The Castleton State College ski teams have their first national champion, or actually two champions.Freshman Kristin Leggett and sophomore Michelle Podnecky, two small town girls from central Vermont, both took top honors individually during the United States Ski and Snowboard Association National Championships at Sunday River, Maine on March 3-6.
Leggett was the first to accomplish the feat winning the women’s giant slalom race on March 3. The day started off great for Leggett as she found herself sitting in second place behind Westminster College’s Kendall Brown by .46 seconds. On the second run, Leggett found herself skiing in front of Brown, not knowing how good of a run she would have to turn in to take the top spot.
“When I watched them both go down, I thought Kristin looked better,” coach Chris Eder said.
After watching the racers finish, Eder used his phone to check the live-timing.
Leggett had indeed turned it up a notch, finishing ahead of Brown by .74 seconds in the overall total.
That is when he realized that he had a national champion skier on his team.
“I turned to the rest of them and said [that she had won], and [the men and the women] were screaming,” he said.
For Eder, the feeling was unfamiliar.
“It was something I had never felt before,” he said. “I didn’t go to bed till 3:30 [that morning] because I couldn’t.”
Eder said that he and co-coach Dale Solotruck knew that Leggett was going to tear up the course once she got on it, but even they couldn’t have predicted that she’d win.
“Dale and I knew it was possible that Kristin had a shot for top three going in,” he said. “We knew she had the tools, but that was something we never told her.”
Eder displayed modesty when talking about Leggett’s stellar performance, saying that a lot of the credit for her success needs to go to all of her former coaches.
“College coaches get lucky a lot,” he said. “We’ve only worked with her for a while, and there’s not a lot of coaching left to do. We got a real gem there with her, though.”
Eder said one of the hardest parts of that night was trying to savor the moment.
“You know, tomorrow’s another day, and I just wanted [the feeling] to last as long as it could,” he said.
Little did he know, Podnecky would restore that feeling just two days later when she entered in the freestyle skiercross race.
The skiercross event, which Eder likened to motocross but with skis, has only been offered at the USCSA Nationals Championship for three years.
Podnecky said she didn’t decide to enter the race until March 3, the day before the time trials were held. She said she and Batholomew Kallgren, who entered on the men’s team, didn’t know what to expect.
“We had no experience at all,” she said. “We didn’t even know the rules or how everything was run.”
Eder says that Podnecky’s interest in the event came out of nowhere, and that while he was confident in her ability, he was also worried for her safety.
“This is a race where they get launched into the air at high speeds,” he said. “If you don’t land right, you’re done.”
Podnecky was far less concerened than her coaches.
“It could’ve been dangerous, but I didn’t care,” she said
Eder said once he saw the time trial runs, where Podnecky dominated, he felt much more at ease with the race.
“She’s a real good skier, she’s tough, so that also made me really confident in her,” Eder said.
Podnecky, easily won all four rounds of competition on March 4, claiming the gold medal.
“Not at all,” Podnecky said when asked whether she thought she had a chance to win the event. “I just wanted to have fun. I honestly didn’t think I would do well.”
As for the team results, the women’s placed 10th in the Giant Slalom event and 11th in the slalom event.
The men placed 16th out of 21 teams in the Giant Slalom.
“It wasn’t bad,” Eder said. “In the giant slalom we ran into a little bad luck. One of our top skiers was disqualified, so that really dropped us back. We probably could have finished 12th that day.”
During the second day or racing, Eder said the course proved to be very difficult for all of the teams. He said while normally he wouldn’t be excited about a 13th place finish, he was happy with the way the men handled the difficult terrain.
Eder said that the thing he was most proud of with the men’s slalom races was their team spirit when things went wrong.
“You know, three guys missed a gate on their first run, and they had to hike back up the hill to finish. Then on the second run, the other two guys missed the gate. They showed a lot of character by hiking back up to finish. They knew that the team needed the points. I was proud of them.”
But Eder said it was the individual results that made this year’s trip so fun.
“The team results were respectable, but the highlight to our trip to the National Championships for everybody on the men’s and women’s teams was Kristin and Michelle up on the podium,” Eder said “That’s the bottom line.