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Joyce Endee

Quartet skis Lady Eagles to state championship

Pleeter, McLaughlin, Houston, Watson bring title home to Gilford

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

The Gilford girls’ alpine ski team poses with the Division III State Championship plaque following their win at Gunstock on Feb. 14. Megan Pleeter holds the award, with (left to right) Emily Watson, Caitlin Houston and Grace McLaughlin behind. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
February 20, 2012
GILFORD – Four skiers, one championship.

Competing with the minimum number of racers to be eligible for a team title, the Gilford High School girls' alpine team put it all together on Feb. 14. The Lady Eagles amassed 751 points, eight more than runner-up and three-time defending champion Bishop Brady (743) to capture the Division III State Championship at Gunstock Mountain's Cannonball course.

Gilford finished as runners-up to Brady each of the last two years, making this winter's title that much more special for the quartet of Megan Pleeter, Grace McLaughlin, Caitlin Houston and Emily Watson.

"We just all stepped it up this year and I'm so happy that we won this," said Pleeter, one of two seniors on the squad along with Watson. "It's exciting to know that we were able to win with only four girls. We had to go all out and everyone had to ski like they're capable of skiing. As a senior, I really wanted to take this home."

In the morning slalom, the Eagles finished in a tie for first place with Brady after both schools totaled 371 points. McLaughlin was outstanding from the get-go, as the junior was the only skier to break 41 seconds on either slalom run en route to a first-place overall finish in the event. McLaughlin's first run of 40.79 seconds gave her some breathing room entering run two, and she captured the top spot with a combined time of 1:23.03, more than a second faster than second-place Jill Thomas of Brady.

"I actually got hit in the face with a couple gates early on in that first run but then I just felt solid all the way down," said McLaughlin, sporting a Star Wars t-shirt and Sonic the Hedgehog hat as her post-race attire. "The slalom is my best event, so to be able to win it is really nice. So happy about that."

Pleeter was the second Gilford skier down the hill in the slalom, as she took third overall in 1:24.31 thanks to a stellar second run. Houston was seventh in the event (1:25.12), while Watson grabbed 23rd place (1:51.02) to put the Eagles in a strong position heading into the afternoon giant slalom.

"We mentioned it a little bit how we need clean runs from everyone since there were only four of them," said Gilford coach Peter Colbath. "But I didn't belabor the thought because I didn't want to put any added pressure on the girls."

The Eagles really put the hammer down in the GS to grab the championship away from Brady, as Pleeter won the event by over a second in 1:20.79. She had plenty of company from her Gilford teammates however, as McLaughlin was fourth overall (1:22.90) and Houston was right behind in fifth place (1:22.99). Watson put the finishing touches on the victory moments later, as her time of 1:34.88 was good enough for 17th place in the event, and Gilford outscored Brady, 379-371, in the GS to pick up its first state title since 2008.

"There was a lot of pressure but you've just got to focus on yourself and do the best you can for the rest of the team," said Watson. "These other three girls are really, really good skiers. So that kind of put the pressure on me and there's only four of us so there's no room for error. But we practice (at Gunstock) so you know the pitches, you know the course. It's nice to host and have it on our own territory."

Just a freshman, Houston was outstanding all season long. She didn't disappoint at the state meet, finishing ahead of a pack of Brady skiers in both events to give Gilford valuable points.

"Being a freshman it can be hard to jump right in but it feels really good to be able to contribute right away," explained Houston. "It's nice to send the seniors out happy by winning this. We lagged a little bit in the slalom but we cleaned it up in the GS."

Pleeter, McLaughlin and Houston will all represent Gilford at the Meet of Champions on March 7 at Cannon Mountain. The top 10 skiers from both the slalom and GS qualified for the meet.

Bow finished third in the team standings with 699 points, while Oyster River (666) and Kearsarge (650) rounded out the top five.

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