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Placer skiers in the tuck again

Defending state champions sending four skiers back to defend title at Northstar
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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BOREAL ” Meredith Plant wasn't even racing when she tore her ACL two weeks before the state skiing championships last year. The Placer High senior caught a ski edge on ice during a practice run that ended with her first trip down the mountain in a rescue sled. It was actually a really wimpy fall that I tore it on, too, Plant said. I tried to stand up and my knee gave out on me. I knew that was a bad sign. I thought I was done. Placer ski coach Cheryl Miller-Day and Plant's teammates feared the worst. We figured that was going to hurt us bad, but she got this super fancy brace, Miller-Day said. It took a lot more than the brace for Plant to even compete at the state championships. I thought there was no way I was possibly going to be able to race, she said. I talked to my surgeon and he said, ˜Knowing the athlete that you are, if you do enough physical therapy and work it out then you could probably ski on it before surgery.' In only two weeks, Plant went from walking on crutches to riding a bike four hours a day and feeling strong enough to compete again. Plant's place improved with each run at the state competition and she won the last slalom run, finishing third overall. I never expected to still do as well as I did, she said. It was frustrating because I had won league and our league is the best league that goes to state, so I know I was capable. I still always wonder if I could have taken states overall if I hadn't torn it. Injury-free and skiing some of her fastest times of the season, Plant may not have to wonder much longer. She and three other Hillgals are gearing up for this year's state championships at Northstar at Tahoe Resort. Placer won the state championship last year for only the second time in school history. It was a really good feeling because there's always kind of a rivalry between the ski and snowboard teams, and we don't really get that much recognition because it's not a spectator sport, Melissa Tidd said. It's so hard for people to miss school and come here and watch, so it was cool to bring home the state banner because it gave us a little more recognition as a sport at Placer. The Hillgals graduated Ali Jacobson, the overall winner at state, from that championship team. To all of us, it was more than losing one of our good skiers, Plant said. She was part of our family. We really miss her. She definitely helped us out in the results, but I think we're so strong even after losing her and we're all getting better. It hurt us, junior Erin Babich said. It was sad because she's one of our close friends. You don't lose just a teammate, but a friend, too. It was tough losing her, Miller-Day said of Jacobson. The girls really stepped up, though. My next three have worked very hard. Babich and Paige Rothe both finished in the top 10 at state last year, and qualified again along with Plant and Tidd, who skied with a broken arm for most of last season. They picked up where they left off, Miller-Day said. Three of the girls finished in the top 10 our first race, so they carried their momentum into the beginning of the season. They were excited about it. Knowing they lost Ali made them think they have to work even harder. They had to do it, and they have. Plant felt like she hadn't missed a beat when she strapped into her skis for another winter. I did a lot of biking over the summer, which is really good for knee-strengthening, she said. I ran cross country for my school this fall. It's so rare to be able to do that kind of stuff not that long after surgery. I had a really good recovery. I was nervous getting back on snow right after surgery, but it feels fine and I feel like I'm back to where I left off before. Skiers compete in three slalom and three giant slalom races, and state rankings are based on their two best finishes in each event. I'll be able to take all four girls, which is helpful because they take your top three finishers to put you in team standings at state, Miller-Day said. If I have a fourth girl, I've got a little insurance in case one of them falls. Babich tore her meniscus at a slalom race at Northstar a few weeks ago, the same course she injured the opposite knee on two years ago. She won't need surgery, but didn't compete in slalom last week at Boreal. By the time I get to the bottom of the first run, my leg is shaking and it's really difficult, so I don't take too many free runs, Babich said. Miller-Day, who dubbed Plant and Babich her bionic girls, wasn't sure how injuries would impact the Hillgals' pursuit of back-to-back state titles. I went into the season with really high hopes because we were riding momentum from last year's win, Miller-Day said. They're doing exactly what I expected them to do, and they're really working hard for it. They see it as their goal. It's kind of hard to say ˜We're going to go back and win state.' That's just what the Hillgals hope to accomplish. When we went into state last year, we didn't even really think about winning it, Plant said. It kind of just happened. We were all focused on our individual standings, and when we got to the end of it, we realized we could actually win this. We have the four of us going to state, said Rothe, a sophomore. We're very competitive within our own group, and we miss Ali. It's not the five, but we still hope to do very well. Central Division II league rival Davis will be one of the Hillgals' top competitors at the state meet, but Placer is confident as a repeat is within reach. We can do this again, because our top skiers are so strong and we have enough of us that (while) taking one out makes a difference, there's still somebody to fill in the spot, Plant said. We still have such a strong top three that I think we can do it again. I know we're all shooting for it.