For a winter with very little snow locally, the Scarsdale and Edgemont ski teams sure got plenty of practices and competitions in for the regular season. That paid off for the Section 1 championships at Hunter Mountain.
Scarsdale junior Hayden Claussen qualified for the New York State championships, which were held earlier this week.
At sectionals, Claussen had consistent runs with his best slalom of 34.70 placing him sixth, his best giant slalom of 38.05 seventh. His best slalom and best GS put him sixth and he was fifth overall in Skimeister, which takes into account all four runs.
“I’m so proud of him,” Scarsdale coach Pat Liu said. “He was just very consistent today in all four runs. He started with GS and it was rough for everybody. His draw was bib No. 6 and if you were early it hurt you because the snow was so soft, but it was fine and he still did really well. GS his second run was really good. He really ripped that run. Slalom his first run was really good and his second I saw him hit some ruts and he wasn’t really riding the ruts smoothly, but they were still both really good.”
Claussen’s brother, Harry Liu, then a senior, was the first alternate for the state team last year and Claussen was not far behind.
“I think last year he made a couple of mistakes and that cost him on short courses,” Coach Liu said. “The GS course last year at Catamount was short and flat, so any mistake is really going to cost you. He was working on his game. He wasn’t that consistent and he was just building up his skills and things really started to click this year for both high school and USSA racing.”
Claussen’s potential is high. “If you think about it all the guys in front of Hayden all graduate, so that leaves him as the No. 1 racer for the section next year,” Liu said. “He’ll continue racing for both teams and he’s growing and maturing and getting new experiences. Hopefully his trajectory will still be going upward.”
Coach Liu is not only their high school coach, but Claussen and Liu’s father. “I will be going up there really as a parent,” Liu said of states at Bristol. “It will be a little different than going up as a coach. I’ve been to states before as a coach, but this time I get to enjoy myself as a dad.”
The boys team placed fourth in Section 1, with the top three skiers’ best slalom times counting. Jeremy Mann and Jackson Dean also counted toward Scarsdale’s placing. Funny enough, Ethan Anthony, son of Scarsdale assistant Jessica Anthony, scratched this year, opening a spot for Dean, while last year Scarsdale’s Spencer Mann scratched, opening a spot for Anthony.
Dean took full advantage of the opportunity. “Jackson has improved so much, so I’m proud of him making it,” Liu said.
Thomas Zosin had one second between each of his slalom and GS times, so he was an extremely consistent finisher to take 29th in the skimeister as a junior.
“Thomas is not only new to the team, but he’s new to racing,” Liu said. “He’s never raced before and he’s a junior. Literally he showed up and started racing. He’s such a great athlete and he just picked up on it so quickly. He went from zero experience to the sectional championships. That was a surprise.”
Freshman Zach Berman, who races for Butternut, was another surprise for Liu. “He came in and fit right in with the boys,” Liu said. “Honestly I didn’t know who to anticipate after Hayden and Jeremy as far as the competitive team, but Thomas and Zach stepped up right away.”
Mann is a sophomore, so that’s five returning skiers to build around for next winter.
The girls were also fourth in the section, but are being hit very hard by graduation as Leela Chari, Brooke Paykin and Pippi Seider, all sectional qualifiers, are seniors.
“They are three girls I’ve coached since freshman year and the three of them have grown with the program, improved as racers and as captains have been great,” Liu said. “They really bring the team together. They bring such a good attitude and vibe to the team. This has been one of the most cohesive groups I’ve had at Scarsdale from freshmen all the way up to seniors and the three of them had a lot to do with that.”
Chari, Seider and junior Caroline Cavalier counted toward the team score. Scarsdale was also represented by sophomore Wilma Qvist and freshman Ava Akbarian.
“Even though Wilma is a sophomore, she came this year from Sweden, and she and Ava are brand new to the team,” Liu said. “They injected a little bit of energy into the team, especially looking toward next year they’re great racers to build a team around.”
Cavalier was Scarsdale’s top finisher at sectionals, taking 14th in skimeister with runs of 41.42-40.34 in slalom and 42.85-43.22 in GS.
“It was honestly very shocking to me,” Cavalier said. “I really didn’t expect to do as well as I did. It was a great feeling for me knowing all my work this season paid off. I reached my main goal to make sectionals. It’s amazing to me that it happened.
“My senior year I really hope to make states because after training again next summer at Mount Hood, after all that did for me last summer, I think it’s very possible for me. It would be very cool.”
Remarkably, this was Cavalier’s first time qualifying for postseason. “It was extremely rewarding to me since last year I worked really hard to try and make a great season for myself,” she said. “I was improving a lot, but this year was just very special to me because it really felt like all my hard work paid off.”
Cavalier studied not only her teammates in practices and races, but the competition, too. “It was really helpful in improving my own skills, as was working with my own coaches,” she said. “Over the summer I trained at Mount Hood, which was super helpful for me working with a new set of coaches and athletes. It changed the way I skied.”
Liu was extremely impressed with Cavalier’s growth.
“Caroline has shown some incredible improvement from last year to this year and becoming a senior next year I think she’s going to be one of those killers on the team,” Liu said. “With her, Wilma and Ava to build around will be great. I anticipate Caroline is going to provide a lot of leadership on the team.”
