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Rebecca Nadler ended her season as she began it: as one of the best in the field. The freshman alpine skier's 20th place finish in the slalom event led Harvard's three-woman charge to a 17th-place finish in the NCAA Championships, hosted last week by the University of Vermont in Stowe, Vt.
For Nadler, the finish capped a season-long recovery from illness. But the freshman and sophomore teammate Catherine Sheils continued to face obstacles heading into the race.
"I got a call on Tuesday saying 'We're moving up the race and racing tomorrow,'" alpine coach Tim Mitchell said. "We didn't get on the road till six o'clock on Tuesday and were racing at 8 a.m. on Wednesday."
In the first women's alpine event, the giant slalom, Nadler finished 33rd, just two places ahead of teammate Catherine Sheils, who took 35th.
"The [giant slalom] was certainly a little frustrating for Catherine and me," Nadler said. "Catherine lost her ski, and I had a little fall."
According to Mitchell, both skiers fell victim to tough conditions.
"[Stowe] got two and a half or three feet of snow, and then it started raining on top of it, and then it snowed on top of that," Mitchell said.
The conditions created holes in the slopes, which proved especially treacherous to skiers starting at the back of the pack—as Nadler and Sheils were.
"Rebecca...was making a great turn. Snow peeled out, and she fell. Catherine was skiing probably her best giant slalom, but she hit one of those holes, and her ski popped off."
Saturday proved to be a better day, particularly for Nadler who rallied to take 20th in the slalom.
"I focused on staying solid and balanced and level on my skis," she said. "I kept it simple."
Nadler managed to score highly despite starting second to last.
"Rebecca skied a great first run and moved up to 18th," Mitchell said. "She started to ski like herself again [after being sick]. She hit a bump in the second run and lost two places...They do split times in the middle of the course. She was actually in eighth place at the split time...20th at the national championships is still a pretty good result."
Sheils took 28th in the event after falling during the race.
"She was a fighter," Nadler said of Sheils. "She really showed a lot of stamina. It was impressive to see her work ethic and how she pushed through."
Sophomore Alena Tofte, meanwhile, earned a 31st place finish in the 5k free race and 35th in the 15k mass start race.
"It's the best collegiate skiers in the country, and she held up really well," said Nordic coach Chris City '94. "I think Alena skied pretty close to her best race both days. She went out early, and it was really hard to know [how she was doing]. She just had to put her head down. As it turned out, she was right in it with the bulk of the skiers. So that was phenomenal. What was great was that she went out and attacked it. She went out and skied her best."
It was a strong weekend all around for teams from the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association. The EISA had 10 teams represented at the 21-team event, and four—Dartmouth, the University of Vermont, the University of New Hampshire, and Middlebury—finished in the top 10. The Big Green led the charge with a third-place finish.
"I think there's a reputation that the west teams are stronger, and I think what we saw, particularly on Wednesday, was that that wasn't the case."
Harvard's coaches and athletes said that the experience will make all three Crimson athletes better skiers in the future.
"It's good for them to get their first NCAA championships under their belt," Mitchell said. "That way they go there again, it will be just another race. The result will take care of itself."
But results aside, this trip was special in that it happened at all. Nadler and Sheils were the first female alpine skiers ever to qualify for NCAAs, and Tofte was the first to compete since Anna McLoon '04.
"It was a really cool experience for all," Nadler said. "It was kind of cool to be making history."
—Staff writer Christina C. McClintock can be reached at email@example.com.
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