The Middlebury nordic ski teams return to the course this winter looking to improve a squad that sent three racers to the NCAAs last spring. The men return their deepest, most talented and experienced group in years, while the women's squad lost two key veterans and will return three skiers with carnival experience.
Now in his fourth season as head coach, Andrew Johnson is cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. "We have a really deep group on the men's side returning, while the women's team is more of an unknown early in the year as they are a much younger team" said the two-time Olympian and three-time All-American. "However, our team is more athletically developed this year and more mentally mature, which should lead to strong results this winter."
The women's squad lost a pair of major contributors as Annie Pokorny and Kelsey Phinney both graduated last year. Pokorny was a three-time NCAA participant and a former All-American, while Phinney had been to the NCAAs in each of the last three seasons. Also lost were senior contributors Nicolette Amber and Alia Johnson. The men's team, on the other hand, had no seniors a year ago and will return a full squad in 2017.
Both teams had some big individual results last season, including five wins for the women. Illness and injuries also hampered the teams, but the youth, especially on the men's side, gained valuable experience that should pay off.
"We need to continue to build on the really outstanding work that the team put in over the spring, summer and early fall," said Johnson. "If we can do that, and we can maintain good health into the winter, we'll have an exciting season."
The men's team will be led by senior Patrick McElravey, a two-time NCAA qualifier. The team captain is capable of top-five finishes every weekend and has turned in some impressive freestyle results in the past. He owns six top-10 individual finishes as a Panther, including a seventh-place effort in the 10K free at the Vermont Carnival last season.
Joining him is classmate Adam Luban, who looks to bounce back from injuries after missing most of 2016. Luban improved his results significantly from his rookie season and turned in consistent finishes throughout 2015. Sophomore Sam Wood suffered through mono most of last year, but has shown signs of being a top racer for the Panthers.
Juniors Jacob Volz and Evan Weinman raced in every carnival event last season for Middlebury, with Weinman boasting a pair of top-20 finishes. The duo adds depth and experience to the Panthers' carnival roster.
On the women's side, juniors Katie Feldman and Cate Brams will both look to make big jumps this season after solid finishes as sophomores. Feldman raced in every event last season, as did Brams with the exception of the Bates Carnival. Feldman was in the top-30 six times last winter, while Brams finished strong with 14th place (15K classic) and 15th place (5K free) efforts at the Middlebury Carnival.
Senior Kaitlin Fink is a veteran racer who skied in every carnival event as a rookie and junior, missing her sophomore season with an injury. Feldman and senior Luna Wasson will serve as team captains this season.
The Panthers will begin their season with a November camp in Stoneham, Quebec, and pick things up after the winter break with a training and racing camp in Utah. Middlebury's six-carnival schedule begins with the St. Lawrence Carnival on January 20-21. New Hampshire, Vermont and Dartmouth will host events before the Panthers host their annual Carnival on February 17-18. Bates will be the site of the EISA Championships on February 24-25, before the NCAA Championships take place from March 8-11, hosted by the University of New Hampshire.