Using momentum from their best ever outing in the Eastern Regional Championships, the UConn Ski team will now pursue glory at its highest peak as they prepare for the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championships set to take place from March 12-16 at Snow King Mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The Huskies will send both their men’s and women’s teams to compete among 42 other alpine teams and hundreds of athletes. They earned their spot through an exceptional showing despite less than generous weather at the USCSA Eastern Regional in late February, when the men claimed second overall while the women came in a tie for second. The men won the giant slalom competition and placed third in the slalom. The women earned their standing with a second-place finish in the slalom and fourth-place in the giant slalom.
“I think our team’s success was due to our preparation and grit on and off the hill,” said senior captain Joseph DeMuyt. “Our team has put countless hours in training.”
According to DeMuyt, there was a familiarity with the terrain at host Sugarloaf Mountain in Vermont that went a long way as well.
“Multiple skiers in both the men’s and women’s teams have raced at Sugarloaf prior to this race series. Sugarloaf is known throughout the ski racing community as arguably the most challenging hill on the East Coast,” he said.
The team gets going while the rest of their peers are enjoying winter break, holding a training camp at Okemo Mountain Resort. Once classes and competition start up, they relocate to Mt. Southington for home base and compete in the USCSA’s McConnell Division against other northeastern universities.
That training built up to their performance at Sugarloaf.
On the men’s side, DeMuyt, sophomore Vlad Ilies and fellow senior captain Brian Chambers finished eighth, sixth and second overall in the Giant Slalom, respectively, generating an aggregate time of 5:23.10, just .29 seconds faster than runner up Castleton University.
In the slalom Chambers would take seventh, Ilies 10th and DeMuyt 14th. Castleton won the regional and Babson College took third.
The women had a successful day on the slopes for themselves. In their second-place Giant Slalom performance, senior captain Lauren Sullivan placed fifth, backed up by freshman Jacqueline Balch in eighth and junior Alex Marshall in 10th. In the slalom Marshall came in 12th, junior captain Jillian Sherpa came in 16th and sophomore Sydney Murner came in 25th.
In the individual combine, Marshall came in seventh, Sherpa in 11th and Balch in 19th. Castleton would take both series and the overall title while UConn finished tied with Babson.
All three programs will move onto the national championship in both gender brackets.
With a classic winter climate and proximity to prominent facilities across northern New England, the McConnell Division has long been one of the nation’s elite. Like the SEC in football or ACC in basketball, universities in the McConnell are among the preeminent in the sport. The league centers around three mountains: Okemo in Ludlow, Vermont; Whiteface in Lake Placid, New York; and Proctor in Blackwater, New Hampshire. Many of the teams are varsity sports (another obstacle UConn combats as a club).
Castleton and Babson also compete in the McConnell, and the conference took the aforementioned top three spots up for grabs at Sugarloaf, facing challenges from teams from the similarly sized McBain and Thompson leagues. This year both divisions of the UConn team won a race over the course of a 10-event competition schedule. The women finished second in their conference while the men took fourth.
Their established success is set to carry over in Wyoming. Brian Chambers is a four-year All-American. DeMuyt and Ilies received All-American accolades last year. Senior Mike White will be competing in his fourth national championship, and freshman Matthew Chambers, brother of Brian and youngest of the three Chambers to ski for UConn, will round out their five-man delegation and has been strong all year.
Anchored by Sullivan, who won a Giant Slalom race earlier this year in Lake Placid, the women’s team is deep and consistent. Their top five have put up comparable times race in, race out and hope a team effort yields the desired result out West.
Leading their efforts is coach Bruce Diamond, the team’s coach for four seasons but coaching veteran.
The team receives funding from the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and UConn Club Sports, but it is only partial. That includes operating their normal as well as the upcoming trip to Snow King Mountain. The team is hoping to raise $8,000 which will be used to cover travel expenses such as transportation vans, plane tickets, lodging costs and entry fees, according to DeMuyt.
“Our goal for both teams at Nationals is to ski our best and hopefully it will put us on the podium,” DeMuyt said.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.