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Eastern Championships highlight Vermont college skiiers

03/03/03 12:00AM By Mary McKhann
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If you want to see some high-level ski racing, you will have several golden opportunities next month. The U.S. Alpine Championships have been moved to Lake Placid, N.Y., as the original host state, Alaska, swelters in their second hottest winter on record. The races are scheduled for March 17-25, just days after the World Cup finals in Norway. The last time the U.S. Championships were held in Lake Placid was in 1979, as a prelude to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

And the best college racers in the country will compete March 5-8 in Hanover, NH. The NCAA Division I Ski Championships brings together schools from Alaska to Maine for four days of alpine and Nordic races, as well as a lot of fun and camaraderie. You won't see any better racing than this unless you go to a World Cup event. As a matter of fact, a number of the racers are former World Cup competitors, hailing from many different countries.

For the best hope from the East - the University of Vermont - in recent years has focused on recruiting a homegrown field, some of whom certainly have shots at titles - among them alpine skiers Jamie Kingsbury and Scott Kennison, both of Waitsfield, and Matt Knittle of Stowe. Jimmy Cochran, from nearby Keene, NH, is a descendant of Vermont's famed Cochran family which includes a number of Olympians. Weston's Ethan Foster heads up a strong men's Nordic squad, which also includes his brother, Ryan, and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, NY.

The championships will also mark the end of an era, as head coach Chip LaCasse hangs up his skis after 34 years. Under his guidance, UVM has won six national titles and 28 straight Eastern titles. LaCasse says he is leaving with mixed feelings, but thinks it is time for some new blood. He will continue to work for UVM as a fundraiser, in addition to doing some work with the U.S. Ski Team.

If the recent Eastern Championships at Middlebury College is any indication, the UVM team will be skiing its heart out to deliver a national title to LaCasse as a going away present. A number of UVM's top competitors, when asked about their motivation to do well, said they wanted to do it for their coach. That is likely to be even more intense at the championships - LaCasse's final event.

The competition promises to be tough. The University of Utah looks to be in a position to take the title, LaCasse says, with the University of Colorado and the University of Denver close behind. But no matter who wins, LaCasse leaves behind a formidable legacy and a record any coach could be proud of. His successor has yet to be named, but whoever it is will have some big ski boots to fill.
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