The Spartan men’s ski team is headed to Winter Park Resort in Colorado to attend its second USCSA National Championship in a row as it tied for fourth place in the Eastern Regional races this past weekend.The Spartans came into the Eastern Regional races with their confidence flying high. The women’s team had finished the season undefeated, and the men’s team had finished just one tenth of a second away from perfection.
Both the men and the women got off to fast starts on Saturday, placing third and sixth in the Slalom respectively. Justin Schwartz was the fastest Spartan male, locking up 10th place with a final time of 1:33.58 while Michelle Podnecky took the Spartan women’s top honor, placing 23rd with a final time of 1:49.14.
On Sunday, the Spartan men skied a “conservative” race, according to coach Chris Eder.
“Our mentality for Sunday’s giant slalom was to finish. We knew that we were in a good spot after the first day, as the top-five teams overall from the weekend’s events advance to the USCSA National Championships,” he said.
Greg Towle took first place for the Spartans, checking in with an 18th place finish after two runs and a combined time of 2:17.45.
The women meanwhile found themselves skiing just as strongly as they had the day before, finishing in sixth place for the day and sixth place for the weekend. The lady Spartans were led by freshman Katie Martin, who finished 26th with a total two-run time of 2:27.51.
The lady Spartans, though, did not receive an invitation to attend the National Championship because of a mix up with the formula that determines how many slots are open to the eastern region.
According to Eder, the USCSA announced in the fall that its new formula, which is based on the number of teams in the region and the past performance of the teams in the National Championship, would award the East another slot in the National Championship, bringing the total amount of Eastern teams to six. In December, though, the USCSA Board of Directors decided to hold off using the new formula until next year, cutting the number of teams back down to five.
The only problem is none of the coaches were told about the decision to hold off on using the new formula until Saturday’s Slalom event.
“All season long, we talked about how all they needed to do is finish sixth at Regionals and they are in (Nationals). That was our goal: Finish sixth or better-and they finished sixth on both days and overall,” Eder said.
Podnecky echoed Eder’s thoughts.
“Our whole team thought it was completely unfair to tell us on Saturday night,” Podnecky said. “Especially since we had finished sixth that day and all of us were just trying to finish because we were told if we just finished we would be going to nationals. So, if we knew they were only taking five teams we would have skied harder. We were all really upset when we found out we weren’t going.”
Despite the odd, disappointing fate of the women’s team, the men must now put the past behind them and focus on this week’s races.
Eder says that his skiers will have to think about what is best for the team and not what is best for personal results. The skiers will also have to communicate with each other.
“Communication is key. Course reports are very important,” Eder said. “When our first racer crosses the finish line, he will need to radio up to the start to let our next guy know how the course is running and point out any tricky spots.”
The skiers won’t be the only ones radioing up reports. Eder says that either he or co-coach Dale Solotruck will be sending up constant reports from the middle of the course, looking to give the Spartans every bit of information possible.
Although The Spartans will compete against the best teams in the country, Eder feels this tiny team from Vermont has a chance to do good things in the National Championship.
“I know that we can come out with a good result if things go our way. Last year we finished eighth out of the top-20 teams in the country and we did that by finishing. There were teams there that were better than us on paper, but at the end of the event, we finished, and they didn’t.