Nestled in the Green Mountains at Middlebury's Bread Loaf Campus, Rikert Nordic Center's Tormondsen Family 5k is known for its challenging climbs and technical descents. Today, Rikert played host to the beginning of the end of the EISA season - day one of Middlebury Carnival and the Eastern Regional Championships.
This weekend is the final opportunity to qualify for NCAA Championships in Bozeman, Montana, as well as a chance to preview the 2021 NCAA Championships course, hosted by Middlebury. With a weekend off after Williams Carnival in Lake Placid, there was plenty of time to get fit - and nervous - for these races.
A funky late-winter rain/snow/windstorm yesterday brought lots of moisture (and twigs) into the snowpack, but luckily, some fresh snow fell as well, and the course groomed up into a firm track with a bit of give on the surface. Intermittent flurries continued throughout the women's race, and windy conditions in the stadium gave way to great skiing under the protection of the trees.
The course consists of three spindly loops extending from the stadium: the gentle rollers of First Loop, the sharp up and serpentine down of the A Climb/Sugar House Drop, and finally "Craig's Hill" a grinding 2k of suffering and sweeping downhill corners. The loops within the loop make for convenient spectating, and even the laziest observer can see racers three times per lap, while determined cheerleaders can cheer half a dozen times.
The women were up first, donning the simple white NCAA Regional bibs for a date with the twists and turns of the Tormondsen 5k. UVM, a short drive away from their Burlington home base, took the lead early. Senior Lizzie Larkins, wearing bib 4, was the first racer to cross the line, covering the 5k in 13:41.5.
No other school would lead at the 2.5k split or finish for the rest of the race, as the Catamounts played a game of hot potato with the gold medal. Larkins passed the lead to bib 42 Margie Freed, who took over the lead with a 6:24.6 opening 2.5k.
UVM junior Lina Sutro, wearing bib 56, snuck ahead of Freed by just 1.2 seconds at the halfway mark. Sutro blasted through Craig's Hills speed-sapping grades and railed the final corners to stretch her lead to to six seconds by the line. Freed stayed locked into second place, while Dartmouth's Molly Gellert rode a very fast start to take her first podium of the season in third.
Middlebury senior Annika Landis turned on the heat in the second half of the course, coming back from ninth at the 2.5k to get within 1.3 seconds of Gellert at the finish and take fourth.
The fast snow and cuthroat Regionals field made for plenty of tight finishes. Just five seconds back of Landis, Bowdoin's Gabrielle Vandendries and Ranae Anderson finished 5-6, just 1.4 seconds apart.
The Catamount trio of Anya Bizyukova, Waverly Gebhardt, and Larkins in was hot on their heels in 7-8-9, and just 1.8 seconds separated eighth and thirteenth place. With five in the top nine, the Catamount women put up 132 points and easily won the day.
Dartmouth squeaked out a second place over Bowdoin, with the Big Green putting up 99 points to the Polar Bears' 98.
Conditions held steady for the men's race, with the sun even occasionally peeking out through the clouds. It wasn't the most beautiful day - but it was a perfect for nordic action with firm, fast skiing and plenty of snow and spectators
Once again, a UVM skier set the early pace. First-year Greg Burt, wearing bib 22, came through the first 5k in just 11:15. He held the lead until teammate Matias Øvrum, in bib 33, ripped through the the split in just 10:51. No one eclipsed Øvrum, but teammates Karl Schulz and Bill Harmeyer hit the the 5k in 10:55 and 11:05 for second and third place, respectively.
UVM stayed in control the rest of the way, and it was a two-Cat contest for gold as Schulz halved the gap to Øvrum by the 7.5k mark. Schulz's lanky frame flew up Craig's Hill, doing his best to add to his horde of carnival gold.
Øvrum may have started first but had the last laugh, taking the win by 2.2 seconds over Schulz. With Bill Harmeyer five seconds further back, the Catamount men swept the distance podium for the second consecutive weekend and put up a perfect 141 point team score.
Øvrum has had a dramatically up and down season. After a first and second place finishes at Harvard Carnival, he's dealt with several bouts of sickness and missed several carnivals.
"It was definitely challenging mentally to not be racing and not be able to train & travel with the team in that period." Øvrum said. "My teammates were super supportive and a great help when coming back, especially when the first couple races back were very hard. The fact that they believed in me when I was not racing at my best really helped me and I really appreciate that."
Today's win brings the season full circle for Øvrum. "I was very nervous that I peaked too early in the season so it felt very good to prove to myself that I could be back on that level today. Its awesome to be able to help the team out with a good result too."
Middlebury's Peter Wolter was close to Harmeyer and the final podium spot throughout but ended up taking fourth on his home course, helping the Panther men to a 93 point performance and third place on the day. Bowdoin's Eliot Ketchel grabbed fifth, leading the Polar Bears' charge to 102 points and second place in the men's team score.
Total team scores after nordic are:
1 - University of Vermont 273
2 - Bowdoin 200
3 - Middlebury 177
Complete results, including splits, are available at Bullittiming.