Senior All-American April Mancuso is returning after placeing sixth in the giant slalom and eighth in the slalom at the '04 NCAA National Championships.
Nov. 24, 2004
SALT LAKE CITY -- With Head Coach Kevin Sweeney at the reigns along side a determined and experienced intercollegiate coed squad, the University of Utah ski team is hungry for another run at the NCAA title.
"We will be consistent in every discipline," says Sweeney. "We have returning athletes in every discipline supplying great talent and leadership. Most of them have NCAA Championship experience and they know what it's all about and what it takes to win.
"This year's team is fired up and very balanced. We have good depth and the inter-squad competition should fuel the spirit and intensity we need for peak performance."
Sweeney continues, "My coaches, support staff and medical trainers are outstanding and should provide the guidance required for such a short yet intense season. Competition is going to be strong this year, but we are determined to be in the hunt for the championship title."
The Utes' come-from-behind second-place finish at last year's championships defied all odds as the Utes were hindered with injuries.
"There is no question last year was difficult," says Sweeney. "We started out the year incredibly optimistic with how solid of a team we had, but our unfortunate injuries put a lot of pressure on us to step it up and perform."
And perform they did, beating out top-teams Denver, Colorado and Vermont and showing the college racing circuit their dominance.
"In a few ways the silver trophy was good for our young team to experience. We were in the trenches but fought incredibly hard throughout the four days of NCAA competition. That kind of grit and determination makes me very proud. We're committed 100-percent to upholding Utah excellence."
The team's excellence extends well beyond the slopes and into the classroom. Last year's team consisted of 11 academic All-Americans and nine Scholar-Athletes.
"The Utah skiing tradition couldn't be more healthy and exciting," says Sweeney. "Coming off such great academic and podium success from last season, my intention is to have that same Ute success this season. When you have the entire athletic department and community supporting you, it makes it easier to go out and give nothing but your best."
Utah is not only home to the greatest snow in the world, but also to some of the best skiing facilities. "We have fantastic Olympic training venues and facilities," says Sweeney. "The people we work with at every skiing resort and cross country center are so supportive of our program. We have awesome relationships. They provide us with great places to train and race, and, they want us to succeed. In return, we want to ski well and be ambassadors of the sport for them and represent the University as well as the state of Utah."
The men and women's alpine teams are stacked with talent and could arguably be one of the most dynamic teams in the West this season.
On the men's side, two-time NCAA giant slalom champion and first-team All-American Ben Thornhill will lead the squad and be a podium favorite come March. "Ben is a fantastic leader and we are hoping for great results from him," says Sweeney. "He's a dynamite guy on and off the slopes."
NCAA competitor junior Will McDonald had great success last year in the slalom and is hoping to capitalize on his extensive summer training to improve his giant slalom results. Gaspar Perricone will also be in the mix, coming off a stellar freshman season where he earned a position on the NCAA Championship team. Junior Andi Weiser didn't make the three-person cut for the NCAA roster last year, but is hoping to earn a spot this season. "Andi is fired up," says Sweeney. "His potential as a dual event skier is huge."
Two newcomers will join the team in American Mark Heinrich-Wallace and Slovenian Matic Ramus. Although the roster is tight, both skiers are hopeful to make an immediate impact. "It's a tight, very strong and talented squad," says Sweeney. It should be exciting to see who makes the cut for NCAAs."
The women's alpine team is going to be explosive, returning all four skiers from last winter and welcoming the return of first-team All-American Lina Johansson.
Johansson is no stranger to success as she won the slalom and skied second in the giant slalom at the '03 NCAA Championships.
NCAA All-Americans Rowena Hyldahl and April Mancuso will also lead the Utes. Elisha Stephens and NCAA competitor Lauren Lattimer were hampered by injury, but have battled back and will look to contribute come January. "This group is amazing," exclaims Sweeney. "Those injured have made great progress with rehab under the tutelage of Bob Toth and by their own amazing work ethic."
The lone newcomer will be Park City, Utah, skier Kim Stephens. "It's great to bring in a Utah native as talented as Kim," says Sweeney. "She is a true talent and skied very well on the FIS circuit. I'm very excited to have the Stephens sisters on the squad. They bring great energy."
With the loss of dual NCAA gold medallist Henning Dybendal, the men's nordic team will need to step up the pace. Leading the Ute pack will be junior Jess Kiesel and NCAA competitor sophomore Daniel Sonntag.
Kiesel has recovered well from a heart ailment and Sonntag had a great first-year campaign scoring tremendous results in the skate discipline. Utah will also rely on the experience of returner, Junior World Championship competitor and NCAA qualifier sophomore Casey Simons. "Casey had an excellent first year," exclaims Sweeney. "I think he will be a top-10 threat in both events."
Junior Tony Bozzio returns this season, looking to capitalize on a couple years of big volume training. "Tony pushed the hours last year and I think his results suffered a bit," remarks Sweeney. "He should be in good shape this year. He's a real talent and I'm looking for him to score well in both events."
New to the roster is Swedish native Magnus Carlsson. "Magnus has a lot of high-level international experience. His potential on the NCAA circuit is huge," remarks Sweeney. "I really think he is a top-five NCAA skier and should make an immediate impact to the team."
"Barbro and Sandra had great seasons last year," says Sweeney. "They are both right on track to be in the top tier of NCAA skiing. They should provide the scoring punch we need." Junior Ashley McQueen also returns and is expected to challenge for an NCAA position, as her summer training has been excellent.
The leadership and experience of Anna Sprague and Linda Pettersson will also be returning and should offer a threat in the nordic events. "Anna's leg fracture is healing well and she's excited to get back into the starting gate. I think we will see Anna, Linda and Ashley scoring considerably higher this year. This depth will really help," adds Sweeney.
Utah will welcome Swiss newcomer Nicole Naef. "Nicole has raced well in Switzerland. Her results are on the up-and-up, which will bolster our depth," says Sweeney.
The Utes' quest for its 12th National Championship will be challenging, but Sweeney and staff are optimistic about their chances.
"Our main goal is to win the NCAA Championships. The atmosphere at the NCAAs is going to be very difficult, knowing its being hosted by Vermont, which is the biggest skiing school in the East.
It should be full of fireworks as last time we were East at Dartmouth in 2003, we won, and in 1997 we staged a tremendous come-from-behind win at Stowe, Vermont. Wax'em up! We're ready to let it rip!"