STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - The Saint Michael's College Alpine skiing team waited out the last day of Nordic skiing on Saturday at the NCAA Championship to learn final placements at the meet, as the College's four Purple Knight competitors came away with a school-record 12th-place showing among 23 schools.
Seniors Danny Duffy (Warren, Vt./Green Mountain Valley School) and Meggane Grand (La Plagne, France/Lycée des métiers Ambroise Croizat), junior Guillaume Grand (La Plagne, France/Lycée Général Ferrié) and sophomore Anna Willassen (Jar, Norway/Persbråten VGS) had already given Saint Michael's a program-record four skiers at NCAAs, and the quartet shattered the school mark for points (73) at a championship on Friday before learning their final finish, which bettered a 13th-place performance in 1988. However, that meet included only 15 schools; the College's top showing since the meet expanded to more than 20 squads was 15th each of the last two years, thanks singlehandedly to the Alpine team.
During the NCAA Championship, which involved Alpine and Nordic skiers from Division I, II and III schools and was won by the University of Denver, with 604 points, the Purple Knights held off 13th-place Williams College (62.5), which had competitors in both disciplines, and 14th-place University of Alaska Fairbanks (58). Saint Michael's was fifth among East Region schools, finishing one spot behind the University of New Hampshire (108.5) while also trailing Dartmouth College (448.5), the University of Vermont (330) and Middlebury College (248).
In terms solely of scoring by Alpine teams, the Purple Knights took 10th overall and fifth in the East, narrowly trailing New Hampshire (88.5), which brought four competitors to the meet, and Middlebury (118), which utilized five. Saint Michael's turned in the second-best results among schools contesting only one discipline, behind just the University of Northern Michigan, whose six Nordic skiers tallied 179 points.
Guillaume Grand made his third NCAA appearance, joining Keith Farnand '00 (4) and Fredrik Sandell '15 (3) as the lone Purple Knights to qualify at least three times. The only All-America skier in College history, turning the feat as a first-year and sophomore, Grand was 13th in both the giant slalom and slalom.
Sister Meggane Grand and Willassen became the first female skiers in College history to compete at multiple NCAA Championships. Grand, who also took part as a sophomore, was 15th in the slalom, matching Megan McCarthy's '05 GS performance at the 2002 NCAAs for the highest showing by a Purple Knight woman at the national meet. Grand was 25th in the GS, while Willassen claimed 22nd. She then placed 28th in the slalom, capping her second championship in as many years of college.
In making his NCAA debut, Duffy placed 28th during Wednesday's GS before not completing his opening run during Friday's slalom, contested under the lights of Howelsen Hill for only the fourth time in NCAA history.
Thirty-four men and 34 women competed in each Alpine race this week, with 17 women and 16 men hailing from the East region. Saint Michael's had a school-record four competitors at the meet after sending a record three the past two winters.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Head Coach Gus MacLeod '02
All in all, I'm proud of them; they skied well, they worked as a team. We had a good time out here, it was a good week. We're definitely moving in the right direction. It's one more than last year, even though we originally qualified three; I was happy with that, I was definitely disappointed because I thought we had the talent to send some more than that. But as long as we're not moving backwards, I'm still happy. Losing some of the seniors we're losing this year - Danny, Mathias [Grimsrud], Meggane - that's going to be tough to replace, so we have our work cut out for us next year to try to keep moving forward and hopefully getting three, at least, and a few more is our hope, for sure. We're glad to represent Saint Mike's out here. These guys definitely work hard during the season to make sure they can do their best and come out here and compete.
Junior Guillaume Grand
On sister Meggane's surprise last-minute addition to the field...
That was even more exciting because Meggane came. We were at the restaurant [on Monday night] and Gus comes to me and tells me, "Call Meggane, she qualified." I went, I called her, she was in the [Durick] library, I told her, "Meggane, get ready, you're flying tomorrow morning, you're in." And she was like, "Are you kidding me?" That was funny. She thought that I was kidding. Actually, between when Gus told me to call her and I called her, Anna texted her and said, "Megg, you're in." In her head she told us she was thinking, If this was a joke, it's not funny. That was awesome. Good excitement that night for everyone.
