At age 21, Caroline Hensley of Hixson is done, essentially, as a collegiate water skier.
But the leader of the University of Alabama team went out strong and is far from finished on the international level.
She's headed to Chile for the 2013 Elite World Championships, in fact, after first going to the Elite Worlds last year in Russia. She had years of junior international experience before that and was the world's No. 1-ranked under-21 female in 2011.
After winning both the women's slalom and overall collegiate titles last year, and finishing second in trick skiing, Hensley repeated as the national slalom champion in last week's competition at Zachary, La., near Baton Rouge. She was fourth in trick and sixth in the third event, jump, and tied for second overall with Lauren Morgan of Florida Southern.
FSC's Manon Costard, who is from Marseille, France, was the women's overall winner with 1,660 points to 1,630 for Hensley and Morgan.
"There are always ups and downs in skiing, and the girl who won is a very good friend of mine and a great competitor, so it wasn't a big letdown to be second," Hensley said Wednesday from Tuscaloosa. "But I didn't do as well in tricks as I wanted."
She and Costard have participated against each other for years in international events, and in skiing, Hensley said, it is common for fierce competitors to build mutual respect into friendship away from the water.
"We have grown up together in the sport," she added in reference to Costard and other longtime rivals.
Hensley was on the U.S. team that won the 2012 U21 Pan American Games, and many of her top collegiate opponents she'll continue to see long after college, but she acknowledged that she will miss the camaraderie and school-spirit aspects of her time on the Alabama team.
"I've loved my four years here," she said.
Although there are some spring events for colleges, the main college season is the fall, and Hensley now is giving full attention to finishing work for her degree in chemical engineering.
"I'll be pretty busy. I think already I've been to the library nonstop since we got back from Louisiana," she said.
The Baylor School graduate has a 4.0 grade point average and admitted she wants "to keep it that way."
"It's not like I go into the year thinking I have to have a 4.0," she elaborated. "I just try to do the best I can."
That applies also to skiing, even though one of its attractions to her is serving as a joyful "mental break." She will graduate in August after finishing the required summer lab, but earlier in the summer she will be trying to repeat her 2011 feat of representing the United States in the Elite Worlds. As was the case then, she already has qualified as an individual.
"I love skiing and I love competing against the best," she said, "but there is no greater honor than representing your country."
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