Flames sweep at Wintergreen, qualify for USCSA Nationals
February 23, 2014 | Wintergreen, Va.
Liberty University's ski and snowboard team, which learned last week that it has received an exemption to compete in the March 9-15 United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., swept the podium at Sunday's final slopestyle competition of the regular season at Wintergreen Resort.
"It was 60 degrees and really slushy," Flames Head Coach Ryan Leeds said. "It almost felt like you were landing in sand, it was that soft. When you landed, your board was engulfed in the snow."
Liberty junior Kevin Hoff was the overall winner in the men's snowboard competition with an average score of 17.5, followed by Flames freshman Brendan McHugh (second, 14.7) and junior Isaac Gibson (third, 14.2).
Finally, in the men's freestyle skiing category, Liberty senior Tim Steltzer won with an average score of 26.55, edging Bridgewater College's Matthew Wampler (22.45), the regular-season individual champion.
Liberty's men's snowboard team was conference champions with 26 points, well ahead of the University of Virginia (106) and Appalachian State (139). The Lady Flames' snowboarders placed second behind UVa (43) and ahead of East Carolina University (106).
When a foot of fresh powder in Lynchburg kept Liberty from making the trip to Hunter Mountain, N.Y., for the Feb. 14-16 USCSA Regional Championships, Leeds wasted no time in contacting officials to request an exemption for nationals. The Flames were granted qualification to go to Lake Placid, N.Y., based on Leeds' rapid response as well as their regular-season performances in conference.
Liberty will bring four men's snowboarders (Hoff, McHugh, Gibson, and junior Austin Herrero), one men's skier (Steltzer), and two women's snowboarders (Beatty and Fronte), one more than last year when Eden Jones placed fourth individually and the men's snowboarders finished fourth as a team.
"We're taking everybody who's healthy and able to compete," Leeds said. "We want to instill experience in all of our riders that are going to be returning so we'll have a strong team for the future. All of them are excited about competing against schools from all over country at a mountain they don't usually get to ride on."
Though Hoff and Steltzer are the only riders with experience from last year's USCSA Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho, Leeds expects the team to contend for individual medals in the March 11 Rail Jam and the March 12 slopestyle competition.
"For the people that are new this year, it's going to be a little bit of a reality check," he said. "They're probably not going to be used to the level of competition at nationals. Regionals would have prepared them for that. Our team is a very strong on rail features so there's a really strong chance we could win the Rail Jam as a team."
Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, will feature much larger jumps than those Liberty has competed on this season and the Flames will have to adjust to competing on snow after becoming accustomed to the consistent surface at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre.
"Practicing at Snowflex, we're so used to the speed and consistency," Leeds said. "Speeds are always changing on snow."
This weekend, Liberty will travel to Seven Springs Mountain Resort (Pa.) to train for nationals in better snow conditions than what they dealt with at Wintergreen.
"It's one of the bigger and better parks on the East Coast," Leeds said. "We're going there to help them overcome whatever mental block they may have on bigger jumps. As a coaching staff, we're telling our riders that they need to go really, really big if they want to win."