Big Cats take big wins in Williams Carnival skate relay
Mount Van Hoevenberg delivered an absolutely picture-perfect day for the Williams Carnival relays. Subzero overnight temperatures rose to a comfortable low teens by racetime, and were accompanied by a cloudless sky and packed powder conditions. If you like nordic skiing, it doesn't get much better than the conditions in Lake Placid today.
The 3 x 5k relay rollercoastered over a 2.5k loop on Van Ho's biathlon trails that featured two climbs from yesterday's 5k as well as another steep pitch. Skiers would complete two laps of the challenging course before tagging off to their teammates in the shadow of the Olympic biathlon range.
First leg skiers were seeded from yesterday's team results, and after yesterday's podium sweep, the UVM men had the honor of starting at the peak of the chevron. Ben Ogden lined up as UVM's scramble leg and was flanked by three rows of skiers on either side. Action started with a brief parade loop in the stadium to spread out the field before it shot down into the course proper.
For anyone curious about the definition of leading "wire-to-wire," Ogden provided a textbook example. He took the race by the horns and showed why he's the EISA's top ranked skier, leading from the start and taking ten seconds out of the field after the first 2.5k lap.
UNH first-year and Lake Placid native Scott Schulz led the chasers, who had been scattered into singles and packs spread across the loop.
Ogden tagged off to teammate Karl Schulz with a twenty second lead. The elder Schulz kept the fire burning, and when he came into the stadium at 7.5k, no one else was in sight.
The lead kept growing, ballooning to over a minute by the time Schulz handed off to anchor Bill Harmeyer. With the race all but decided, Harmeyer just needed to stay on the course and keep himself and his equipment in working order. He brought the Catamounts home with more daylight before second place than summer solstice above the Arctic Circle.
Behind the UVM express train, a pitched battle shaped up for the podium's final spots. Bowdoin, thirty-three seconds down to UNH at the first exchange, slowly reeled the Wildcats back, narrowing the gap to eighteen seconds at the final exchange. Junior Eliot Ketchel was tagged with one mission: take second place out of UNH anchor Will Bodewes' hands.
Ketchel kept tugging on the fishing pole and reeled back the gap to a tantalizing four seconds, but couldn't complete the catch. UNH took second and Bowdoin snagged third, more strong results in what has been a resurgent season for both teams.
As the women took to the course to finish their warmups, the trails filled up with even more spectators. The combination of a late race and a spectacular Adirondack Day brought out throngs of fans, and the unusually short loop made the course seem even more packed.
After the blare of the starter's non-gun (an electronic bleep), the parade lap did little to separate out the women's race. The field dropped into the woods together, a mass of spandex and carbon fiber jockeying for position through the trees. Nine teams were within five seconds at the 2.5k mark, and the relay crown was anyone's for the taking.
The next time the field came through the stadium, things weren't much clearer. Eight teams - UVM 1 and UVM 2, Dartmouth 1 and Dartmouth 2, Middlebury, Colby, UNH, and Bowdoin, were still in the pack. The exchange was tight and tense, with one wrong move threatening loss of the the pack and a shot a glory.
The pack stayed tight until Middlebury's Sophia Laukli launched herself up the last climb on the loop and off the front of the race. Only Dartmouth and UVM could follow, and halfway through leg two, Laukli had opened a slim four second lead on her pursuers.
Laukli took advantage of the breathing room and grew the gap, taking eight seconds on Dartmouth and twenty-three on UVM by the third exchange, where she tagged off to Alex "Boss" Lawson.
After the tag, Lawson clocked into the office and went to work on extending the gap. She showed the form that's won two 5k skate carnivals this year, storming through the first lap and taking the lead out to thirty-three seconds at the 12.5k mark.
She continued pushing on the final lap but the win was never in doubt, and had plenty of time to grab the Middlebury flag in the chute and carry it across the finish line.
Behind Lawson, a heated battle was shaping up for second and third. Dartmouth anchor Lauren Jortberg was eleven seconds ahead of UVM's Anya Bizyukova at the second exchange, but "Biz" - yesterday's 10k classic winner - pulled back the gap to just four seconds by the 12.5k mark.
On the final lap, Bizyukova got around Jortberg and put the Catamounts into second on the day, thirty-three seconds behind Middlebury. Dartmouth held on for the third spot on the podium.
UVM totaled the most nordic points this weekend, while Middlebury took the overall carnival win for the second consecutive week. EISA racing is off next weekend before resuming at the Middlebury Carnival/Regional Championships February 28th and 29th.
World Junior/U23 Championships are taking place at the same time, and several top EISA athletes will be representing the US and Canada in Oberwiesenthal, Germany and absent from the carnival. The departure of some key skiers adds a bit of mystery to what is sure to be a thrilling final pair of races, with regional championships, EISA awards, and NCAA qualification all on the line.
Complete results from the weekend, including team scores and relay splits, are available on Bullitt Timing.