in Nordic events.
And the way the Crimson has engineered these results suggest that it has a recipe for future success.
Unlike many upstart teams which are driven by one superstar and a lot of average-to-bad role players, the Harvard women’s Nordic team has ample competition at the top.
It doesn’t even have a top skier but rather a trio of top racers in captain Audrey Mangan and freshmen Alena Tofte and Esther Kennedy. The three have exchanged places all season. Mangan led the way at the early races and the Williams Carnival races, while Tofte led the charge in the University of Vermont and Dartmouth Carnivals, with Kennedy right behind her. Junior Cara Sprague is not far behind these three and finished second on the team in the 15k free event in the St. Lawrence Carnival. Continued development of interchangeability will allow Harvard to compete against larger teams with great recruiting resources and a larger supply of reserves.
“It’s been great getting to know them and seeing the team coming together like a great group of friends,” Mangan said. “It definitely helps to have teammates that can push you a lot in practice. I’m really proud of them.”
And that’s where the freshmen come in. Because while Mangan’s career at Harvard ends this coming weekend at the EISA Championships, Tofte and Kennedy will be a big part of the Crimson’s success for years to come. Their emergence can help Harvard notch improved finishes, and these results can attract stronger recruiting classes in years to come.
But as Mangan’s skiing career closes out, her successes were hardly in vain. Not only has the senior turned in impressive performances on her own, but her improvement over her three years on the team (Mangan ran track freshman year) suggest that the Crimson may be better at developing talent than one might expect from its urban location.
And so long as the team keeps improving, its underdog status might prove attractive to recruits looking to make an impact. It’s not really fair to make the “any smart athlete would choose Harvard for its academics” argument when strong institutions such as Dartmouth and Williams sit above them in the standings, but an academic reputation certainly can’t hurt either.
So if the Crimson Nordic women’s success this past weekend went right over your head, don’t worry about it. It’ll happen again soon enough.
—Staff writer Christina C. McClintock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.