On having four competitors...
It's bringing us even more of the NCAA vibes. We were really helping each other. The team was working together, that was awesome.
On competing at his third NCAA Championship...
I'm really, really happy to represent Saint Mike's. I've already come here, I knew what was coming, and I was more calm. I'm frustrated by my results, but I gave my best, so I can't regret anything. For my personal results, I'm frustrated; my goal at the beginning of the year was being close to a podium; this year I haven't been really close to a podium here. But I'm still really happy - we had too much fun here. You can be frustrated by your races, but we had so many good times the whole week together, it's just awesome. Now that we've seen the level we have to be at to compete with those guys, it shows that we have to work even more than what we're doing. It's already a lot. When I talk to those guys - I'm good friends with them and I talk to them - they're all like professionals, a lot of them compete in World Cup. It's where we have to be at, and what we have to try to be at.
On feeling the love from campus...
We really thank the whole Saint Mike's community - we got so many emails, so many texts from everyone; that was just giving us even more power to give it all from the slope. That's why I'm so happy to be part of Saint Mike's because we feel so supported.
Senior Danny Duffy
On first NCAA Championship experience...
It was great, I was really excited to go, especially going with Anna and Guillaume, who have already gone; they went to Cannon [N.H.] last year, so it was definitely a good experience because they already knew what was going on. So I was obviously the new guy joining in, but it was definitely fun to join the team out here and race at Steamboat. I'd never actually raced here. Like Guillaume was saying, it was great to have the support of Saint Mike's; it's a huge support system, and it definitely helped us bring out our best on race day, for everyone at Saint Mike's and for our families both supporting us here and at home.
On seeing Saint Michael's compete on the national stage...
I think it's great seeing Saint Mike's with all of the big names - University of Denver, University of Colorado, UVM. Growing up I've raced with all of those guys anyway, so it was great to actually get back with those guys I've been racing with the last 10 years. It was definitely fun going back to the old times racing with one another.
On reaching NCAAs to finish his college career...
Throughout my career, going from high school to the U.S. ski team to college, an end goal was always to attend the national championship, so it was definitely fun to close out the career at nationals with my teammates and my coaches; it was a great way to call it a career. We were out here for a week, so you don't want to be all stressed out and all in the zone for the whole week; you kind of want to be able to relax and work out and have some fun with it while you're here as well.
On the program's annual improvement...
I'm definitely excited to see the direction the ski team is going. When I first applied to Saint Mike's, the ski team was moving up, but since then we've definitely improved, and I guess going out with a historic result for the team is definitely great to see, and then I hope moving forward that the team can break that and keep moving forward.
Senior Meggane Grand
On the surprising fashion in which she qualified for the NCAA Championship...
This has been a crazy journey and it's definitely hard to find the right words to describe it. Going back to Steamboat two years after my NCAA debut was awesome, especially considering the circumstances. NCAAs were in the back of my mind all season, but for my final go around I really didn't want to think about results and put pressure on myself, I wanted to be able to end this season having no regrets and having had as much fun as possible. I didn't look at rankings and at the qualification list at all, because I knew that if I did it would mess with my performances. I figured I would have fun and the rest would follow. That didn't mean I wasn't going to work hard and push myself, it just meant I approached racing from a different angle. I went into my last carnival thinking, "This is it," and just tried to enjoy every second of it because I would never get to do this ever again. After getting seventh in the GS [at Middlebury on Feb. 24] I knew that I would be very close to qualifying and I definitely got my hopes up, only to find out that I was the first one out for qualification. I was obviously really happy about the way I had ended my career, tying my best result ever at a carnival, but it would be a lie to say I wasn't extremely disappointed. When my teammates left for Steamboat on Sunday I was 100 percent sure that what used to be a very slim chance to be able to go as the first alternate was now none-existent. NCAAs were starting, that was it.
