Dec. 23, 2013
After three-straight second-place finishes at the NCAA Championships, the Utah ski team looks forward to the 2014 season with optimism and excitement. Every returning skier for the Utes either skied at the 2013 championships or served as an alternate, and the year culminates in Utah hosting NCAA's for the first time since 2000.
Utah graduated five All-Americans from last year's team, most notably two-time NCAA Champion Miles Havlick, but has a solid class of recruits who have been strong during fall training.
"Overall, we had a big turnover and a very large recruiting class in both alpine and nordic," Utah Director of Skiing Kevin Sweeney said. "The main focus this fall has been getting this new group on board, understanding what college ski racing is all about, getting them focused on their academics, and getting them synced with the returning skiers.
Utah opens its season hosting the Pat Miller Invitational at Park City Mountain Resort (alpine) and Soldier Hollow (nordic), Jan. 4, 5 and 8. The nordic events will be held in conjunction with the US Cross Country Championships. Utah also travels to meets at Montana State, Colorado and New Mexico, with the RMISA Championships/NCAA West Regional hosted by Denver from Feb. 21-22 before the Utes host the NCAA Championship March 5-8.
"The ski community is excited to come here and compete at the Olympic venues and courses," Sweeney said. "It's been a matter of timing and logistics for it to come to fruition. It's going to be exciting."
"We have an extremely strong group returning," said head alpine coach Jaka Korencan. "We have lots of talent and experience returning, and we also have depth. Not just that, but we had a strong recruiting class. This whole group is so cohesive and motivated to do well. We've had one of the best fall preparation seasons since I've been here. It's been great to have skiers who are so passionate about both academics and athletics, because they can balance both well. I am excited to start the season."
Sophomore All-American Trow leads the returning men's skiers. He finished seventh at last year's NCAA Championship in the slalom and finished among the top 10 four times during his freshman campaign with a victory in the RMISA slalom qualifier.
Junior Tim Hribar and senior Eian Sandvik both served as alternates for NCAA's last year and are both two-time NCAA qualifiers. Hribar finished in the top 12 three times last year, posting a career-high third-place tie in the giant slalom at the Utah Invitational. Sandvik finished in the top 20 five times last season with a season-high fourth-place finish at the New Mexico Invitational last year.
Utah has a pair of strong men's alpine newcomers in Mark Engel and Joergen Brath. Engel was a two-year member of the US Ski Team who finished in the top 10 at last year's US National Championships in the slalom and super-G. Brath has had strong finishes at the Norwegian National Championships and has 13 top-10 finishes in FIS races this year.
"Mark and Joergen are freshmen, but they are far from inexperienced," Korencan said. "Our men's team has great team players and extremely hard workers."
For the women, all three NCAA skiers return in All-Americans Kobal and Rove, as well as Jamie Dupratt. Kobal earned All-America honors in both the giant slalom (sixth) and slalom (fifth) and finished on the podium five times last year. Rove finished fourth at NCAA's in the giant slalom and just missed All-America honors in the slalom with an 11th-place finish. She finished in the top 10 nine times last year.
Dupratt recorded five top-10 finishes last year with a season-high third in the giant slalom at the Colorado Invitational.
The women have four new faces on the team in Nora Eide, Chloe Fausa, Teagen Palmer and Lauren Samuels. Eide won three giant slalom races in 2013 with five top-10 finishes. Fausa was a member of the Norwegian National Team has had a strong start to her season already with NorAm Cup wins. Palmer is a transfer from Denver whose best finish last year was fifth in the giant slalom at the Denver Invitational. Samuels is a former US junior champion in the super-G.
"Our women's team went from three skiers to seven," Korencan said. "Our recruits have the potential to contribute a lot in their first years and are all very talented."
"Our defining feature this year is that we're a young team," Utah nordic head coach Abi Holt said. "Everyone knows expectations are high. There are no upperclassmen to hide behind. I think it's been motivating for the team this year. All of our returning athletes are solid skiers. Sometimes freshmen need an adjustment period, but I don't have that feeling this year. They have all had at least one year of training and racing between high school and college, and I think that makes a big difference in a racer's maturity. If fall racing is any indication, it's going to be a very competitive. I feel really good about the team right now. They work very well together, and I think that we are where we need to be right now. They have done an amazing job managing their energy and obligations."
Leading the men's nordic returners is sophomore Persson, who finished fifth in the 20-km free to earn All-America honors last year. He was in the top 10 in eight races last season and never finished outside the top 20. Sophomore Noé Bellet served as an alternate last season for NCAA's and took 10th or better in eight races last year.
"Niklas and Noe were racing shoulder-to-shoulder with Miles and Einar Ulsund last year," Holt said. "I think they learned a lot and are hungry to step up."
Sophomore Tucker McCrerey was also an NCAA alternate last year with a season-best eighth-place finish at the 20-km free at the Colorado Invitational. He represented the US at the FIS Nordic Junior Championships last year.
Newcomers for the men are Kevin Bolger and Oscar Ivars. Bolger is a two-time high school state champion and has had multiple top finishes in the junior ranks. Ivars has also been strong in the junior ranks for Sweden, including a third-place finish at the 2013 Junior World Championships in the 4x5 km relay.
All-Americans Storey and Svendsen return for the women. Storey finished fifth in the 5-km classic at NCAA's last year and had five top-10 finishes during the season. Svendsen was 10th in the 5-km classic at NCAA's last season. She had six top-20 finishes last year.
"Sloan, who was a freshman last year, has definitely stepped up as a leader this year," Holt said.
The Utah women have three newcomers, Anna-Lena Heynen, Madeleine Thorn and Josefin Nilsson. Heynen has had several top three positions in German Cup. Thorn finished in the top 10 in three races at the Swedish National Championships last year. Nilsson is from Sweden.
"Kevin and Anna-Lena have been with us through the fall, and have been right there with the upperclassmen in time trials," Holt said. "Every performance measure we have indicates that they will have a great season for us."