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Eagles nab two skiing titles


Benson, Doherty, Van Deursen, Shannon and Larson all grab first place finishes in busy week of skiing



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SUPER SOPHOMORE Jake Van Deursen blows through a gate on his way to winning the giant slalom at Waterville Valley on Feb. 9. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
February 15, 2010
NORTH CONWAY — In a place where kids are seemingly just as comfortable in ski boots and GS suits as they are in sneakers and jeans, state championships are usually pretty easy to come by.

After winning two state ski titles last year, the Kennett ski team returned to the slopes, trails and jumps again this year and once again brought home two title trophies, as well as a runner-up plaque. And Kennett athletes captured the top spot in seven of the nine specific events held over the past week.

Boys' alpine

The alpine boys got the party rolling along on Tuesday, Feb. 9, with a trip to Waterville Valley for the Division II State Meet, hosted by Plymouth.

The Eagles used an impressive slalom performance to turn a five-point lead over the host Bobcats into a 25-point win and brought the Division II alpine title back to North Conway after finishing second to Hanover last year.

Sophomore Jake Van Deursen had the best day of any skier, as he took home two gold medals for his work.

He won the morning giant slalom in a combined time of 65.53, more than a second ahead of his closest competitor.

Teammate Max Brennick skied to third overall with a time of 67.03, making him the second Eagle scorer.

Freshman Kurt Niiler was the third Eagle scorer, racing to seventh overall with a time of 69.04, while Michael Larson was the final scorer for Kennett, clocking in with a 12th place finish in 69.87.

Coach Chuck Broomhall pointed to Niiler's finish as a great example of a smart skier.

The freshman, on his first run, ran across another skier in the trail. He quickly skied out and because of his quick thinking, was granted a re-run, which he nailed.

"As a freshman, you don't always see that," said Broomhall. "I think it helps that his mother is a coach (Kingswood coach Kris Niiler). He knows high school skiing because he's seen it and had it done before."

Hunter Haynes had a great second run, but a fall on his first run knocked him back to 31st place in 77.44. Riley Lambert had a great first run, but fell on his second run and finished 53rd in 86.18.

When the giant slalom points were totaled, Kennett had a slim lead of five points, 381.5 to 376.5, over the host Bobcats.

"The giant slalom is always that way," Broomhall said. "It's a good opening event before you get to the great things in the afternoon."

The Eagles, however, left no doubt that they were taking home the title trophy when the afternoon slalom got under way.

Four Eagles placed in the top five and the slim lead ballooned to a comfortable cushion.

Van Deursen was again the top finisher, crossing the line in 57.63, just barely ahead of Haynes, who put his morning giant slalom troubles in the rearview mirror and skied to second place in 57.68.

Brennick picked up his second bronze medal of the day, placing third in 58.43.

Larson rounded out the scoring with a time of 60.02, placing him fifth overall.

Matt Halupowski cracked the top 10, finishing 10th in a time of 62.00, while Niiler was 16th in 64.74.

The dynamic slalom performance pushed Kennett over the top for a 774.5 to 749.5 win over runner-up Plymouth. Bedford, Hollis-Brookline and Souhegan rounded out the top five.

Broomhall praised Brennick for making the commitment to the team this year after not qualifying to ski at the state meet last year.

"That's what Kennett skiing is all about and always has been," said Broomhall. "It's all about the team."

Van Deursen, Brennick, Haynes, Larson, Niiler and Halupowski all earned bids to the Meet of Champions, which is set for March 3 at Cannon Mountain. The top 10 racers in each discipline qualify for the elite race that features New Hampshire's best skiers from all divisions.

Cross-country

The cross-country Eagles were next on the docket, taking to the trails at Whitaker Woods on Wednesday, Feb. 10, where Kennett athletes earned three gold medals in four events.

The morning started off with the classical race for the girls, where Kennett's Hannah Benson sent notice that she will be a force to be reckoned with.

The Eagle freshman topped a talented pool of Upper Valley skiers with a time of 16:29 to take first place overall, besting Hanover's Emily Nice by more than 30 seconds.

Breezy Claussen finished second for Kennett, coming in 27th overall in 21:43, with Lindsey Garland taking 40th place in 24:38 to round out the Eagle girls.

Had the Eagles had a fourth girl (even if she finished last), they would've leapfrogged from eighth place to at least fifth place.

For the boys, Sean Doherty's chief competition all season has been Souhegan's Nick Murphy and for the most part, Murphy has gotten the better of the Kennett freshman.

However, Doherty had a superb race in his first State Meet, crossing the line in 14:06 to capture first place, 28 seconds ahead of Murphy.

Torin LaLiberte was next for the Eagles, taking 16th place in a time of 16:47, with Austin Bernier following in 20th place in 17:11 and Drew Boreman right behind in 21st place in 17:18 to round out the scoring.

Henney Sullivan skied to 25th place in 17:35 and Robert Schrader was 29th in 18:03 to round out the Eagle skiers.

Kennett stood fourth after the classical race, with Hanover, Souhegan and Lebanon in front.

After a break to let the course set, the skiers set out for the freestyle race in the afternoon.

This time, however, Nice was able to best Benson and the Kennett freshman settled for second place, crossing the line in 14:41.

Claussen was 33rd in 20:23 and Garland skied to 44th in 23:27 to finish out the Eagle scoring.

