Higher, Faster, Farther
by Sally McCay
defy the Nordic norm
Ethan Fosters devotion to the kick and glide of Nordic skiing is
rivaled by his love for the somewhat less subtle art of churning through
a mud bog with four-wheel drive. UVM Nordic Coach Allan Serrano relates
that Fosters one-size-fits-all conversation starter is So,
do you like trucks? On the teams flight to Alaska for the
2002 NCAA Championships, Foster sat next to a middle-aged black woman,
Serrano recalls. Undaunted by the demographics of truck ownership, the
skier asked her the inevitable. The coach doesnt mention whether
the woman offered up her thoughts on suspension or hydraulic winches,
but notes that an hour later she and the skier/political science major
were in a deep discussion about the merits of affirmative action.
Ethan Foster and his younger brother, Ryan, have made a habit of asking
questions of others, themselves, and their sport, questions that sometimes
lead in unexpected directions. Nordic skiing, lets admit it, calls
to mind some stereotypes. There are two basic categories: the knicker-wearing,
if you can walk, you can ski profile and the perpetually Lycra-suited,
Euro-wannabe racer. Considerable accessories from political perspective
to diet to miles-per-gallon come with both. The Foster brothers,
to put it mildly, like to jerk the chain of such images and back up their
fun with some very fast skiing.
ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM
Its late October and Boston is up 2-0 in the World Series, which
means that the planets are lining up nicely in the Foster brothers
universe. Sox caps on their heads, Waylon and Merle playing on the stereo,
Ethan and Ryan sit in the kitchen of the School Street house they share
with fellow Nordic skier Anders Osthus, and Dave Smutok, a UVM student
who is among the top freeride bikers in the country. Aside from Smutoks
home-made half-pipe in the backyard, the UVM Ski Team mission statement
tacked on the kitchen wall, and the 400 pounds of meat in the basement
freezer, its your standard college guys rental rice
burning on the stove, the profane note posted over the sink reminding
all to wash their own dishes.
Ethan talks about his familys Vermont lineage, which traces back
five generations and 200 years in Weston, in the south-central part of
the state. Their UVM roots are strong as well; the brothers parents
Sherri, a nurse, and Andrew, a contractor both graduated
from the University.
Rooting for the home team is both virtue and habit for the Fosters. Ethan
recall his first trips to Europe for junior competitions and how eager
many of his fellow young American skiers were to embrace the Scandinavian
ski culture and don the flag-tagged hat of the Norwegian national team
or other ski powers. Ryan jumps in and compares the situation to if a
UVM skier wore Middlebury gear in a race. Ethan says, emphatically, To
embrace the European culture when youre competing with them is not
the best way. The brothers shake their heads, It just makes
no sense. Theyre about stars and stripes, the Vermont flag,
and being grateful for the chance the state university has given two
kids from southern Vermont to further their educations and their
It comes down to loyalty and being yourself for the Foster brothers, and
theyre clearly having a good time walking that walk, whether it
means driving a 30-year-old Cadillac convertible rather than a Subaru
wagon, training in a Red Sox jersey instead of the latest moisture-wicking
wonder, or packing Take Back Vermont opinions in Move
Vermont Forward Burlington. The world according to the Fosters is
on vivid display in the films of Andrew Newell, a fellow southern Vermont
skier and member of the U.S. National team, whose X Ski Films (xskifilms.com)
kick snow in the face of the notion that cross country skiing and skiers
are boring. The movies are an entertaining, sometimes baffling, mix of
skiing, mud trucks, skiing, fast cars, skiing, skeet shooting, all leading
up to Dude! crescendos eye-popping stunts that push the boundaries
of possibility on a skinny pair of cross country boards.
