Women’s Nordic ski team features depth of talent across classes

by Anna May Mott | 2/18/19 2:35am

This year, the Dartmouth women’s Nordic ski team has benefited from its extraordinary depth — a depth that now makes an already complicated choice all the more difficult for coach Cami Thompson Graves.

Starting with the competition at Middlebury College this past weekend, the team can now only take six skiers to each carnival. But with eight Big Green skiers in Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association’s top 20, and seven of those eight making it onto the podium so far this season, it’s safe to say there are more than six athletes deserving of a spot on the carnival teams.

“I’m the first to admit that that’s the part of the job I like the least,” Graves said, “And often when I make those choices, somebody does something to prove me wrong.”

Last weekend’s carnival team had at least one representative of each class year: Lydia Blanchet ’19 and Taryn Hunt-Smith ’19, Leah Brams ’20 and Lauren Jortberg ’20, Katharine Ogden ’21, and Molly Gellert ’22. Though Middlebury won overall, with their combined team score beating the Big Green’s by seven points, Dartmouth came out ahead in the women’s Nordic events. The team’s depth was on full display as Blanchet and Ogden both took the podium, and all six skiers finished in the top 10 in the women’s 5k event. 

The seniors have been among the fastest skiers on the team since joining, and this season all three have had podium finishes. Blanchet in particular showed a powerhouse performance this year, appearing in the top ten in every carnival race she’s participated in. 

She took first place at the University of New Hamsphire carnival’s sprint event, an event featuring an entirely Green podium, with Ogden and Hunt-Smith taking second and third, respectively. Coming off a ninth place finish in the 15k the previous day, Blanchet said she went into the sprints not feeling very good. She was disappointed with her performance in the qualifiers, but her mentality changed after that.

“I was trying to come out of the gate and sort of control the pace a little bit to make sure that no one tried to break away on the hill,” Blanchet said. “I got out in front, skied up the hill and looked behind and had a gap on the field.”

Despite this and other stellar performances earlier in the season, Blanchet said the past weekend was when she really started to feel confident in her racing again. 

“I think oftentimes I sort of race my way into the season,” Blanchet said. “At this point in the season … I’ve got some races under my belt and I’m starting to really feel my fitness.”

As for the ’20s, Jortberg and Brams have both had podium finishes and both traveled to Middlebury last weekend. Jortberg has been particularly strong. Like Blanchet, she’s finished in the top 10 in all but the St. Lawrence University Carnival (in which she didn’t compete). She’s third overall in EISA’s rankings, and she took second at the University of Vermont Carnival and third at Dartmouth’s winter carnival.

Katharine Ogden is a standout among the ’21s, and more than proved her speed last year when she won the classic and freestyle NCAA championship. This season she’s appeared on the podium at the UNH, Dartmouth and Middlebury carnivals. She missed the UVM weekend due to illness, but recovered in time to take second place in Dartmouth Winter Carnival’s 10k event. 

Even with the three classes ahead of them saturated with skiing talent, the team’s ’22s have still managed to make an impact, with Gellert, Rena Schwartz ’22 and Callie Young ’22 all snagging top 10 finishes.

Gellert in particular has gotten a solid foothold on the team. Of particular note for her was UVM’s winter carnival, where she earned a spot on the podium with a third place finish in the women’s 5k event. 

It was a good day overall at UVM for the Dartmouth women’s Nordic team, and eight Big Green skiers appeared in the top 11. Throughout the race, athletes are updated on their splits, or rather, how many seconds off they are from the racer in front of them. That day, Gellert kept getting splits off her own teammate Emily Hyde ’19, who finished second that day. Encouraged by her teammate’s success, Gellert was driven to produce her best performance so far this season in terms of placement.

“I felt good, I was having a good race, and then another girl on our team was having a really good day, and so it just kind of helped me,” Gellert said. “Sometimes things just fall together.”

It was intimidating for Gellert at first, coming into a team as deep as Dartmouth’s, and she expected fierce competition, particularly later in the season when carnival teams shrunk.

“I definitely thought coming in it would be a little bit more cut-throat, the competition would sort of start to get to our dynamic,” Gellert said. 

But the reality, she said, proved a little different. 

“I’m just really happy when I can place among the top of the Dartmouth girls.” Gellert said. “It’s never like, ‘Oh I have to beat her, oh this, this and this.’ If someone gets a spot over me, she deserved it.”

Having seen how the dynamics change in the later parts of the season over the course of her four years on the team, Blanchet explained that the Nordic skiers excel at balancing healthy competition and teamwork. 

“Everyone’s still so supportive of each other,” Blanchet said. “Everyone does a really good job of recognizing that you just go out and ski the best race you can, and your teammates go out and ski the best race they can, and however it ends up at the end of the day is just how it is.”

As for how the Big Green manages to attract the depth that creates such strong competition, a hint may come from what led Gellert to choose Dartmouth. Blanchet, Gellert and Hunt-Smith are all from Anchorage, Alaska, and Gellert and Blanchet even attended the same high school. 

“I looked up to those girls so much in high school,” Gellert said. “And when I saw that they were going to Dartmouth … I started looking more into the school and the program.” 

What she saw was a Nordic ski team with a long history of success, a coach with 30 years of experience, and a school with a stellar academic program and enough flexibility built in to accommodate a dedicated athlete. Dartmouth offers a unique opportunity to skiers who don’t want to set aside their academics in pursuit of high level athletics, and the result is evident in a women’s Nordic team with four years of solid talent. 

For the rest of the season, at least in the eastern circuit, UVM is proving unsurprisingly to be Dartmouth’s biggest competition. Its men’s Nordic team is especially strong, but the Catamounts have solid talent on the women’s side too. Since carnival victories are based on a combined score of men’s and women’s alpine and Nordic performances, there are many moving pieces that contribute to a win. UVM has bested the Big Green at the St. Lawrence, Dartmouth and UVM carnivals. But when the scores are broken down just to the women’s Nordic performances, Dartmouth came out on top at both at home and at UVM.

Going forward, the team is looking to stay healthy and keep producing the success it has been having all year, especially as the pace of school picks up and the pressures of student and athlete overlap. Given the extraordinary depth, Graves has more than enough strong choices for carnival and NCAA teams.