Ski team places third at USCSA Nationals

Bears seek future stability under new head coach after almost losing varsity status in 2015

Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2017

Two months before the 2017 season, Brown’s skiing team found itself without a head coach. Former Head Coach Michael LeBlanc resigned in November 2016, leaving the team’s seniors to lead preseason conditioning. Current Head Coach Alex Norden was hired in late November but did not begin working with the team until early January, two weeks before the first competition.

“It wasn’t easy … we had to adjust (to a new coach) right away,” said Ali Gunesch ’17. “(The fall conditioning period) is when everyone gets really comfortable with the coach. We didn’t really have that, so that made it a little bit tougher.”

That transition did not stop the Bears from continuing to find success on a national level. Brown finished third at the USCSA National Championships after winning the Eastern regional competition. Natalie Pearl ’17 earned First-Team All-American honors in both the giant slalom and slalom, where she finished third overall.

“Nationals was a solid showing,” Pearl said. “We all skied very strong and solid. Everyone worked hard, and we got it together as a team.”

Despite being one of the most successful athletic programs at Brown, the team’s varsity status has been hanging in the balance since 2011. Fundraising struggles and safety concerns were cited as reasons for a possible demotion to club level in 2015, The Herald previously reported . But later in the year, Director of Athletics Jack Hayes recommended to President Christina Paxson P’19 that the team should retain its varsity status and set long-term targets for fundraising.

LeBlanc left the program and relinquished his responsibilities as head coach because of uncertainty facing the team, The Herald previously reported. But after a successful 2017 season, Norden is confident that the program’s varsity status is secure going forward.

“I plan on working really hard to keep this program at a varsity status,” Norden said. “The administration is very supportive of helping us endow the program, too. There has been talk and uncertainty in the past, but I plan on working really hard (at) not only keeping this program varsity, but also making it thrive and keeping us really competitive.”

Norden is fully committed to the team and plans to remain as head coach and is “looking forward to helping bring this program up to financially where it needs to be and keeping the competitiveness going like it has been,” she said.

“It’s important people should know that we’re not being complacent about the future of the team,” she added. “We’re working really hard to maintain its varsity status. … We can competitively do better than a third place at nationals. We can compete to win.”

Though their final season at Brown has come to a close, Gunesch and Pearl plan to continue their support of the program as alums.

“Our whole graduating senior class is going to donate,” Gunesch said. “I have every intention of continuing to support the team. It’s been one of the most important parts of my Brown experience. I really hope that it continues for future generations of skiers and women at Brown.”

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