NEDERLAND -- Following a coaching change this past year the Nederland alpine ski team will be under new management when it hits the slopes Saturday in Loveland for the first event of the season.
But don't expect the Panthers' squad, which finished in the top six at state in both boys and girls slalom and giant slalom events last year, to see any drop-off in performance with new coach Chantal Knapp at the helm.
Knapp, who is a former member of the U.S. Ski Team and has built up more than 20 years of coaching experience, inherits a program with several returning members who have seen major success on the mountain in recent years. And having been an instructor at the Eldora Mountain Ski Club since 2006, she is familiar with many of the athletes who compete at both the club and high school levels.
That list includes junior Bailey Kuechenmeister, the state's reigning Skimeister, a title handed out to the top Nordic-alpine skier in the state. Kuechenmeister was in fifth grade when she began working with Knapp at Eldora, and it was Kuechenmeister's father who brought the coaching vacancy to Knapp's attention and suggested she apply for the position. Despite the lengthy relationship and familiarity between the two, the coach shouldn't have any worries about her pupil becoming complacent after last year's success.
"When speaking with Bailey riding the chairlift, her goal is to win Skimeister again," Knapp said.
Perhaps even more important to the alpine team's success will be the performance of senior Dayna Larsen. After taking state titles in both slalom and giant slalom as a sophomore she was unable to repeat the feat a season ago, placing fourth in the slalom and second in the GS. Larsen now has her sights set on improving not only her finishes but the entire girls team's, which also finished fourth in the slalom and second in GS last year .
"Dayna wants to win the state in both slalom and GS this year, and she also wants to help the team win slalom and GS titles," Knapp said.
While Kuechenmeister and Larsen both attend school at Nederland High, they are two of only a small handful of NHS students who ski for the school's team. The Panthers' alpine squad is comprised of 40 athletes from nearly a dozen schools in the area, not to mention some who commute from as far away as Arapahoe High School in Littleton. Knapp will look to twin seniors Kyle and Chase Robbins from Peak to Peak to make major contributions this year, as well as Boulder High's Keile Kropf, who competed for the Eldora Club last year after spending her freshman season skiing for Aspen's club and high school teams.
"I knew her last year and we've skied against each other a bunch of times," Kuechenmeister said. "She's a really great addition to the team."
The boys' side will also receive a major boost from a newcomer in Jacob Scheiffler, a freshman at Monarch who also skis for Winter Park. Sheiffler joins Kuechenmeister's brother Quin Kuechenmeister and Boulder High's Grant Ellwood on a boys squad that last year finished fifth and sixth at state in slalom and GS, respectively.
"Our boys team looks really strong this year," Knapp said. "(Ellwood) is a very, very talented skier. He's a junior and he is our strongest male skier and it's his first year racing for the high school."
While the great infusion of new talent bodes well for a squad with such an established track record, the Panthers' coach is sure to still face several obstacles throughout the course of the season. But for someone with such a lengthy history of success as both an athlete and instuctor, it seems that Knapp is ready and willing to embrace any challenges her new post presents.
"What is really amazing, and what I find empowering, is that on the Nederland alpine ski team we have everything from athletes who have never skied to Dayna Larsen, whose long-term goal is to compete for the CU travel team or at least race collegiately," Knapp said. "So it's really great that the high school team can accommodate all the different abilities."