NEDERLAND — There’s no doubt about it. This year’s Nederland ski team is going to look very different than the past several years.
The major difference will be the absence of the most dominant female skier over the last three years, and the skier with the most overall success in Colorado preps history. After the 2013-14 season, the Panthers graduated Bailey Kuechenmeister, the first girl ever to win the state’s Skimeister most valuable skier award three times.
Despite starting the season with such a gaping scoring hole in the lineup, Panthers head alpine coach Chantal Knapp said she thinks the Panthers will be just fine. In fact, she thinks they might even be better.
“We did lose Bailey and a total of 11 seniors but we have a great deal of talent coming back,” Knapp said. “I think overall, we could be stronger and deeper as a team. There is a lot more cohesiveness and less bridging the gap in abilities this year. Optimistically, I feel as though in any race, both girls and boys, our racers could fill out over half of the top 10.”
Also among those 11 seniors were Keile Kropf, who placed second in the slalom, and Raina Galbiati, who placed fifth in the giant slalom.
Hosting the state championships at their home mountain of Eldora Mountain Resort in 2013-14, the Panthers placed third overall in the four-event girls team scoring and seventh in the boys overall team scoring.
Knowing there would be big shoes to fill and that expectations remain high, the Panthers loaded up on preseason conditioning and training before beginning official practices on Dec. 2. In Knapp’s eyes, it has already paid off.
“I think we’re probably about a month ahead of where we were last year,” Knapp said.
While the Panthers girls have been the more dominant bunch in recent years, that role may be passed to the boys this season. Led by senior Owen Foster, who placed fourth in the slalom at last season’s state championships, the Panthers boys squad is looking to move up in the team standings at state this year.
The Panthers will have plenty of new faces on their Nordic teams, as well. Led by James McNamara and Mackenzie Radandt (17th in classic at state last year) both the boys and girls Nordic teams, neither of which return a top-10 skier, are expecting bigger and better things.
The Panthers’ first Nordic race of the season was at Snow Mountain Ranch on Dec. 13. The girls placed seventh out of 12 teams and the boys placed sixth out of 13 teams. This type of early-season success has given Panthers head Nordic coach David Femmer high hopes for his inexperienced team’s potential.
“We’re a pretty young team,” Femmer said. “We have a lot of new skiers this year but they’re an athletic bunch. We’ve had some good results so far. Going into the first race, I was pretty unsure because we have only five returning skiers and 10-13 new skiers. But after the first race, I’m very optimistic as to what they can do. By the end of the season, I think we’ll be able to get back up into the top three or four.”
The Colorado prep skiing championships will be held at Keystone Resort from Feb. 19-20.
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