Mass start masterpieces for Freed and Wolter at Regional Champs
Updated: Mar 2
The excitement started at eight this morning at Middlebury's Rikert Nordic Center, when a sudden squall descended from the mountains and dumped an inch of powder on the Tormondsen Family 5k. In a few minutes, the tracks transitioned from firm transformed snow to powder, sending coaches scrambling to redo kickwax before athletes arrived.
The squall cleared up just as quickly as it started, and the weather settled into classic Vermont overcast conditions by the time the women began warming up. Plenty of warmup and wax testing laps helped ski in the new snow and made for a consistent and fair track. The new snow did slow things down, making Middlebury's notorious descents a bit more skiable.
The women went first, lining up in the start chevron in the middle of Middlebury's storied Bread Loaf Campus. From the start, a pair of Middlebury Panthers and UVM Catamounts controlled the pacemaking, leading a long line of skiers snaking through the trees. As the women took their first trip up the A Climb and down Sugar House Drop, UVM's Margie Freed took sole possession of the lead and opened a small gap.
"I wanted to be able to ski the downhills by myself, and I felt good so decided to push the pace and see what happened." Freed said.
The field came back together at the base of Craig's Hill, the final climb of the Tormondsen 5k. Once again, Freed began stretching out the accordion. Already leading, she attacked and strode away from the pack, gaining a gap that grew to nineteen seconds by the end of the lap.
Behind her, Middlebury senior Annika Landis and first-year Charlotte Ogden pulled the pack and worked to limit the damage. UVM's Lina Sutro, yesterday's winner, was also in the front of the group, and the chasers looked to have a strong chance of reeling Freed in.
However, the UVM senior had other plans for her final carnival, and Freed put the hammer down on the second lap. Well out of sight of the chasers, she expanded the gap to 31 seconds by the 10k mark. With the race for gold all but over, seven women headed into the last lap in a crowded chase group, setting up a fittingly exciting finish to an exciting EISA women's nordic season.
On the gentle rollers of First Loop of the final lap, Colby's Erin Bianco and Ranae Anderson distanced the rest of the pack, heading into the course's signature climb locked in a duel for the silver medal. Neither could break the other, and the two skied up Craig's Hill stride-for-stride. Bianco pulled just ahead by the finish, taking the first silver medal of her collegiate career. Anderson notched third, and Middlebury's Landis held on for fourth, five seconds back.
The UVM women had another remarkable day, again packing five women in the top ten. Freed was joined by teammates Anya Bizyukova, Waverly Gebhardt, Lizzie Larkins, and Lina Sutro, who all finished together, taking seventh through tenth places. The Catamounts' effort earned them 118 points and a win on the day.
Freed was overjoyed with her first carnival win, saying "I like the Rikert course and tend to ski well here...I thought I could have a good race coming into today, and it feels great to get my first win, as well as have such a successful women's team weekend."
Colby, led by Bianco's silver medal and Sophia Sanchez in sixth place, scored 108 points for second on the day. The Middlebury women wrapped up the team podium with 102 points.
Interestingly, it was an all-Minnesotan individual podium. Freed was quick to point out that today disproves the common stereotype that Midwesterners can't ski downhill.
As the women took their traditional all-EISA cooldown lap (on the flatter sections of the course), the men finished their warmups and wax testing.
Although not the nicest day, with grey skies and temperatures hovering in the teens, today's racing had to be the most well-attended of the winter. The Tormondsen 5k's three loops are connected by wide traverses, and savvy spectators moved as a horde between each loop's climbs as racers passed by.
The men's race started off with a bang, with an early early crash sending skiers tumbling quicker than the stock market this week. Most of the field escaped unharmed, but a few athletes were left looking for new poles or race suits within the first few hundred meters of the 20k.
Safely out of the chaos thanks to the prime starting position afforded by Bib 1, Middlebury junior Peter Wolter took the race out with a vengeance. He launched into a relentless double pole and blew the field open within the first kilometer, with UVM's Matias Øvrum, yesterday's 10k skate winner, the lone skier matching his pace. Behind the leading pair, the field was left dazed and confused at the early attack and how to respond to it.
As the chase group struggled to get organized through the first 5k, Øvrum continued tailing Wolter. After one lap, the two leaders were twenty-two seconds clear of a five-strong chase pack, and behind them, the rest of the field was shattered.
Wolter's hot start never cooled off, and he dropped Øvrum within the first kilometer of lap two, taking a twenty second lead by the 7.5 mark. With still more than half the race to go, Wolter embarked on a risky mission - a time trial to the line. No doubt encouraged by the throngs of Middlebury fans lining the course, he never faltered, growing his lead to forty seconds at the 10k mark.
Even with half the race left, it was hard to imagine any result than gold - the first in a career that's seen plenty of podiums but no carnival wins. As Wolter continued putting on a classic racing clinic for the assembled nordic enthusiasts, an exciting battle was shaping up for the remaining spots on the podium.
Bowdoin's Eliot Ketchel and Harvard's James Kitch skied away from the rest of the chase pack, passed Øevrum and were locked into a battle for second and third. Øevrum dangled just behind the duo, putting in a valiant effort to stay within sight of the two throughout the third lap.
With 5k to go, Kitch and Ketchel were still attached to one another. While Wolter cruised through the crowd and waved the Panther flag across the finish line, Kitch and Ketchel skied together through the first 3k of the final lap.
Kitch attacked on Craig's Hill and strode his way to a sliver of daylight on third place. He held off Ketchel through the descent and stadium, finishing 1.4 seconds ahead of the Polar Bear to earn his first collegiate podium. Øvrum lost over a minute to third place, but skied a gutsy final lap alone and held on to fourth.
Isaac Freitas-Eagan followed him in fifth, giving the Purple Cows a strong result to end the EISA season. With such a diverse top five, men's team scores were exceedingly tight. UVM squeaked out the win, putting up 113 points to Middlebury's 110. Bowdoin wasn't far behind with 103 points.
Middlebury Carnival, and Regional Championship action concluded with giant slalom races just up the road at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. After strong Panther performances on their home hill, Eastern Championships came down to an unbelievably small margin - a single point separated UVM's 868 and Middlebury's 867, giving the Catamounts their 37th Eastern Championship. Dartmouth scored 778 points, good enough for bronze.
While today marked the conclusion of EISA racing, qualifying athletes will head to NCAA Championships March 11-14 in Bozeman, Montana.
Complete results from the weekend, including split times, are available on Bullitttiming.