Ski Teams End Successful Seasons
March 25, 2003
As the entire women's ski team was invited in front of the UMass Sports Luncheon attendees and received a standing ovation as it made its way to the dais, it finally began to sink in. The Minutewomen were national champions.
The 2003 campaign was the best season the Minutewomen had experienced in the program's 27-year history. The women began the year with a win at the UMass Carnival and never looked back, as they won the MacConnell Division of the Eastern Collegiate Skiing Conference in the regular season. They then went on to the United States Collegiate Skiing Association (USCSA) Regionals, where they captured yet another team championship. From there, it was off to the USCSA National Championships in Truckee, Calif.
"Going out to nationals, our goal was to finish in the top three and we definitely thought we could finish in the top five," said Head Coach Igor Vanovac. "We never expected to leave California as national champions. It was incredible. I am so happy for this team and proud of all our athletes."
Senior Carolyn Lewenberg played a very big role in the team's success all year. However, after returning from Denmark, where she spent the 2002 fall semester as an exchange student, Lewenberg had many doubts about herself and the upcoming racing season.
"I had not been skiing much in Denmark, I was mostly studying and traveling through Europe," said the Newton, Mass., native. "I really did not know what to expect of myself for the season, but I definitely didn't believe I was going to ski as well as I did."
Another problem Lewenberg faced was rejoining a team that she was, for the most part, unfamiliar with. Aside from the team captain and only other senior, Molly Lyon, she knew very little about the team.
"At the beginning, I didn't really know most of my teammates," Lewenberg said. "As we moved toward the season, things got much better though. The whole team really started to gel over winter break and really supported and helped each other.
"This definitely played a role in our success. We have a great bunch of girls and we all get along extremely well, on and off the mountain."
During preseason workouts it is hard for teams to gauge how well they may do in their conference or in their region. With only two seniors on UMass' 2003 team, this was especially true for the Minutewomen.
"We trained extremely hard during preseason and the coaches really pushed us," said Lewenberg. "We skied in a couple of non-collegiate races but still didn't really know where we stood in the conference. After the first race, where we beat all the other teams by a pretty big margin, we began to realize just how good we were and saw our potential.
"As the year went on we started to believe that we could do really well at regionals, where we usually struggle. After we won the regionals we were confident that we had a shot at doing well at nationals also, but we never expected to win."
Lewenberg credits Vanovac and assistant coach Mike LeBlanc with being very big parts of the team's 2003 success.
"They sacrificed their own time and demanded a lot of us, but it was worth it when you look at the results." Lewenberg said. "I am really thankful for both of them, and we would not have been able to win the championship without them. We also had great support all year from the parents. Most of our parents traveled to every event to cheer us on and that was great for us."
Though overshadowed by the victories of the women's team, the Massachusetts men's team had a very successful year, too. After finishing third in the MacConnell Division during the regular season, the Minutemen went on to place second at the Eastern Regionals. At the nationals, the men's squad wrapped up the season with a solid fifth-place effort.
Junior captain Beau Gibson, the team's leader both on and off the slopes, is one of the nation's fastest skiers. He was the eastern regional individual champion, and finished fourth overall at the nationals. Gibson's efforts earned him All-America status for the second straight year. He was also voted Dinn Brothers / UMass Athlete of the Week twice during the regular season.
Despite his success, Gibson remains humble and is quick to defer the credit to his coaches and teammates.
"Igor and Mike are incredible coaches," said Gibson. "The job they did coaching in the offseason and during the season was phenomenal. This team improved a lot from last year and was by far the best team since my freshman year. Everyone put in a ton of effort, worked really hard and stepped up when they needed to. The best example is when Dave (Pomeroy) fell in the giant slalom at nationals, Nick (Kulkarni) picked up the slack. We had really good efforts from all of the freshmen all year, too."
Gibson's road to UMass was slightly different than most traditional student-athletes. After growing up and graduating high school in Maryland, he went on to the Killington Mountain School. KMS is a winter sports academy where many athletes go to hone their skills before moving on to college or other advanced skiing endeavors. One of Gibson's good friends at KMS was Ken Thoman, a former All-American for UMass, who graduated last year.
"Ken decided to go to UMass and that had a pretty big influence on my decision to come here as well," said Gibson. "I could have gone to a school with a bigger skiing program, but I don't believe I would be where I am today if I had. The talent at those schools is so great that when I was a freshman, I probably wouldn't have been skiing for the team regularly. Most of the time, kids in that situation end up getting discouraged and quitting. I'm very glad I decided to enroll here."
Another important aspect of UMass skiing for Gibson was that the team races in both the USCSA and the NCAA, whereas most big skiing schools only concern themselves with the NCAA.
"The USCSA is more laid back and not as intense as the NCAA," said Gibson. "All of the teams are high-quality and compete very hard, but at the end of the day everyone is friendly and the teams get along really well. The atmosphere is better and more fun."
Another large factor in Gibson's decision was his academic future. He wanted to attend a school that offered a solid ski program but also a quality engineering program as well. Gibson will be returning to UMass in the fall for his senior year.
Though the 2003 season has just ended, the coaches are busy at work preparing for the summer offseason.
"We are already making our plans for next year," said Vanovac. "We have started recruiting and planning out our summer training. Mike and I are already looking forward to next season and we think it will be another good one."
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