The athleticism and invention of the films traces back to the Fosters
childhood experience with skiing. They didnt get hooked on the sport
as kids by suffering through interval workouts, but by the sheer fun of
being out on the snow with a bunch of their friends from the end of the
school day until dark. Wed build jumps, play capture the flag,
screw around, says Ryan. It was playtime on skis. The
Fosters also tuned in to the rich Nordic tradition in southern Vermont
that includes maverick Bill Koch, a silver medalist at the 1976 Olympics,
and a cadre of skiers who dominated the American teams of the 1970s and
A provocative attitude alone isnt going to get anyone very far in
Nordic, an athletic discipline stern as the place it was born. If theres
one place the Fosters toe the line of the expected in their sport, it
is in respecting the training and preparation that up to 30 kilometers
of racing over a Carnival weekend demands. The brothers recount some of
their workouts from the past summer 22-mile runs on the Long Trail,
circuit training in the weight room, hiking up and running down Stratton
Mountain, endless repeats double-poling uphill on roller skis. Serrano
counts the Fosters among the hardest working skiers he has coached in
his career, and praises Ethans performance as two-year captain.
Hes a natural leader, Serrano says, people have
gotten along and weve gelled as a team.
Its a big year for the Fosters and the entire Catamount ski team
as UVM will host the 2005 NCAA Championships in Stowe, March 9-12. Ethan,
a three-time All-American who narrowly missed winning the 20-K classical
at the 2003 NCAAs, would like to add an individual title to his resume
as he closes out his college career; Ryan is looking for a top ten finish
to improve upon the 14th and 19th places he notched at last years
national championships. Both are optimistic that the Alpine and Nordic
squads can deliver UVMs first team title since 1994.
Looking ahead to the championships, Ethan mentions that theres talk
of putting more entertainment into the event to pump up the crowds and
excitement. Hes all for it, of course, and mentions one part of
Nordic ski culture that he does embrace fans tailgate-like
tradition of barbecuing at races. He weaves his beloved Red Sox into the
conversation. You take the beer and hot dogs out of Fenway Park,
people are going to be a lot less interested in going to a game. You have
beer and hot dogs out at Trapps and people are going to be a lot
more interested in watching some skiing. Well, due to NCAA regulations,
lets make that a soft drink. But with the Foster brothers throwing
it down in the national championships for Vermont in Vermont, the races
promise to be worth the trip, even if you wash down that hot dog with
by Farrel Duncan
Its not in Germain Mopa Njilas nature to talk about himself.
But the senior basketball player, who has quietly helped lead the Catamounts
to the best three seasons in school history, has earned the right to brag.
As a member of the 2004 America East All-Conference team and Academic
Honor Roll, Njila, a native of Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon,
carries a 3.3 GPA in computer science and information systems and interns
at IDX in Burlington. His story of coming to America in hopes of winning
a basketball scholarship to pay for the college education his mother insisted
on is boast-worthy.
You just wont hear much about it from the French- and English-speaking
player, who rises at 6 a.m. during the off-season to run and who spends
basketball season studying late into the night long after practice and
weight-lifting sessions end. The words of others best capture the 6-foot-4
inch guards nature.
Hes got this kind of inner peace, says senior David
Hehn, whose locker is next to Njilas. He doesnt say
too much, but if you spend any time around him youll know how much
he wants to win and how dedicated he is to the school, his friends, and
Njila grew up in a city of one million located in West Africa, the son
of a police officer mother who also owns her own business. When he came
to America for prep school in Florida and then New England, Njila discovered
that he stacked up well against the competition. During his final year
of prep at The Masters School in West Simsbury, Connecticut, Njila
caught the eye of a handful of Division I schools. UVM and Tom Brennans
program proved an easy sell to the studious Njila.
I met coach Brennan and he was a very happy person; a good guy,
very funny, Njila says. I didnt know where to go to
college at first. Its such a huge choice where to spend the next
four years. I remember at one point being really stressed about it. I
wanted to go somewhere I could have a good education and play basketball
and have fun. And thank God, you know, I always say that he answered my
prayers. Both playing basketball and going to school are very important,
but the degree is something you will have for the rest of your life.
