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Gazette Girls Skiing Player of the Year: Margaret O’Connell, Amherst Regional

Margaret O’Connell, a seventh-grader at Amherst Regional Middle School, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Skiing Player of the Year. O'Connell skies for Amherst Regional.

COURTESY AUDREY O'CONNELL Margaret O’Connell, a seventh-grader at Amherst Regional Middle School, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Skiing Player of the Year. O'Connell skies for Amherst Regional. Purchase photo reprints »

As a middle school student, Margaret O’Connell had no expectations when she joined the Amherst Regional High School girls ski team this past winter.

However, the seventh-grader ended up being not just the best performer on her own team but one of the top girls skiers in Western Massachusetts. For her strong season, O’Connell has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Skier of the Year.

“I was told they sometimes recruit alpine skiers to join the high school team if they didn’t have enough racers,” she said. “I love to ski, so the opportunity with the high school team was definitely welcomed. I wanted the chance to ski during the school week, because I’m usually limited to the short period on the weekend. I also was able to work with a great coach who helped improve my skills and advance our team.”

O’Connell’s skills improved throughout the season and led to her finishing 15th overall in the PVIAC championships at Berkshire East on Feb. 12. She posted a combined score of 72.62 seconds.

In the overall PVIAC individual standings, O’Connell came in 10th in the North, the stronger of the two divisions.

“Margaret was quite outstanding,” Amherst coach Pepe Torras said. “She’s a very competitive athlete and always pushes herself to perform at her best. It’s remarkable considering she’s only been racing competitively for a few years. It shows what a good athlete she is and how hard she works.”

O’Connell has been on the slopes since she was 3 years old. She races on the Bousquet Ski team in Pittsfield on the weekends in addition to the high school races with Amherst.

While admitting she came into the season a little nervous, those feelings left once at the top of the mountain.

“I was entering an environment where racers are older than me, and to be honest, it was intimidating,” she said. “But I figured I had nothing to lose on the race course, so I decided to go for it and attack the course every race.”

That aggressive attitude led to three top-eight showings out of seven PVIAC regular-season races. She never came in worse than the 17th-place finish in her first high school race.

“I always try to improve whenever I can,” O’Connell said. “I’m always practicing my form. There is a lot of strength in skiing, more than many may think. But what is really important is refining your technique and lots of repetition. It’s a cliche but ‘practice has made perfect’ for me.”

At the MIAA state championships, she posted an impressive 41st-place time in the giant slalom and finished 98th in the slalom. That performance reflected most of her season, as O’Connell consistently did better in the giant slalom.

“Each form of racing has its own technique,” she said. “To this point I’ve refined the form of giant slalom racing more than slalom. I also feel like I’m free flying down the mountain. I love that feeling.”

Another valuable skill O’Connell refined during the season was being a team leader, which Torras saw every practice or race.

“We only had two other girls this year — a ninth-grader and another seventh-grader — who didn’t have much skiing experience. And Margaret took them under her wing and gave them lots of encouragement,” he said. “They all had a great time together and I’m looking forward to coaching them again next winter.”

O’Connell said, “The situation I was put in was different than I expected. There were only three girls on the team and the other two had no race experience, so I tried my best to give suggestions and encouragement.”

With five more high school seasons on the horizon for O’Connell, Torras said the Hurricanes now have a premier performer to build the program around. For her part, O’Connell offers simple goals.

“I just have a natural love for the sport,” she said. “I hope to keep doing what I’m doing and to be able to carry this skill set late into adulthood. And of course, I want myself and our team to continue to improve.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

Girls skiing all-stars

First team

Caitlyn Bodoh, junior, Gateway Regional

Lauren Kennedy, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Madison Mientka, junior, Northampton

Margaret O’Connell, seventh grade, Amherst Regional

Lucy Sloan, junior, Northampton

Alli Zera, freshman, Frontier Regional

Honorable mention

Anna Barondes, junior, Northampton

Sadie Berenson, senior, Northampton

Shannon Burke, eighth grade, Gateway Regional

Ali Fisk, sophomore, Gateway Regional

Kenzie Gobillot, sophomore, Hampshire Regional

Hannah Green, sophomore, Gateway Regional

Alessandria Schumacher, senior, Northampton

Elizabeth Wood, senior, Hampshire Regional

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