The women's ski team is gearing up for another season after a summer filled with uncertainty about its future in the University's athletics program.
The offseason was a "disaster," said Mike LeBlanc, head coach of the women's varsity and men's club ski teams. A lot of energy was devoted to soliciting money from parents and an alumni pool of about 20, LeBlanc said. "I'm still far behind … in terms of organizing my team," he said.
Incoming first-years shared their coach's anxiety. Nika Mosenthal '15 said she called other schools when she thought the team would be cut.
On the slopes, LeBlanc said last year's team was hindered by bad luck, difficulties finishing races strong and an especially challenging course at the USCSA National Championships.
"We could have walked away with winning both (the giant slalom and slalom at the national championships), and we didn't because we had people crash," he said. "Our focus this season is going to be more consistency," LeBlanc said, which he hopes will come from focusing on finishing runs in practices. LeBlanc also said the depth of this year's team will allow for less risk-taking, meaning runs will be less likely to result in crashes.
Training at Brown is challenging, featuring significantly more dry-land training — fitness, cardio and strengthening, said Amanda Engelhardt '15. "We haven't been on snow yet, and that's a lot of where the bulk of training comes in," she said.
Nationals alternates annually between coasts. This year, it will be held on the East Coast, which "is definitely an advantage," said captain Kia Mosenthal '12. Both Kia Mosenthal and LeBlanc said last year's course in Sun Valley, Idaho, was particularly challenging. January is the "time to capitalize" because the team will spend more time traveling when it returns to school, Kia Mosenthal added.
LeBlanc said uncertainty may continue to hinder the team. No skiers were recruited this year, and according to LeBlanc, a lot of skiers who said Brown was their first choice last spring have since been recruited to other schools.
"It's just frustrating because I worked really hard for eight years to get the program where it is," LeBlanc said. "Decisions made way above our heads set back a lot of the hard work in a matter of weeks."
While LeBlanc is confident in the potential of first-year and sophomore skiers, he said it will take four or five years to regain his ability to recruit. "I could be wrong," he said. "But I'm certainly nervous about it."
Despite the concerns over recruiting, LeBlanc said he still believes in his team and expects them to finish in the top three at nationals — a repeat of the team's 2010 finish. "This year, we can be on the podium," he said. "Absolutely."