No one is more pleased with Njilas choice than Brennan, who gladly
lets his defensive star arrive a little late to practice this fall due
to a heavy course load. When he talks about Njila, Brennan speaks first
of his contributions to the University and the community. Secondly, almost
as an afterthought, he mentions Njilas unheralded contributions
on the court.
I have so much respect for him because hes come from so far
away not just to survive here, but to thrive here," Brennan says.
"Hes a great student and a wonderful player and a better teammate.
Hes an entire credit to the University and the community. He has
a great appreciation for this gift that he got to come to America. He
gives of himself all the time. Its just a great story. I love that
During his freshman year even the optimistic Njila might not have predicted
consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament for the Catamounts, but he had
a sense for the teams promising chemistry and his role in it. When
I came here we werent winning, but I could tell we were going to
do something, Njila says. I didnt come here and say
Oh theyve never won, so thats the way its going
to be. I have great respect for Taylor and T.J. who can score. I
try to get them the ball because it helps us win. Weve got people
who can score, pass, and play defense. I try to keep it simple and listen
to the coaches.
HOCKEY CATS COME ON STRONG
Beating the top-ranked program in the country will do something to a team.
Coach Kevin Sneddons mens hockey team caught fire after traveling
to the Midwest in late October to play top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth. On
consecutive nights the Catamounts defeated and tied the Bulldogs, dramatically
turning around a season that had begun with a 1-4 mark.
UVM hockey suddenly morphed into one of the toughest teams in the country
and toughest tickets in town, embarking on an unbeaten streak that would
include victories over Princeton, Yale, St. Lawrence, Colgate, UMass,
and UNH; and ties with Cornell and Clarkson. That roll (10-straight games
as VQ went to press) would earn the Catamounts a #11 national ranking.
Beyond the Minnesota-Duluth upset, the highlight of the Catamount winning
streak was the November 27 game against the University of New Hampshire,
ranked #6 in the nation coming into the match at Gutterson. Trailing by
one goal with a minute to go, the Cats scored twice to win the game in
regulation. For many of the UVM faithful in the fieldhouse that night,
the rally was one of the most exciting moments in Catamount hockey history.
Though great team play has been key to the team's resurgence, several
standouts have earned conference and national accolades for their performances.
Freshman Torrey Mitchell, whose winning goal with one-second left in the
UNH game completed a hat trick for the evening, took the ECAC Rookie of
the Week award three times. Joe Fallon, also a freshman, has quickly emerged
as one of college hockeys top goaltenders. Fallons outstanding
play has earned him two ECAC Goalie of the Week honors, one nod from the
conference as Rookie of the Week, and the National Defensive Player of
the Week award.
SENDING TB OFF WITH A BANG
Tom Brennan, dean of America East mens basketball coaches, told
an overflow crowd at a November 4 press conference that he will retire
at the end of this season, ending his 19-year coaching career at UVM.
Its a very happy time for me, except for the fact that Ive
got to leave seven kids behind, Brennan said. Whenever you
go, you have to leave somebody behind. Ive been very, very lucky,
Brennan, who was hired in 1986 as the 14th head coach in the 105-year
history of the basketball program, said the timing is right for him personally
and for the program. The seven seniors on the 2004-2005 team have compiled
the winningest record in school history, having posted three consecutive
20-plus win seasons while leading the Catamounts to a first-ever NCAA
tournament in 2002-2003 and again last season.
Brennans team got down to the task of sending their coach off in
style by giving the University of Kansas all they could handle in their
season-opening game. Playing on KUs home court, Vermont led by four
points with 4:30 to go in the game before the Jayhawks came on strong
to pull away in the final three minutes for a 68-61 victory. The teams
early season exploits earned them a #32 national ranking from the AP and
a #7 spot in the Mid-Major Top 25. Many in the national sports media also
boarded the UVM bandwagon as extensive feature stories on Brennan, Coppenrath
and fellow Catamounts appeared in Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine.