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Nordic ski team caps historic season with NCAA championship performance

March 27, 2020

The Nordic skiing team concluded its season at the NCAA championships in Bozeman, Mont., on March 12. Five Bowdoin athletes—Christian Gostout ’20, Gabby Vandendries ’21, Elliot Ketchel ’21, Renae Anderson ’21 and Peter Moore ’23—qualified for this year’s event, the most skiers in program history. Although the athletes competed in the first day of racing, the remainder of the events were cancelled due to concerns about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The event was the culmination of what has been a record-setting season for Bowdoin. The Polar Bears recorded three consecutive third-place finishes in the middle of the season—the team’s best-ever results—and won the Maine State Championship, known as the Chummy Cup, for the second year in a row.

On the men’s side, Ketchel was the team’s top finisher in Bozeman, taking home 17th place in the 10k skate race. In his third NCAA championship appearance, he finished one place higher than his result in the same event last year. Despite it being Gostout and Moore’s first appearance at an NCAA championship race, both skiers posted solid results in the 10k skate, finishing 28th and 30th, respectively, meaning that all three mens skiers scored for the team. In the women’s 5k race, Vandendries bested her previous NCAA championship finish with a 26th place result, and Anderson finished 37th.

However, after the first day of competition, the NCAA announced that it would be cancelling all spring sports and all remaining winter championships, eliminating the second day of races. The announcement came as something of a surprise to the athletes.

“[Ashmead White Director of Athletics] Tim Ryan had told our coach that there was no way we were coming back [on orders from Bowdoin],” said Gostout. “So we were all kind of like, ‘poof, we’re in the clear.’ And then we had our first race, and it was the second we got back to our house after the race [that we saw the announcement]. Wow … they had just made this blanket call and they were like, ‘it’s all over, everybody leaves.’”

Initially, the news was frustrating for the skiers, many of whom were saving their energy for the second day of racing.

“It’s not that I couldn’t have raced harder the first day, it’s just that there’s usually such a release at the end of the season,” said Ketchel. “You’ve been working so hard and always trying to be on top of everything since the end of the summer, really. And all of a sudden, it’s just like, ‘oh, never mind, forget about it.’ It really just came as a shock.”

Vandendries was similarly shocked and also angered by the announcement.

“I was pretty mad because it didn’t really seem that reasonable to me, just because of how we were all already there,” she said. “And it wasn’t really like a big crowd or anything.  It felt more just like a blanket for all NCAA things rather than them looking specifically at us, because I really do think it wasn’t very useful.”

Despite the frustration of missing the season’s last race, the Bowdoin team is finding ways to find satisfaction with the season and make peace with the situation.

“Initially I was pretty upset … but I’ve definitely been looking back on more positives throughout the season and focusing less on [the end] and more on the rest of the season, which was just so spectacular,” said Ketchel. “It definitely makes me figure out what my real performance goals are for next year. I want to [be in] this role next year when we get this place.”

And despite missing the final race, the results on day one were still reflective of Bowdoin’s historic season.

“I’m definitely satisfied with it,” said Gostout. “Being there alone is kind of an accomplishment … [and] all three of our men scored, which is just the best case scenario. So yeah, it was a good day.”

From both the men’s and women’s teams tallying best-ever carnival finishes to Vandendries securing the first women’s podium finish since 2009, to sending the most ever athletes to NCAAs, this season and this championship event will not soon be forgotten in the history of the program.

“It’s easy to have everything overshadowed by all the catastrophe … but we really did have a super awesome season and last minute got lucky enough to send five people [to the championship],” Gostout said. “I think we can only look back at it as a success.”

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