Skiers, snowboarders prep for nationals with solid Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship runs at Snowflex
Sunday’s USCSA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships were moved from Wintergreen Resort to the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre due to a lack of snow following last week’s rain and moderate temperatures, giving Liberty University’s ski & snowboard team a decided home-slope advantage for the Slopestyle competition.
“Late on Friday when the Southeast Conference coordinator reached out to me, we weren’t sure if we were going to have a contest since it was so last-minute,” Flames Head Coach Isaac Gibson said. “We were very thankful to be able to have a facility where we could have a backup plan and make sure that the Regional competition took place.”
The Flames and Lady Flames rose to the occasion and set themselves up for strong showings at next week’s USCSA National Championships, set for March 7-12 at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1980 Olympic Games’ ski events.
In the men’s snowboard competition, Liberty posted a 1-2-4-5 finish to total 7 points and outrank JMU (20) and Virginia (24). Individually, senior Ian Rosario (first, 54.33), freshman Jayden Horrocks (second, 32.67), and sophomore Jordan Manning (fourth, 30.67) rounded out the Flames’ top three followed by sophomore Andrew Smith (fifth, 28.33).
The Lady Flames’ snowboarders were even more dominant, sweeping the top four spots on the podium to finish first as a team with 6 points, followed by JMU (25), UVA (26), and Pennsylvania (27). Senior Emory Orlando (44.33), junior Emmaus Rich (32.67), senior Regan Robinson (32), and freshman Anna Meyer (29).
Liberty’s men’s ski team landed in first place with 7 points to finish well in front of JMU (21), UVA (22), and Penn (22) with solid 1-2-4 best runs from sophomore Coby Liebelt (56), freshman Charlie Barkow (45.33), and junior Luke Linker (39).
Despite a first-place finish from Liberty sophomore Josie Rich (33.67), the Quakers upended the Lady Flames’ skiers, 11-15, followed by the Cavaliers with 16 points.
Due to the change in venue, everyone who had qualified for regionals automatically advanced to the USCSA National Championships. With that in mind, a few of the Flames’ and Lady Flames riders and skiers, including men’s snowboarders Tyler Sherbine, a senior, graduate Eli Haita, and junior Oliver Harner as well as senior women’s snowboarder Sam Pesile and senior women’s skier Meghan Weigner, traveled back to Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Sherbine’s hometown of Somerset, Pa., for additional practice on snow in preparation for nationals.
“Everybody on the team will do fine making the transition from Snowflex back to snow, and it won’t be a huge disadvantage for them, but it is always beneficial to get on bigger jumps and hopefully the time and energy those athletes who were able to go up to Pennsylvania put in will pay off at nationals,” Gibson said.
The team will travel to Lake Placid on Saturday and have a day of rest on Sunday before using Monday as a practice day before the competition schedule starts on Tuesday with the women’s ski and snowboard Rail Jams and men’s Boardercross and Skiercross events. Action will continue with the women’s Boardercross and Skiercross and men’s Rail Jams on Wednesday and the men’s and women’s skiing Slopestyle competitions on Thursday before concluding with Friday’s men’s and women’s snowboard Slopestyle events and Saturday’s awards presentations.
See the full schedule on the USCSA site.
Teams can enter a maximum of five contestants in each discipline and the Flames and Lady Flames expect to be at that limit for all four teams in all three of their events. Senior Colleen Leja, who won the program’s first two national titles when the USCSA Nationals were last held in 2020, also at Lake Placid, will find out on Thursday if she has doctor’s clearance to compete next week.
“Colleen is graduating early, and this will be her last season with the team,” Gibson said. “Unfortunately, those injuries have held her back this season, which has been a huge letdown for her, but at the end of the day, it is her physical health and that’s far more valuable than competing for the team. If she’s healthy, we would love for her to have the opportunity to get out there one more time (for Liberty). She has to look to the future, and we want to see her continue snowboarding long into her years after college.”
With the depth of this season’s team, the Lady Flames have had seven women’s snowboarders on the travel team.
“The women’s snowboard team is the biggest we have ever had,” Gibson said, noting that with at least six going to Lake Placid, including Orlando and Pesile who have nationals experience, and Emmaus Rich and Meyer who have shown tremendous promise, “we should be able to have a great showing.”
Freshman skier Isabella Tinney, who sat out this past weekend with an injury, is hopeful of returning for nationals. Meanwhile, the men’s ski team is anticipating the return of graduate Robert Bynum, a graduate student who has been sidelined by injury since the season’s first competition.
“We definitely have high hopes for him competing at nationals and he is very excited and fired up to get back on his skis,” Gibson said. “He is extremely competitive, and we expect a lot from him in this, his last opportunity to compete. Luke Linker and Eli Haita, other returning athletes with nationals experience under their belts, are both exited for the event as well as Cody Liebelt, who has had an awesome freshman season, winning the Rail Jam at Bryce Mountain, and the Big Air and Slopestyle events at Snowflex. We expect him to continue that trajectory at nationals and maybe even land on the podium in a few events.”
Gibson credits Assistant Coaches John Hunt, who has worked with the skiers, and Cole Kees, who has focused on the snowboarders, for developing the teams to the next level this season.
“John and Cole have done an awesome job this year, being former athletes and taking the experience they have and instilling it into the team,” he said. “They know that (Whiteface, N.Y.) Mountain like the back of their hands, and know how these events go, so they will be talking to the skiers and riders during the event, providing great wisdom and insight, and hopefully helping our athletes perform at their best.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer