PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State College ski racing team is going to be hard-pressed to match the success of the past few seasons, but look for the Panthers to be strong contenders in the Eastern Region in 2002.
The season gets underway this weekend when the Panthers compete at the UMass Winter Carnival at Berkshire East Mountain. The men's and women's slalom races are slated for Saturday and giant slalom races for Sunday. PSC will host the Plymouth State Winter Carnival next weekend (Jan. 26-27) at Waterville Valley (N.H.).
Both of Plymouth State's men's and women's teams are coming off terrific seasons in 2001. The men's squad captured its fifth consecutive Eastern Regional championship and finished runner-up at the national championships for the third time in four years. The Panther women won the regional title after finishing runner-up four straight years, and placed third at the nationals, the highest finish in school history.
Led by 15th year head coach Kim Bownes, the Panthers have 12 returning veterans back on the slopes this winter. But both teams suffered significant losses from last year's line-up.
"I'm very optimistic about the men's team," said Bownes. "We have several key veterans returning, and they are all skiing very well this winter. The women are very determined and working extremely hard."
Senior Tim Mitchell (Ashland, Mass) leads a solid contingent of men's returnees. He shared the Eastern Regional individual title last season with former teammate Fred DeBaets, and finished third in the combined at the national championships. Mitchell won seven of the 10 regular season races last season, and placed second and third in two others. "He should again be one of the top skiers in the country," said Bownes.
Seniors EJ Cheney (Bethel, Maine) and Jake Manseau (Henniker, N.H.) join Mitchell as returning starters with experience competing at the national level. Both are already skiing better than they did last year, according to Bownes, and should be top finishers for PSC this winter. Senior Brad Sheehan (Belmont, N.H.) and sophomores Brent Grygiel (Windham, Maine) and Garrett Lashar (Kingfield, Maine) all saw action last season and will be counted on this year. The have enjoyed solid success during USSA races earlier this year.
Bownes says the top newcomer is freshman Tyler Barlow (South Burlington, Vt.), out of Mount Mansfield Ski Club.
"They're a good group that is pushing each other in a positive way," said Bownes. They've put a "team" spin on an individual sport, always pushing each other. They're happy for each other when they do well. It's a good mix of guys."
This will be the team's first season without Anda Curuta, PSC's skiing sensation the past four years. She completed a wonderful career for the Panthers, winning four consecutive Eastern Regional individual titles and capturing the combined alpine national championship as a senior.
The leadership of the Panther women is now handled by sophomore Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, N.H.). She was a consistent top 10 finisher during the season last year, but she and sophomore Erin Reilly (Marion, Conn.) are the only two from last year's top six skiers back on this year's team.
"Whitney is skiing very well," said Bownes. "She has won two USSA races this season. She is taking her leadership role very seriously, and it is showing in her skiing."
Reilly and junior Heidi Mann (Merrimack, N.H.), who returns to the team after a year off, are skiing very well this early in the season, according to Bownes. Junior Morgan Fippinger (Burlington, Conn.) and sophomore Amber Elliott (Exeter, N.H.) performed well in their first season last year, and will improve with additional racing experience. Freshman Carol McCarthy (East Rochester, N.H.) rounds out the women's roster.
"The goal for our women is to be as consistent as possible throughout the season," said Bownes.
2002 PSC Men's and Women's Skiing Roster 2002 PSC Men's and Women's Skiing Schedule