By Libby Shanahan Contributing Writer
The day starts at 5:30 a.m. in the dead black of a winter morning, standing atop a race course and looking down upon a snow-covered incline fit only for expert skiers — this is what the women and men athletes of the UMF Alpine Team live for. What some do not understand about competitive ski racing is the amount of dedication and resilience one must posses in order to push yourself to be a collegiate level athlete.
The season begins far before winter. Athletes must complete a preseason training regimen, which starts in the very early weeks of school when students return. A combination of different dry-land exercises such as weight training, agility and various athletic testing is just a glimpse of what these athletes put themselves through in order to perform at their level. Returning athletes are given a packet of weekly exercises which they are expected to complete each week throughout the summer. In short, the athletes undergo a yearlong preparation for a three month season.
Erin Buckland, junior, general studies major and student-assistant alpine coach describes the vigor she observes in her peers. “There certainly aren’t a lot of people that can say that this is what I do,” she paused, “it is almost as if athleticism comes second to dedication.”
Buckland, a Farmington native and Carrabassett Valley Academy alum (CVA; a competitive snow sports high school), jumped at the opportunity to work with head coach, Andrew “Andy” Willihan ‘06. “Willihan coached me throughout my high school career, and was actually one of my dorm parents at CVA,” she said. “I raced with UMF for a couple years before transitioning into my student-assistant coaching position.” Buckland commented on what it was like working with Coach Willihan. “Out of all of the sports teams that I have been on, and the different coaches that I have had, Willihan has always been my favorite.”
Coach Willihan began his post as head alpine coach and outdoor recreation coordinator in 2016. Along with years of experience in coaching ski racers, Coach Willihan has a way of connecting with his athletes. “Andy continuously supports everyone on his team, whether it be on the hill or in the community,” said Alicia Gaiero, junior and environmental policy and planning major. Gaiero recounted one of the first instances that she met Coach Willihan and was introduced to the team’s dynamic, “I had never touched a race gate before in my entire life, but Andy really embraced the fact that I was new to the competitive aspect of the sport in a way that boosted my confidence.”
Brianna Marquis, sophomore and psychology major worked with Coach Willihan in years prior while attending Carrabassett Valley Academy, “Andy has recruited me twice, and he has become the person that I go to if I need to talk to about something serious, or really just someone that will hear me out.” Upon learning that UMF offered a varsity level alpine team, and that Andy would be heading the program, Marquis’s decision was solidified. “Coming from a competitive background, I was interested in something that would continue to challenge me athletically.”
Since Coach Willihan’s arrival, the program has seen many advancements. The Ricker Cup is awarded to the team that places first out of the handful of teams within the Reynolds Division, and this year both the women and mens team landed at the top of the podium. “Three or four years ago this team was last in the division, and now to come in first… we’re only going to go up from here,” said Marquis.
The team is very young, and only two athletes will be graduating this year. “We are still growing, and are always recruiting!” said Marquis. Gaiero encourages anyone who is interested in learning more about how to join to reach out, “we are a super inclusive team, and welcome any skill level.”