January 14, 2010

SKI TEAM EYES CLIMB TOWARDS TOP OF THE EAST

DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire ski team, on the strength of its alpine squad, has been a top-10 team in the nation in recent years, including last year’s ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. With an improved Nordic contingent in 2010, UNH looks to challenge not only the top teams of the Eastern Intercollegiate Skiing Association, but the nation.

“Overall, with the combination of alpine and Nordic, this team has a chance to win an EISA carnival,” said Cory Schwartz, who is entering his 25th year as UNH ski coordinator and 28th season as Nordic head coach. “We have been knocking on the door for the past two years and now if we remain healthy, we can achieve something that has not been done by a UNH team in the past 30 years – and that’s win a carnival.”

The alpine team, with eight All-America performances, tallied the second-highest score (one point less than Utah) at the 2009 NCAAs to cap off a dominant season by the Wildcats that included 61 top-10 finishes (in 28 races) as well as three first-place alpine team finishes on the EISA circuit.

The men’s team, which recorded the highest score in 11 of 12 EISA races, will be led by seniors Mike Cremeno (Pembroke, N.H.) and Willie Ford (Plymouth, N.H.). Ford is a three-time NCAA participant and he earned All-America accolades in both the slalom and giant slalom last year; his other ’09 honors included NCAA All-Academic Ski Team and All-East First Team. Ford finished in the top 10 in 13 of 14 races with eight top-5 finishes, including first place in both the SL and GS at Dartmouth and another first place in the GS at UNH.

Cremeno earned All-America status a year ago with a sixth-place finish in the giant slalom at the NCAA Championships. He joined Ford on the NCAA All-Academic Ski Team and was named to the All-East Second Team for the second consecutive year. Cremeno recorded seven top-20 finishes in 2009 and that included four top-10 finishes in the giant slalom. His top finish was second place in the GS at Vermont, whereas third place was Cremeno’s top placing in the slalom (at the EISA Championship).

The women’s alpine team is laden with talented seniors, led by Veronique Archambault-Leger (Verdun, Quebec) and Aileen Farrell (Ottawa, Ontario). Farrell skied to All-America accolades in both the slalom and giant slalom last season; in previous years, she was an All-American in slalom (’08) and giant slalom (’07). Farrell placed in the top 10 in 13 of 14 races and was the top ‘Cat in eight races. Her season-high finishes included second in the GS at UNH and fifth in the SL at the NCAAs.

Archambault-Leger earned All-America accolades in both slalom and giant slalom last year, a feat she initially accomplished in 2007. She raced to six top-5 finishes during the EISA carnival season and her highlights included third place in the SL at UNH and third in the GS at Vermont. Archambault-Leger, who was named to the NCAA All-Academic Ski Team for the third consecutive year in ’09, was the top ‘Cat in six of 14 races a year ago.

Cynthia Tessier (Rawdon, Quebec) and Aliza Aylward (Warren, Vt.) are two other seniors who could advance to the 2010 NCAA Championships. Tessier, a two-time NCAA All-Academic Ski Team honoree and NCAA Championship competitor, competed at the 2009 NCAAs following a carnival season in which she had nine top-20 efforts, including third in the giant slalom at UNH and 10th in the slalom at Vermont. Aylward finished with seven top-20 performances in ’09; at the UNH carnival, she took ninth in the GS and 12th in the SL; her top effort in the slalom was 11th place at Vermont.

Incoming student-athletes Catherine Blanchard (Eastman, Quebec) and Marie-Elaine Lepine (Mont-Tremblay, Quebec) could also contribute some good results for the women’s alpine team this season.

Two other men’s alpine skiers to watch are sophomore Paul Atkinson (Toronto, Ontario) and junior Ethan Weibrecht (Lake Placid, N.Y.), both of whom were NCAA qualifiers last year but did not ski at the national championships. Atkinson, who ranked 14th in the East, recorded five top-10finishes in six slalom races during the carnival season, including eighth place at the EISAs. Weibrecht, another 2009 NCAA All-Academic Ski Team honoree, ranked 17th in the East a year ago following seven top-20 efforts, including five in the slalom; his highlights included a fifth-place finish at Bates.

Depth on the Nordic squad is what brings optimism for coach Schwartz.

“This is probably the deepest men’s Nordic team in the past 10 years,” he said. “I think they have gained the experience over the past few years. I expect five skiers to push for an NCAA spot.

“Besides Dartmouth, which has one of the best women’s Nordic teams in the country, we are with Middlebury, Williams and Vermont fighting for that next spot,” Schwartz continued. “The Wildcat men’s and women’s squads have the potential to win any weekend.”

Leading the way for the women’s contingent is junior Natasha Kullas (Timmons, Ontario), who was limited to three carnivals last season due to injury. In that limited action, she placed third in the classic sprints at UNH. As a freshman in ’08, Kullas competed at the NCAAs after recording three top-10 finishes during the carnival season.

Classmate Katie Miller (Lenox, Mass.) will also play a prominent role in UNH’s success this season, as will sophomores Danielle Baron (Gilford, N.H.) and Anya Caldwell Bean (Wolfeboro, N.H.) and freshman Liz Guiney (Park City, Utah).

Miller had a strong ’09 by pointing in eight of 10 races for the ‘Cats, and her highlights included 12th place in the 10K freestyle at UNH. Caldwell Bean peaked at the end of the 2009 season with 24th place in both the 15K free and 5K classic races at the EISAs while Baron’s highlight included 18th place in the classic at UNH.

Senior Dylan McGuffin (Concord, N.H.), who is coming off three strong performances at the 2010 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, will lead the way for the men’s Nordic team. He was the top ‘Cat six times and pointed in all 12 races last year. McGuffin was UNH’s top finisher in both the 10K classic (13th place) and 20K free (17th) at the EISAs.

Fellow senior Michael Lessard (Greene, Maine), juniors Steven Bedard (Cheshire, Mass.) and Harrison Harb (Contoocook, N.H.) and freshman Erik Lindgren (Pitea, Sweden) are also expected to compete for a spot in the NCAAs.

Lessard, who garnered 2009 NCAA All-Academic Ski Team accolades, pointed in five races last season and was the top ‘Cat in the 10K classic at Middlebury; he recorded three other top-25 finishes. Bedard was the top ‘Cat four times in ’09 and pointed in four other races; his season highlights included second place in the classic sprint at UNH and ninth place in the 20K free at Bates. Harb competed at three carnivals and pointed in three of six races with a season best of 23rd place in the 10K free at Vermont.

The 2010 season begins Jan. 15-16 at the St. Lawrence Carnival and continues Jan. 22-23 at St. Michael’s. In February, the carnival circuit includes Vermont (Feb. 5-7), Dartmouth (Feb. 12-13), Williams (Feb. 19-20) and the EISAs at Middlebury (Feb. 26-27).

New Hampshire will then turn its focus towards another top-10 national finish at the NCAAs, which will be held March 10-13 by the University of Colorado.

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