Ski teams look to dominate the slopes again

Over the past four seasons, the Spartan men’s and women’s ski teams have quietly morphed into one of strongest athletic programs on the Castleton campus as they have captured division titles in each of those seasons.The Spartans hope that this season will be no different.

But in order to reach their overall goal of earning a bid into the United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association Nationals race at the end of the season, both teams will need to mix new blood into the winning formula. The Spartans will have four new men and five new women on their roster.

Both teams lost key racers to graduation this past May. Coaches Chris Eder and Dale Solotruck hope that those losses will be balanced out by “a very talented and experienced group of freshmen,” as Eder put it.

For the men, the loss comes in the form of Justin Schwartz, who was a USCSA All-American, holding Castleton’s all-time wins, top 3 finishes, and top 10 finishes.

New men’s racers include Steven Zotter, a 2009 New York high school state champion; Thacher Karner, who has competed at the national and international levels; and Connor O’Brien , a member of the 2008 and 2009 Connecticut Interscholastic Ski League All-State teams.

The men’s team will also need strong performances from its leading returners: Greg Towle, a three-time Eastern Collegiate Ski Conference All-Division skier; Charles Robbins , a two-time ECSC All-Division skier; and Bobby Jones, the top rookie in the ECSC Thompson Division last year.

The women’s team will have to deal with the loss of Colleen Pruss, who ended her college career ranked third in Castleton top 3 finishes and tied for second in top 10 finishes.

The women’s team will welcome Kristina Sundin, Courtney Donovan, Corrie Keener, and Kristin Leggett, who placed 16th in the slalom event and 18th in the giant slalom event at the US National Championships in Alyeska, Alaska, where she found herself competing against some of the best American World Cup and Olympic skiers

“I think [Leggett] will make a big difference with our team. She has lots of experience racing at the national and international levels,” Eder said.

The key returners on the women’s team are Erica Luce, Katie Martin, Michelle Podnecky and Heather Patterson, a three-time ECSC All-Division skier.

In addition to those skiers, Eder says, the program will welcome two new skiers, one man and one woman, at the start of the spring semester.

“[Solotruck and I] believe that both will make a huge impact on the teams once we work them onto the teams,” Eder said.

The incoming talent isn’t the only thing new with the teams this season, though. According to Eder, the teams have a new dry-land training regimen that they have been working at for the past 10 weeks because of the lack of snow this year.

“We have been working with Al Jean [Castleton’s Strength and Conditioning coach] quite a bit, and it has been making a huge difference. What Coach Al is doing with our team is amazing,” Eder said. “This is my seventh year coaching at Castleton, and this is the fittest and strongest team we have going into the beginning of the season.”

The Spartans’ other fitness work has been with Dr. Justin Carlstrom, a new faculty member in the Exercise Science Department. According to Solotruck, Carlstrom’s work aims to help the athletes maintain a certain fitness level so that racers don’t deal with fluctuating levels of fitness.

“[With the help of this work] one would be at a higher state of fitness for the entire year, thereby decreasing the likelihood of injury, fatigue and illness,” Solotruck said.

All of this fitness preparation should help the Spartans stay at the top of their game as they aim to take down the usual stiff competition they will face from the likes of Northeastern University, Tufts University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Boston University during the regular season. In the postseason, Castleton will surely square off against the likes of Colby-Sawyer College, Boston College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The Spartans will get their first taste of action this season on Jan. 9 and 10, when they compete in the slalom and giant slalom races at Sunday River Ski Resort in Bethel, Maine.

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