Featuring a roster of seasoned returnees in addition to some talented youth, the Middlebury nordic skiing team has set its sights on lofty goals this season. Last winter, the team combined with the alpine skiers to finish 12th at the NCAA Championship in March. The nordic team lost multiple skiers in both genders to graduation, but the depth developed in previous years will keep that upward momentum rolling.
Guided by second-year head coach Andrew Johnson, the men's roster is loaded with experience despite the lack of any seniors, while the women welcome back a trio of student-athletes who have competed in the NCAA Championships.
Graduating from last year's squad on the women's side is Emily Attwood, who was a consistent scorer especially in the 5K events. She saved her best performances for last during the EISA Championship, finishing 17th in the 5K classic and 19th in the 15K freestyle.
The women's team returns a strong core of skiers this winter led by senior co-captains Heather Mooney and Stella Holt. Mooney, a two-time NCAA qualifier, placed in the top 10 during a total of eight carnival races last winter. Highlighting her performances were a fifth-place finish during the season-opening 10K freestyle in the Colby Carnival and a fourth-place effort during the UVM Carnival's sprint. At the NCAA Championship in Utah, the fourth-year Panther was 22nd in the 5K classic and 29th in the 15K freestyle events, respectively.
Holt had four top-10 finishes on the EISA circuit last season. She recorded a pair of top-five times in the UVM Carnival with a podium third-place effort in the sprint, and followed that up in fourth during the 5K freestyle. During the EISA Championship hosted by Middlebury, she was 17th in the 15K freestyle and 24th in the 5K classic. Weeks later during the NCAA event, she posted identical 27th-place finishes in the 5K classic and 15K freestyle.
"This season will be an exciting one for the women led by our two senior captains," said Johnson. "Last year, we battled through injuries and illness for much of the year, and it will be nice to have everyone back completely healthy and ready to compete. We have learned from last year's experiences and have a women's team that has depth and is ready to solidify itself as a top team during each carnival."
Another Panther on the women's roster with past NCAA experience is junior Kelsey Phinney, who qualified at the conclusion of her freshman year. Last winter, she scored in five carnivals, including seventh in the 5K classic and ninth competing in the 15K freestyle at the UNH Carnival.
On the men's side, lost to graduation were Ben Lustgarten and Austin Cobb. An All-American as a junior, Lustgarten was a winner of multiple carnival races during his Middlebury career, including standing atop the podium following the 10K classic during last year's EISAs. Cobb competed in all but one of the carnivals last season, tallying 10th and 11th-place finishes during the UVM Carnival events.
Junior Nicolette Amber along with sophomore Luna Wasson scored during multiple carnivals a season ago and will look to make an impact. The head coach also welcomes a trio of first-year women that look to break into the lineup and score points.
Despite the losses, the Panther men will be led by sophomores Patrick McElravey (pictured left) and Adam Luban along with juniors Jack Steele and Nick Underwood. McElravey and Luban consistently improved and gained confidence during their first collegiate seasons on the trails. Luban completed his 20K freestyle race during the EISAs with an individual-best 17th place, while McElravey posted a personal-best 18th-place showing on February 1 during the UVM Carnival sprint.
Steele and Underwood, who both recently rejoined the team following a semester studying abroad in New Zealand, provide a consistent force in the Panther lineup. The men's roster also features a pair of first-year skiers vying for a spot in the lineup.
"We have a young but eager group looking to improve upon last season and create their own legacy," noted Johnson. "Both rosters have a great mix of youth and experience that should combine for some top-end results and welcomed depth."
The Panthers' schedule of six carnivals begins with the Bates Carnival on Friday-Saturday, January 16-17. Middlebury will host its annual carnival on Friday-Saturday, February 13-14 before having a few weeks off before the EISA Championship hosted by St. Lawrence on February 27-28. The NCAA Championships are scheduled to take place in Lake Placid, New York from Wednesday-Saturday, March 11-14.