Hanover won the overall title, with Upper Valley neighbor Lebanon bringing home second place.

In the boys' freestyle race, Doherty once again topped the field, finishing in an impressive 12:19, besting Murphy by almost 30 seconds for his second gold medal of the day.

LaLiberte was 13th overall in 14:27, with Bernier taking 19th in 14:57. Sullivan rounded out the Kennett scoring in 28th place in 15:40.

Boreman finished 32nd in 15:49 and Liam Fortin rounded out the Eagle skiers with a 34th place finish in 16:10.

Broomhall expressed his deep gratitude to all the volunteers who helped shovel and move snow so that the course was covered for the event.

With their top-10 performances, both Benson and Doherty earned invitations to the Meet of Champions, which will be held at Whitaker Woods on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 10 a.m. If snow conditions aren't favorable at Whitaker, the Garland family has offered the use of Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett as an alternate location for the meet.

Alpine girls

The Kennett alpine girls logged a very successful season going into the Division II State Meet, which was held on their home mountain, Cranmore, on Thursday, Feb. 11.

And with the morning giant slalom, the Eagles showed why they can be a dominating force.

The Eagles placed four skiers in the top six places to earn an easy win over Plymouth, 390-377.

Senior Molly Shannon led the way for all skiers, posting a time of 82.31, which was more than two seconds faster than her closest competitor.

Teammate Amber McPherson was second overall, finishing in 84.33.

Taylor Gardella raced to fifth place overall in a time of 85.07 and Emily Leich rounded out the scoring for the Eagles with a sixth place finish in a time of 86.51.

Paulina Karabelis was 15th in 90.24 and Elyse Clancy, after turning in a strong first run that would've put her near the top 10, didn't finish her second run.

The afternoon slalom was a different story for the Eagles, and the Bobcats took advantage.

Gardella and McPherson had great slalom runs, earning second and third place respectively.

Gardella finished in 68.45 while McPherson logged a time of 69.14 to take third. Both girls trailed Plymouth's Nikka Mosenthal, who clocked in at 67.39.

Leich didn't have her smoothest runs, but still came away with a 14th place finish in 80.34.

Shannon fell on her first run and had a slight bobble on her second run and slipped all the way to 23rd place in a time of 90.33 to round out the scoring for Kennett.

Libby Karabelis also had a great first run, but trouble on her second run pushed her back to 28th place in 93.48. Clancy had trouble on both runs and placed 62nd overall in 119.60.

When the points were added up, the Bobcats had edged the Eagles by a scant three points and laid claim to the Division II title by a score of 757 to 754. Hanover, Oyster River and Souhegan rounded out the top five.

Gardella, Shannon, McPherson and Leich all earned bids to the March 3 Meet of Champions at Cannon Mountain.

Jumping

Heading into the Friday, Feb. 12, state ski jumping meet, the Eagles figured their chief competition in a title defense would be the host Concord Crimson Tide. Concord had beaten the shorthanded Eagles a week earlier in a warm-up meet at Proctor Academy and the Eagles were amped up for a battle.

However, it was Concord who showed up for the state meet shorthanded, as the city kids were missing three of their top four jumpers, including their best leaper who suffered a concussion while warming up for the state meet earlier in the afternoon.

When all was said and done, the Eagles had no problem repeating as jumping champions, outdistancing Plymouth by 26 points.

"If Concord had all their jumpers, they were definitely going to be contending," Broomhall noted. "We came down last week and didn't have all our jumpers, but we pulled it out tonight when we needed it."

And the Eagles pulled the win out in fine fashion, sweeping the three medal positions and placing all four scorers in the top six overall.

"They really stepped it up," said coach Chip Henry. "We came down on Wednesday and had a nice long practice.

"Sometimes we have had trouble on this jump because it is so much different than our jump," he continued. "But they made a nice transition onto this hill."

Larson finished out his high school jumping career with a gold medal, taking first place with a total of 132 points. He had the night's longest jump, at 38 meters and also recorded jumps of 37 and 37.5 meters. The jumpers get points from judges in addition to their distance and the top two jumps count for each jumper.

The big surprise of the night came from Duncan Cromwell, who leaped to second place overall with an impressive three jumps. His first leap was 32.5 meters. He improved by three meters on his second jump and another two meters on his third. He also recorded the highest point total of the night on any single jump, with 67 points on his final leap. He netted 129.5 points for second place.

"This year he's worked super hard," said Henry of Cromwell. "He hasn't missed any practices and he's really improved."

Haynes finished the Kennett sweep of the podium with a third place finish with 126.5 points. He had two jumps of 36 meters and a third of 35.5 meters.

Brennick rounded out the scoring with a sixth place finish with 119.5 points. He had leaps of 32, 34.5 and 34 meters.

Jeff Sires was 12th overall with 111 points and had distances of 27.5, 31.5 and 33 meters. Torin LaLiberte was 20th with 102.5 points and had two jumps of 28.5 meters and a third of 29 meters.

Zack Cromwell, jumping for the Gene Ross Cup, given to the top jumping rookie, was fourth in that competition with 90.5 points. He had two jumps of 24.5 meters and a third of 24 meters.

With two state titles, a runner-up plaque, seven gold medals, five silver medals and four bronze medals, one could say it was a pretty successful week for the Kennett ski team.

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