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    November 9, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Coming off its strongest performances to date at the USCSA National Championships at Lake Placid, N.Y., Liberty University’s ski and snowboard teams has experienced a windfall of new skiers and riders this season. Many of them, as well as several returning team members, will participate in Friday’s 5 p.m. Big Air contest and Saturday’s 3 p.m. Rail Jam at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre (LMSC), open to the public and prospective students in town for College For A Weekend (CFAW).

    “The fall semester has gone really well,” Head Coach Isaac Gibson said. “Similar to expectations, we are seeing a lot of growth, both in numbers and in skill on the men’s ski and snowboard side of things, and we are continuing to see that development. Unfortunately, we have battled through a few injuries that have set us back a little bit, with a few of those having gone through a healing process and are just now getting back to practices.”

    The Lady Flames have taken significant hits in their numbers on both the skiing and snowboard sides due to team members lost to graduation, studying abroad, or injury. That includes sophomore skier Lauren Harder, who captured a gold medal in the women’s Rail Jam at last season’s nationals but will be sidelined for the season after catching the edge of her skis on the lip of the ramp while attempting to learn a 720-degree jump.

    “She is still planning to be on the team, but is not going to be able to compete,” Gibson said of Harder, who was scheduled for knee surgery on Friday with a six-month rehabilitation expected.

    On the men’s side, sophomore snowboarder Coby Liebelt sustained an injury on the same day as Harder but had a much shorter rehabilitation and returned to practices last month.

    “He is slowly progressing back to where he left off,” Gibson said.

    Senior Emory Orlando, a double gold medal winner last season, has returned to stabilize the women’s snowboard team.

    “I am excited to see her progression,” Gibson said. “We also have (sophomore) Emmaus Rich, who competed with us for the first time last year, and we have high hopes for her this season of being able to put together high runs and scores and hopefully to continue progressing and helping us at nationals this year.”

    Rich placed sixth in the women’s snowboard Rail Jam at nationals last year, which Gibson said left her “really fired up and motivated to work hard this year to have a podium finish at nationals. She is working really hard, learning new tricks, and getting more comfortable on her snowboard.”

    Currently, only two of the four female ski team members have experience, while Orlando and Rich are the only two of the five on the snowboard side who have been tested at the USCSA level.

    “We are still working on helping them progress, but also making sure they aren’t getting over their heads and make sure they’re ready for competition,” Gibson said. “A lot of them don’t have as much experience on snow, so we are going to take it light and keep the athletes’ faith in making their health and safety our No. 1 priority.”

    He said the LMSC is an ideal year-round training ground for skiers and snowboarders to refine their jumps and tricks before taking them to the snow, as the Flames and Lady Flames plan to do as soon as Wintergreen Resort in nearby Nelson County, Va., opens for the season.

    “Snowflex is amazing for getting able to get those reps and learning the tricks for the athletes to perform at contests,” Gibson said. “It is equally valuable to get the time in on snow because the surface is different. Having confidence doing tricks on Snowflex doesn’t immediately transfer to the snow and you need the time on snow to build that up. So we are definitely praying for cold weather so we can get on the snow (at Wintergreen) as soon as possible.”

    Liberty will travel to three USCSA regular-season events in January with each event having separate contests on Saturday and Sunday — a Slopestyle and Boardercross/Skiercross competition at Beech Mountain (N.C.) on Jan. 21-22; a Big Air and Rail Jam competition at Snowflex on Feb. 4-5; and a Slopestyle and Rail Jam on Feb. 11-12 at Wintergreen. Then, on Feb. 17-18, Seven Springs (Pa.) will host the Southeast Region Championships before qualifiers travel to northern California for USCSC National Championships from March 6-11 at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

    This weekend, there will be a total of $1,800 in prize money available to contestants who compete in both Friday’s Big Air and Saturday’s Rail Jam events, with the top combined scorers in men’s and women’s ski and snowboard divisions taking home $200, $150, and $100 for first- through third-place finishes.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Micah Adams/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant