Sophomore Snorri Einarsson was the 2007 20K Classic national champion last season.
Oct. 26, 2007
The University of Utah ski team returns a talented squad for the 2008 season. After qualifying an full team for the 2007 NCAA Championships, the Utes did not lose a single skier from their championship roster. Their impressive fourth-place finish at nationals showed that the team is capable of competing for the title.
"We have a pretty seasoned group," said Eli Brown, Director of Utah Skiing. "The team knows what NCAA skiing is all about, knows where we race, and everyone has clear goals on what lies ahead. At our first team meeting this year, there was so much excitement in the room. We might be the underdogs, but everyone wants to win badly and is working hard toward that goal."
Scott Veenis, and Tague Thorson led the mens alpine team last year, and the team will count on them again this season. Thorson swept the alpine events at the Utah Invitational last season, helping the Utes to their best finish of the season. Thorson also competed in the prestigious World University Games last year in Torino, Italy. The Mahtomedi, Minn. finished second in the combined standings. Veenis was a solid performer at the NCAA championships finishing 4th in the Slalom, and 6th in the Giant Slalom.
Snorri Einarsson is the team's top returning Nordic competitor. Einarsson flirted with victory early in his first collegiate season before breaking through at the Denver Invitational. The Norway native crossed the finish line just ahead of a Denver skier in a dramatic finish. Einarsson also captured the team's lone individual title, winning the 20K Classic at the NCAA Championships in March.
Former Olympian Chirine Njeim and Mikaela Grassl led the women's alpine contingent in the 2006-07 campaign. Njeim and Grassl finished outside of the top 10 only once, in the first event of the season. From there, the sophomore duo finished in the top 10 in every event, a remarkable accomplishment. Mikaela finished 4th in the Slalom at the NCAA Championships, while Chirine finished 6th in the Giant Slalom.
The 2007-2008 team will mix in a solid recruiting class that features some hot new talent from around the globe.
"The group is meshing together well," Brown said. "Incoming athletes are working hard side by side with our seasoned veterans."
The skiers have worked hard this off-season to improve their fitness. Brown and the other Utah coaches organize workouts that include skiers from both disciplines. Summer and fall ski practices make up what is called dry-land training.
"Skiing is a tough sport," Brown said. "You can actually only practice and compete for a quarter of the year. The rest is preparation. Dry-land training is a year round process for Nordic and alpine skiers. We start in the spring by building a strength and endurance base, and athletes build on that in the summer. By the time we come together in the fall, athletes are at a high level of fitness, and we build more and more ski specific exercises into the regiment in anticipation for snow."
Brown adds that both teams do different exercises specific to their discipline. As the season approaches, the time spent training increases to ensure the skiers will be in top condition once the season starts.
"This time of year we are training up to 20 hours a week," Brown said. "Nordic skiers are roller skiing, running, and doing circuit type strength while the alpine team is biking, running, doing plyometrics, and heavy lifting."
The Utah coaches have placed a high premium on team chemistry. They want the alpine and Nordic teams to come together as one and support each other. Team bonding will be essential to the Utes' season, Brown said.
"Chemistry and team building are very important for skiing," Brown said. "Bringing women and men together on one team, and bringing Nordic and alpine athletes together on one team is a unique experience in an individual sport like ski racing. We are stronger as a group than as individuals. Everyone pushes each other toward a common goal."
The Utes will work throughout the season to achieve their goal of making a podium finish at the NCAA Championships in March. The team has the experience and the talent to make a championship run, Brown said.
"Our goal is to climb the podium," Brown said. "We believe we are strong contenders for the title, and think about it every day. That is the ultimate prize. Every day is a step toward that goal."