PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The cold freeze that has hit the Northeast this week will not stop the Plymouth State University alpine ski teams from opening up the 2004 racing season.
The Panther squads will make their season debuts this weekend at the UMass Winter Carnival at Berkshire East Mountain in Western Massachusetts. The men's and women's slalom races are slated for Saturday with giant slalom races scheduled for Sunday. PSU will host the Plymouth State Winter Carnival next weekend (Jan. 24-25) at Waterville Valley (N.H.).
Both of Plymouth State's men's and women's teams are looking to continue their successful traditions. The PSU men were Eastern Regional champions five straight years from 1997-2001, and the women were Eastern Regional champions or runners-up eight consecutive years from 1994-2001. The men placed fourth and the women fifth at last year's regionals, and were fifth and sixth, respectively, and the national championships at Tahoe, Cal.
"Our men's team has the most depth of any team I've ever had," said 17th-year head coach Kim Bownes. "They should be very strong, with a good chance of contending for the league and regional titles and placing in the top three at nationals. Our women are a little stronger this year. They have basically the same team with a couple of additions, and I think they'll continue to progress through the season."
The Panther men have five of the top six skiers returning from last year's team, led by junior All-America Tyler Barlow (South Burlington, Vt.). Barlow finished fifth in the slalom and 12th in the GS at the nationals last year, and placing eighth in the combined. He finished in the top 10 in all 10 regular season races.
Other key returning veterans for PSU include seniors Garrett Lashar (Kingfield, Maine) and Brent Grygiel (Windham, Maine), sophomores Rob Kiely (New London, N.H.) and Skip Bartlett (Silver Lake, N.H.), and junior Chad Demetry (Francestown, N.H.).
"Any of our top six returnees is capable of winning a race," said Bownes. "The key for the team will be consistency and finishing races."
The top newcomers include sophomore transfer Topher Harlow (North Conway, N.H.) and freshman Andy Bischoff (Duluth, Minn.).
Leading the way for the Panther women is senior captain Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, N.H.), who returns after back-to-back All-America campaigns. She finished in the Top 8 in both the slalom and giant slalom at last year's nationals, placing fifth in the individual combined to earn First Team All-America honors.
Other key returnees on the women's team include sophomores Chantelle Heroux (Cooperstown, N.Y.), Kristy Hoch (China, Maine), and Kelsey Real (Lanesboro, Mass.), who all gained valuable experience as starters last season. The top newcomer looks like freshman Amelia Hough (Gloucester, Mass.), who is strong in the GS, according to Bownes.
"Our women's team is not quite as strong as our men, but we're much deeper than we've been the past couple of years," said Bownes.
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