Cavalier was also inspired by the three seniors.
“They have taught me so much and they have been such amazing friends, too,” she said. “We have grown as skiers together. The entire time I’ve been on the team they’ve helped bring our team together in terms of the rankings. We’re losing a big part of our team, which is sad, but we have some underclassmen who are great.”
Scarsdale’s future remains bright. “I think I said at the beginning of the year that it was a building year, that my girls I anticipated to do really well, but now the boys and girls have younger racers who are really going to influence the team strongly next year to build around,” Liu said.
Panthers gaining ground
Of Edgemont’s six sectionals qualifiers, none were seniors. In fact, there are no seniors on the team, so the coaches and skiers feel strongly about the future.
“There’s a lot to be fired up about with this team,” coach Dan Cherico said. “No seniors, very young, very skilled, very passionate. Any skier that didn’t make sectionals this year that was close knows exactly what they need to do if they want to achieve that next year.”
The girls placed fifth in the section with ninth-grader Kea Rutherford, seventh-grader Bella Rutherford and junior Johanna Hunt the three scoring team members.
“Sectionals really is kind of the big event for a lot of the skiers and I think this year we went in with the expectation for the second consecutive year where the girls team was the best team top to bottom in the Southern League, so let’s see where that stacks up against the Northern teams, which we know are extremely deep and have a much bigger league,” Cherico said. “Objective No. 1 was to be the fastest team for the Southern girls and we did achieve that.”
Anya Voit also made sectionals for the girls as the first alternate. Edgemont actually had three of the four alternate spots for the girls. “Anya really turned it on the second half of the year,” Cherico said. “All the kids were ready to go and she got the call.”
Cherico didn’t feel his team produced up to potential at sectionals last year, but this year with a proper giant slalom course for the first time and proper preparation, the girls especially made a statement.
“I don’t see us taking a step back,” Cherico said. “The idea that over time maybe we could represent the section at states is a very real possibility. That’s what this year’s results showed us.”
While the boys did not field a full team, Ryan Stuzin was 27th in skimeister, Chris Hunt 35th.
Stuzin’s performance was secondary to him actually being there to compete at sectionals. The last two years he had to scratch because his grandfathers each died the week of sectionals a year apart.
“It was awesome to finally get him at sectionals because he’s put all the work in and his ski ability is there,” Cherico said.
Cherico took the chairlift to the top of the course with Stuzin and they had a chance to soak in the moment. “I think at this point the results were going to be what the results were going to be, but the journey for him was the reward,” Cherico said. “That was the celebration, being on the course.”
Stuzin doesn’t race outside of high school anymore, but he does ski patrol on weekends in Vermont. Sectionals was a flashback to the big events he used to participate in as a weekend warrior.
“This had more people and more difficult courses as compared to league races where it’s not many people at all, simpler courses,” Stuzin said. “This was my first time at a race like this in almost five years and it was definitely something to remember.”
Stuzin has been part of the program for four years and looks forward to his grand finale as a senior next winter.
“I think it’s an excellent program,” he said. “There are so many memories and you become friends with anyone. There’s no other program like this where you can ski after school. It’s just great.”
The Panthers had their most productive regular season yet this winter.
“We were able to get the best practices we’ve had on snow since the team was formed,” Cherico said. “We set up a variety of course situation drills and technique drills and the kids were able to repeatedly go through it. For the first time it wasn’t just more laps for the race course, more laps for the race course. We had drills and everyone left practice with some element of their ski racing improved. That set the tone going into those really condensed race weeks.”
Each racer worked on things specific to themselves. Stuzin spent a lot of time working on starts. He’d bust out of the gate, make a few turns and hike back up to the top and do it all over again.
“When the younger kids started seeing it isn’t just about going top to bottom, that it’s about breaking the course up into sections, that really helped them,” Cherico said.
Voit was “solid” to start the season, but her times dropped immensely toward the end. “She was a completely different racer and having those race-specific practices really flipped the switch with her,” Cherico said.
Skiing is very much a family activity and that’s been true for Edgemont’s team as many siblings have been and are part of the program. Stuzin’s sister, Lauren (Edgemont 2012), hoped to get a ski team going, but it didn’t happen during her time. The Hunts are twins who impact the team and the Rutherfords are the future of the girls program.
“A lot of our kids come to as us avid recreational family skiers, and several have actual race experience,” Cherico said. “This year having the Hunt twins and the Rutherford sisters keeps that going. We had the Hoesterey sisters. Anya Voit, who went this year, her brother Lucas went last year. The Falk sisters have come through. We have two other pairs of sisters on the team right now. It’s great to see and with sibling rivalry the natural competition comes out. I don’t have to coach them up.”
The Rutherfords certainly have that going on. “When the results come out, the first question is, ‘How close was Bella to Kea?’ or, ‘Did she pass her?’” Cherico said. “Then if Bella finishes faster in one run, Kea is quick to point out, ‘But my overall time was faster.’”
When all was said and done for the season, Stuzin appreciated the total package. “I thought the season went very well considering we had lost so many great skiers from last season,” he said. “We had a lot of younger people this year. The girls won another league title and that was great. The boys did well, too.”