By Andrew Yourell, Staff Writer
In American sports lore, Lake Placid is the mythic home of the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team. Wildcat senior Annika Taylor hopes to add a New Hampshire twist to the New York village.
Taylor, recently named as the Eastern Intercollegiate Skiing Association’s (EISA) top-ranked women’s Nordic skier, leads a group of nine Wildcats at the National Collegiate Men’s and Women’s Skiing Championships.
“Annika is a coach’s dream,” head coach Cory Schwartz said of his senior co-captain. “She pursues perfection in everything she does.”
It isn’t hard to see why the Truckee, California, native gets such high praise from her coach. Taylor is a two-time co-captain, and Schwartz says that she does an excellent job helping the younger skiers learn the ropes of the college circuit.
Taylor, a dual citizen in the United States and Great Britain, competed at the U23 World Championships last season, missing a number of UNH races. But when faced with the same decision this season, Taylor decided to dedicate her final collegiate season to the Wildcats.
“I wanted to just finish out my season here,” Taylor said of her decision to forego the U23 league this year. “I missed like half of the carnival season last year because of travelling to Europe, and it just takes a lot out of you.”
She did qualify for the British Olympic trials, and says that after graduation, she hopes to continue skiing on the professional circuit. Making the British Olympic team is one of her goals after she’s done as a Wildcat, and her coaches believe that continuing to ski after graduation is definitely the right move for her.
Schwartz said that the international exposure was a great experience for Taylor to have, but that he was not surprised when she decided to focus solely on her UNH career this season. The results were even better than he expected.
Taylor opened the season with a second place finish in both the 5K and 15K races at the Bates Carnival, a sixteen-team event. On the year, she’s compiled five victories, four runner-up finishes, and a third-place finish in the 10 races that she’s competed this year, to total 400 points on the season. On January 29th, she was named the EISA Skier of the Week after sweeping both races at the Trapp Family Lodge.
The highlight of the season was the EISA Championships/St. Lawrence Carnival, which took place Feb. 27-28 at Lake Placid. On the first day of competition, Taylor’s 16:07.30 was good for second place in the 5K freestyle race at Mt. Hoevenberg. She finished behind Middlebury College’s Heather Mooney. On the second day, Taylor won the women’s 15K classic race in a time of 53 minutes, 10.8 seconds. This time, she bested Mooney by over a dozen seconds, compiling 50 points for the Wildcats. Her 97 points on the weekend paced the women’s team, which took 3rd place behind Vermont and Dartmouth with 770 points.
The accolades and pursuit of perfection that are Taylor’s hallmark aren’t limited to skiing, however. She was recently named to the National Collegiate All-Academic team, for the fourth year. Taylor is a chemistry major, and on the UNH website, her grade point average is listed as a near-perfect 3.96.
While her grades are important to her, this week is all about skiing for Taylor. Expectations are high for the talented senior, who will face solid competition from the top skiers in the Central and Western regions.
“Our goal is that she has the race she is capable to have. Depending on the day, that could be a top 5 finish in the country,” Schwartz said.
Taylor’s goal for herself is to be the top American finisher at the NCAA Championship meet, as many of the top skiers hail from Canada and Europe. She hopes to make the All-American team, which would require finishing in the top 10.
She echoes Schwartz’s sentiment that there’s really no telling what is in store for this week. Taylor understands that it will be tough to stay in the right position for a 50-minute race, but is confident that if she has the race she’s capable of, anything is possible.
“Training 700 hours a year … 50 minutes is like nothing compared to what we do,” she said of preparing for the grueling 15K race. “You have to like hurting a lot, but you also have to know when to like, block out the pain and know that you can keep going.”
The future is bright for Annika Taylor, on and off skis. A solid finish at the NCAA meet would be a fitting capstone to a decorated career for one of UNH’s premiere student-athletes. The NCAA Skiing Championships at Lake Placid, New York, will take place March 11-14.