PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The ski areas in New Hampshire have picked up recently with the arrival of winter weather, but the Plymouth State College ski team heads to Massachusetts this weekend for the opening races of the 2000 season.
The Panther men's and women's squads will compete at the UMass Winter Carnival Saturday and Sunday at Berkshire East Mountain in Western Mass. The two slalom races are slated for Saturday and giant slalom for Sunday. PSC will host the Plymouth State Winter Carnival next weekend (Jan. 29-30) at Waterville Valley (N.H.).
Led by 13th year head coach Kim Bownes, the Panthers consistently have been one of the top teams in the nation the past few years. The men have won three straight Eastern Regional titles and have finished in the top six at the US Collegiate Ski Association National Championships all three years, including runner-up in 1998. The women have finished runner-up at the Eastern Regionals three years in a row since winning the title in 1996, and have four consecutive top 10 finishes at the USCSA Nationals, including fourth places the past two years.
Bownes is once again optimistic for a strong season from the Panthers. She expects the men's team to be very strong, with the return of the top three skiers and nine of last year's top 10. The women will be very strong at the top of the line-up, according to Bownes, but are hoping for improvement in the depth department.
"The men return a very experienced group of racers," said Bownes, "and if we ski like I think we can, we should be very strong. Our top three women are as fast as anyone, and the others should provide good support."
The Panthers have gotten off to a slow start, partly due to Mother Nature's lack of cooperation, but Bownes acknowledges that everyone in the East has faced the same problems.
Leading the group of returnees to the men's team are junior captain Fred DeBaets (St. Sauveur, Quebec) and sophomore Tim Mitchell (Ashland, MA). DeBaets finished second in the combined at the Eastern Regionals last winter, and earned All-America honors in the slalom with a 12th place finish. Mitchell captured sixth in the combined at the regionals, placing fifth in the GS and seventh in the slalom.
Other key returnees include junior Ryan Cornish (Carmel, NY) and Mike LeBlanc (Plymouth, NH) and sophomore EJ Cheney (Bethel, Maine). Cornish finished a strong regular season ranked fifth in the region, while Cheney and LeBlanc finished 10th and 11th at the Eastern Regional Championships.
Other returning veterans include senior co-captain Dave Chandler (Holden, Mass.) and juniors Brad Dowding (Shrewsbury, Mass.), Dan Gelvin (Clifton Park, NY) and Ryan Hulslander (Merrimack, NH). Bownes sees freshman Justin Parent (Sanbornville, NH) as leading the group of newcomers.
The Panthers welcome the return of junior captain Anda Curuta (Sibiu, Romania) to lead the women's team. Curuta, who also competed in the 1999 World Championships, has captured two straight individual Eastern Regional titles, and earned All-American honors after finishing seventh in the slalom and fifth in the giant slalom at the USCSA National Championships.
The PSC women will have to overcome the loss of four-year veterans Amanda DiLeo and Sarah Thompson, but Bownes thinks two freshman could compliment Curuta very well for the Panthers - Cherylanne Murphy (East Northport, NY) and Heidi Mann (Merrimack, NH).
The list of other returning veterans on the women's team includes sophomore Tara Eretzian (Turner, Maine), junior Leesa Driscoll (New Gloucester, Maine) and senior Cortney Cote (Gilford, NH).
Both Panther squads will be competing in New Hampshire the next two weekends, skiing at Waterville Valley on Jan. 29-30 and at Loon Mountain on Feb. 5-6. The Eastern Regionals are at Waterville on Feb. 27-28, and the USCSA Nationals are at Loon on Mar. 8-11.
-- 30 --