2016 Nordic Skiing Preview

(L-R): Patrick McElravey and Kelsey Phinney look to lead their respective teams during carnivals this winter.
(L-R): Patrick McElravey and Kelsey Phinney look to lead their respective teams during carnivals this winter.

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 eighth at the NCAA Championships in March. The nordic team lost multiple skiers on the women's side due to graduation, but the depth developed in previous years will keep that upward momentum rolling for both the men and women.

Guided by third-year head coach Andrew Johnson, the men's roster is loaded with experience, including NCAA participant Patrick McElravey. The women welcome back Kelsey Phinney, who competed in both the 2013 and 2015 NCAA Championships.

Graduating from last year's squad on the women's side are All-Americans Heather Mooney and Stella Holt, who were consistent scorers last winter. Mooney stood atop the podium in a total of seven events, earning one of the top-three spots in 11 of the 12 carnival races last winter. Holt stopped the clock in the top-18 spots during all 12 races, crossing the line with the sixth-best time during the Middlebury Carnival 10K race, as well as a seventh-place effort in the 5K at St. Michaels.  

The women's team returns a strong core of skiers this winter led by Phinney. The senior captain placed in the top 10 during nine of the 10 carnival races she skied in last winter. Highlighting her performances were a third-place finish during the 15K freestyle in the EISA Championship hosted by St. Lawrence in Lake Placid, New York, a fourth-place effort during the Dartmouth Carnival's sprint and a fifth-place showing at the season-opening 5K freestyle at Bates. At the NCAA Championship in upstate New York, the fourth-year Panther was 11th in the 15K classic and 20th in the 5K freestyle events, respectively.

Other upperclassmen looking to build off their carnival experiences will be seniors Nicolette Amber and Kaitlin Fink. Amber, the other captain on the women's team, recorded five top-20 times with an individual-best 14th-place finish in the 5K freestyle at Bates. During the EISA Championship, she was 27th in the 5K freestyle and 31st in the 15K classic. Fink, who didn't compete last winter, finished in the top 25 spots during six carnival races as a sophomore. Her season-best effort in 2014 happened when she posted a 12th-place showing in the 15K freestyle during the UNH Carnival.

"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."

Junior Luna Wasson along with sophomores Cate Brams, Katie Feldman and Ann Spencer each scored during multiple carnivals a season ago and will look to make an impact. The head coach also welcomes a first-year woman that will look to break into the lineup and score points.

On the men's side, Johnson welcomes back a talented group led by McElravey and classmate Adam Luban along with sophomores Evan Weinman and Jacob Volz. McElravey and Luban consistently improved during their season collegiate season on the trails. McElravey raced to the line in the top 27 during each of the first 10 carnival races, posting a season-best seventh-place time in the sprint during the Dartmouth Carnival. He finished the season out on an upward trend in the longer distances with an eighth-place finish in the 10K freestyle at Middlebury, and finished 12th and 23rd, respectively, during the EISA Championship and NCAA Championship in the 20K classic events.

Luban tallied his best finish of the winter with a 10th-place finish in the 10K freestyle in the season-opening carnival at Bates. The men's roster also features four first-year skiers vying for a spot in the lineup.  

"We have a young but eager group with no seniors and just two juniors 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' six-carnival schedule begins with the Bates Carnival on January 16-17. Middlebury will also compete at the Colby, Vermont, Dartmouth and Williams Carnivals in the weeks to follow, gearing up for the EISA Championship. The Panthers will host the event, which doubles as an NCAA Regional at the Rikert Nordic Center on February 26-27. Qualifiers will head to the NCAA Championships hosted by the University of Colorado from March 9-12.