PLYMOUTH, N.H. - With one of the snowiest winters in years underway in New England, the Plymouth State College alpine ski racing team is gearing up for what will hopefully be another successful season.
The 2003 campaign gets underway this weekend when the Panthers compete at the UMass Winter Carnival at Berkshire East Mountain in Western Massachusetts. 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. 25-26) at Waterville Valley (N.H.).
Both of Plymouth State's men's and women's squads are in rebuilding modes after several years of success at both the regional and national levels, but 16th-year head coach Kim Bownes is optimistic the teams will be top contenders in the Eastern region.
"Our women's team should be stronger than last season," says Bownes. "Everyone is back from last year, and we have more skiers and more depth. The men's team is very young, with only one senior, but they also have a lot of depth, and both teams are skiing very well right now.
After capturing five straight Eastern Regional titles from 1997-2001, the Panther men placed fifth at the regionals last winter. They went on to place fifth overall at the national championships, placing in the top five at nationals for the fifth straight year. The Panther women finished in the top two at regionals five straight years before failing to qualify for the event last season.
Leading the way for the Panther women is junior captain Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, N.H.), who returns after a terrific sophomore campaign. She finished runner-up in the combined alpine at the Eastern Regionals, and earned All-America honors with a seventh place finish in the slalom at the national championships.
"Whitney learned so much last year, qualifying for both regionals and nationals as an individual," says Bownes. "That really strengthened her as a ski racer."
Other returnees on the women's team are sophomore Carol McCarthy (East Rochester, N.H.), junior Amber Elliott (Exeter, N.H.), and senior Morgan Fippinger (Burlington, Conn.). The top newcomers include freshmen Chantelle Heroux (Cooperstown, N.Y.), Kristy Hoch (China, Maine), and Kelsey Real (Lanesboro, Mass.).
"We've got women on the team who have a lot of talent, and they will grow stronger as the year goes on," says Bownes. "Our goal right now is to qualify for the Eastern Regionals, and that's a reasonable goal."
The Panther men lost three of their top six skiers from last year, including All-American Tim Mitchell and four-year veterans EJ Cheney and Jake Manseau.
The team still has a solid nucleus of returnees, led by sophomore Tyler Barlow (South Burlington, Vt.), juniors Garrett Lashar (Kingfield, Maine) and Brent Grygiel (Windham, Maine), and senior captain Bill Feather (Waterville Valley, N.H.). Barlow was an All-American in the slalom last year, and Lashar and Grygiel gained valuable experience skiing at the regional at national championships.
"The men have a lot of potential," says Bownes, "but we need to mature as skiers and learn the team concept that will be required."
The top newcomers on the men's team include freshmen Skip Bartlett (Silver Lake, N.H.) and Billy Halberstadt (Concord, N.H.) and Rob Kiely (New London, N.H.).
"I don't think we'll have a powerhouse team like we've had in the past, because we're so young," says Bownes. "We would like to finish in the top three at regionals, which would qualify us for nationals, and that's a realistic goal."