At the end of each year, the staff at BallOfSpray asks the same questions: Who are the skiers whose performances were the most historically significant this year? What were the breakthrough scores that will be talked about for years to come? Who should be named the BallOfSpray Skiers of the Year?
The answer to these questions for 2016 was clearly Anna Gay, Sean Hunter and Brooke Baldwin. Below are a few words by Ellie Rae Horton about these 3 distinguished skiers.
It’s not easy being a teenager. The rise and grind of high school’s early morning classes and college prospects can take any young adult on a whirlwind. Try adding in 25 hours a week of lake time and training, professional tournaments and two junior national records to maintain. Brooke Baldwin is the complete embodiment of a balancing act, and she bears it with beauty. Don’t let the spunky personality or stunning smile fool you. This girl is a firecracker. In fact, she might be the next powerhouse to take down the queen herself, Regina Jaquess.
Already, scarcely 16, this blonde bombshell has attacked the elite women’s slalom ranking list with a massive 1 @ 41 off, becoming the youngest female ever - by five and a half years - to complete a full pass at 39 1/2 off. With a defending Jr. Masters overall and slalom title, gold in jump and overall at the Jr. U.S. Open, and a 4th and 5th place finish at the U.S. Open and Swiss ProAm, respectively, it’s safe to say Baldwin claimed the season of her life in 2016. Despite many additional accolades this year, there was one that trumped them all. “My favorite moment of the season has to be when I ran 39 1/2 off for the first time with world champion and record holder, Regina Jaquess, as my boat judge and Chad Scott as my driver. Talk about ‘dream team.’”
3. That has been the magic number. Choosing to stick with three elements and drilling them until they are ingrained into her style has propelled Baldwin to attain the extraordinary at her age. With precise focus and a unique charisma on the water, which she explains as “being light and flowy and letting the boat do the work,” Baldwin has gained a foothold in the professional sphere that is proving her unstoppable. “I assure you this is just the beginning,” Jaquess said after watching Baldwin run 39 1/2 off for the first time. “The rest of us need to watch out for her. She’s becoming fierce competition.”
Cruise control. That’s Sean Hunter’s approach to the course when he hops on his lime green Dthree Arc slalom ski. A former co-holder of the B2 National slalom record of 2 @ 39 1/2 off, Hunter has recently become a new face among the B3 and 36 mph spectrum - this being only his second year. Age aside, Hunter has quickly asserted his dominance by seizing the top of the national rankings list. A mix of intrinsic motivation and pure enjoyment of water time has procured the perfect formula for Hunter’s recent surge of success. From 2015 to 2016, this upcoming prodigy advanced an entire pass within a season, an almost unheard of feat at such a short line length. His first year in B3, Hunter had only seen 39 1/2 off once, scoring 0 at the pass. With the help of his coach, Matteo Luzzeri, Hunter stunned his competitors this year with a whopping 1 @ 41 off in October.
“Mentally, he is resilient like few and extremely composed,” Luzzeri says. The duo spent five months of Hunter’s second year in B3 honing in a more relaxed rhythm and maximizing outward direction off the second wake. Although the height of their training was preparation for Sean’s first Jr. Masters, the benefits reaped from the early season transformed his entire year. Since then, Sean has consistently conquered 38 off and this year claimed the Jr. U.S. Open boys slalom title, a silver medal at the AWSA Nationals and a spot on the 2016 Jr. World’s team competing in January. “Literally, exponential improvement in the last 5 to 6 months,” Luzzeri says of Hunter’s rapid growth. “Sean has the potential to become a great name in our sport for years to come. He has a lot on his side.”
It’s 4:45 am. The sky is still blanketed with the night, and Anna Gay has already started her day, not at the lake, but at the track. Six days a week, her early mornings are dedicated to cross country. Though only a small component of her regular activities, long-distance running has played a substantial role in a feat more noteworthy than daily sunup practices. “I was skiing my best when I was running a lot.”
To translate, “skiing my best,” meant stomping a flawless 10,610 point trick run, dethroning 3-year reigning world trick record holder, Erika Lang. Like watching a ballerina on water, Gay epitomizes pure grace and dynamism while she performs, which has contributed to her new supremacy. An immaculate run was the key to her success this year, and it was achieved through perpetual repetition of sequences. “Waste as little time as possible. That definitely was key to getting the World Record. It all had to be in time and it all had to be perfect,” she says.
However, she’s not done yet. Gay clinched the record with points still left in her run, her reverse back-to-backs being out of time. Not only is she aiming to break her own record by swapping easier tricks for more advanced maneuvers, she is setting her sites on an exploit that will break a whole new barrier for women’s water skiing- a run worth 11,000 points. “She really amazes me,” Russell Gay, Anna’s father and coach, says. “Last year she told me she wanted to trick 10,000 and I told her ‘that’s a great long term goal,’ then six months later she did it. She has a run worth 11,300 that is very doable.”
A new record coupled with gold medals and new course records at the U.S. Open, PanAm Championships, Masters and Moomba Masters - to name just a few - has launched Anna to a level of her own. Will anyone be able to catch her?