So I went on with my life. On Monday night I went to the library to study for an exam I had the next day, and around 9:30 p.m. I got a series of texts from Anna saying, "Megg, you're in, you can race!" I was so confused when I got those, and the first thing that came to my mind was, "If this is a joke it's really not funny." A few seconds later Guillaume was calling me to tell me that someone had gotten injured during training and that I was in. Gus took the phone and asked me if I could make it happen, the answer to which was pretty obvious; I wasn't going to let this opportunity go. So I went back to my table, grabbed all my stuff and went home to start packing while Gus took care of the flight reservations. I was rattled, to be honest, and didn't even know where to start; I didn't know where all my skiing equipment was because I hadn't touched it for 10 days. I finished packing my bags and skis a little after midnight, tried to get a couple of hours of sleep and left school to go to the airport at 3 a.m. the next morning to catch a 5 a.m. flight to Detroit and then Denver. I then took a shuttle to Steamboat Springs and arrived at 4:30 p.m., just an hour before the official banquet. I went for a quick jog in the morning to try to wake my body up and skied as much as I could before the race to try to get my feeling back after 10 days without skiing. I did not ski as fast as I would have liked to during the race, but I didn't expect miracles either after traveling for 14 hours, sleeping two hours the night before, and having had no training for so long. So I just tried to have as much fun as possible and soak it all in, knowing that I would have more of a realistic chance to perform well in the slalom on Friday, having had some training the night before, some sleep, and time to adjust to the altitude.
On competing at her second NCAA Championship...
The rest of the adventure was a little more normal. We trained on Thursday night under the lights, and it took me a couple of runs to get the feeling back in slalom, but by the end of training I felt like I was back to where I was when my season ended for the first time. Friday came around and I just really wanted to enjoy every second of my second last race ever. The night slalom on Howelsen Hill is incredible, and just like two years ago there was a big crowd at the finish, and an awesome atmosphere throughout the race. This was no doubt the absolute best race to end my career on. When I was in the start gate I thought to myself, "This is actually it, you'll never get to do this ever again, so have so much fun and send it" ("Régale toi," I said to myself in French), and I did; I probably had one of the most fun runs of my life. I crossed the finish line with a big fat smile on my face, not knowing how well I had done but surely knowing that this was as awesome as it gets. Finishing 15th and tying for the best result ever by a Purple Knight woman was incredible and so gratifying. To end on one of my best performances ever was the best reward I could have ask for to top years of hard work.
On the program sending four competitors to NCAAs...
Having four athletes there was incredible, and we were all extremely proud to be wearing Purple and Gold at such an important event, and to break a school record. People are hearing more and more about us, and while two years ago when Guillaume, Torjus [Grimsrud] and I came, most of the Western teams had no idea what Saint Michael's College was, this year people knew who we were; they recognized the Purple and Gold, and as a senior there is nothing that could beat that. I have seen this program grow so much during the past four years, and I am so incredibly proud of what this team has come to be and the prospect it has for the future. Anna is only a sophomore and has already competed in two NCAA Championships, and those who had to stay home this time all have the talent and ability to make it too.
On her role in helping the program grow the past four years...
These past four years I have worked so hard at trying to make this team one that people look at with admiration and respect; a team that people want to join, that high school skiers from all over the U.S. and even Europe look at and say, "That's the team I want to be a part of." Skiing is an individual sport but I have put a lot of effort into trying to make it feel like a team sport. We all have a lot of respect for each other, for the work with put in, and simply feel comfortable and supported. We are not UVM or Denver, we don't have World Cup athletes and full scholarships, but what we do have is people that love what they do, teammates that care, and people that put their hearts and souls into a very tough and unforgiving sport, and we bond around that. The ski team doesn't feel like a "team" to me, we really are a family, and I hope that Purple Knights will continue to cultivate this spirit for as long as this program exists, because that is what makes this team so special and amazing.
Sophomore Anna Willassen
Anna was enjoying her final day in town with a friend and fellow NCAA Championship competitor at press time.