PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The varsity skiing season begins for Plymouth State College this weekend as the Panthers open the 1999 campaign at the UMass Winter Carnival at Berkshire East Mountain in Western Massachusetts.
The Panther men and women will ski both Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 16-17), with slalom events scheduled for Saturday and giant slalom races set for Sunday.
Both Panther men's and women's teams are guided by 12th-year head coach Kim Bownes and fourth-year assistant Dave Gyger.
Coming off one of the best seasons in school history, the Panthers will be challenged to repeat the performances of the 1998 unit. A senior-laden men's team captured the Eastern regional title last season and placed second at the U.S. Collegiate Ski Association National Championships, while the women's squad finished runner-up at the regionals and fourth at the nationals.
This year's men's team will have a much different look following the graduation of the top four skiers from '98. Bownes is still very optimistic, even with several new faces in the line-up.
"We'll have a young team, as far as collegiate racing in concerned," said Bownes, one of the most respected skiing coaches at the college level. "but we have a lot of very experienced skiers who come from ski racing backgrounds. We're very excited, because they are skiing unbelievably well."
The Panther men will have to overcome the losses of veterans Ben Moody, M.C. Malboeuf, Jeff Cuff and Ryan Welch. All four were instrumental in PSC's strong national finishes the past four years.
"It was wonderful having that group for four years, and we'll miss them," said Bownes, "but it's exciting having a new, young group who are exciting, fast ski racers and who are so into ski racing. Also, some of the guys who were in the middle of the pack last winter are really stepping up this year, and we'll be counting on them."
The key returning veterans on the men's team include sophomore Fred DeBaets (Plymouth, NH) and senior co-captain Carter Davidson (Madison, NH). DeBaets had five top-five finishes as a freshman last season, including a fifth place in the giant slalom at the national championships. Davidson has been a regular in the Panther line-up for a couple of years, specializing in the slalom.
Bownes will also look to veterans Brad Dowding (Shrewsbury, MA) and Dave Chandler (Holden, MA) to help out the team. Dowding was consistently a top-15 finisher last season as a freshman, and Chandler, a co-captain, should become a regular in the line-up.
Bownes has solid depth with sophomore veterans Ryan Hulslander (Merrimack, NH) and Dan Gelvin (Clifton Park, NY). The top newcomers on the team, a group that excites Bownes, are sophomore Ryan Cornish (Carmel, NY), freshmen Tim Mitchell (Ashland, MA) and E.J. Cheney (Bethel, ME) and junior Mike Leblanc (Plymouth, NH), a transfer from the University of New Hampshire.
With three of the top four skiers returning from last season, the Panther women's team looks like they have another strong squad, one that could challenge for a regional title. Bownes thinks the women should be as strong as last year's unit, which finished first or second in nine of the 10 regular season races.
Leading the way is sophomore All-American Anda Curuta (Sibiu, Romania), who turned in a sensational freshman campaign. She finished first in seven of 10 regular season races and captured the combined Eastern Regional individual title. She is off to a great start this winter, placing seventh in an FIS international slalom race in December.
This year's team will also be bolstered by the return of senior co-captains Amanda DiLeo (Ridgewood, NJ) and Sarah Thompson (Southborough, MA). Both are four-year veterans of the team, and have plenty of regional and national ski racing experience. Thompson finished eighth and DiLeo ninth in the combined Eastern regional last season.
"Amanda and Sarah are training well so far this season," said Bownes, "and I'm looking for them to have big senior seasons. Their leadership has been extremely valuable as well."
Bownes indicated that two other returning veterans who are skiing well during pre-season are sophomore Leesa Driscoll (New Gloucester, ME) and senior Gretchen Price (Newburgh, NY). Bownes added that the addition of freshman Cree Eliason (Bartlett, NH), who has an extensive ski racing background, will be a big asset.
After this weekend at Berkshire East, the Panthers will return to New Hampshire the following two weekends, skiing at Waterville Valley on Jan. 23-24 and at Loon Mountain on Jan.30-31. The Eastern regionals are scheduled for Feb. 21-22 at Waterville Valley, and the nationals are on Mar. 10-13.
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