Whitman College sophomore Eloise Zimbelman powered her way to her first national title—in the women’s 15-kilometer Nordic Freestyle—last Friday at the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association’s 31st annual national championships, held this year at Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Tabernash, Colo.
Zimbelman, a 2007 graduate of Columbia High School, held a 35-second lead over Gracey Lewis of the University of Wyoming (22 minutes, 15 seconds to 22:50) after the first lap, then pulled away on the second to post a 45.5-second victory over runner-up Brittany Perkins of Western State College (46:06.07 to 46:52.2).
Noted Whitman’s Nordic coach, Calisa Schouweiler: “Eloise literally walked away with her national title.”
The victory earned Zimbelman USCSA All-American honors and helped the Whitman women claim a second-place overall standing in the weeklong, team-oriented competition that included championships in sundry snowboarding and Alpine skiing disciplines as well. (The 2009 championships were the first for Whitman’s Nordic teams since 2001.)
Two days before her 15k final, Zimbelman placed fourth in the 8.5-kilometer Classical final at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. In that race she was the model of consistency, posting the fourth-fastest time on the first lap and the fourth-fastest on the second to finish in 32:50, 37 seconds behind winner Melinda McAleese of Cornell University and 12 seconds out of third.
Whitman’s women’s Nordic team, led by senior Lindsay Records, opened the competition on March 3 with a victory in the 1.5-kilometer sprint team final. Records placed second, while Zimbelman, who qualified for the semifinals with the fastest time, finished fifth in the finals and sophomore Paige Devlin wound up eighth.
“We were the only women’s team with three skiers advancing to the final eight,” said Schouweiler.
Zimbelman capped her first USCSA championships last Saturday with a fast anchor leg that brought Whitman a second-place finish in the 3x5-kilometer relay.
Devlin and Records skied the first two legs in Classical technique, leaving Zimbelman to ski the concluding Freestyle leg from a third-place start. (Whitman trailed Wyoming by about a minute and St. Olaf of Northfield, Minn., by about 45 seconds at the start of the anchor leg.)
Zimbelman turned on the jets again, though, and caught and passed her Wyoming counterpart before finishing about 10 seconds behind the St. Olaf racer.
“It was another strong race for Eloise and a dramatic finish,” Schouweiler said.