Torjus Krogdahl and the Utes begin their 2012 season on Friday, Jan. 6.
Dec. 31, 2011
Confidence. Continuity. Balance. After a runner-up finish at last season's NCAA Championships, these are the three characteristics that the University of Utah ski team hopes will help it jump one spot at the NCAA Championships on Mar. 7-10 in Bozeman, Mont., for its 12th national title in program history.
"We have the potential to improve that one spot," Director of Skiing Kevin Sweeney said. "As a team, we're coming in with a tremendous amount of maturity with what could be the largest group of seniors I've ever had. We have the potential to be the best team in the country, but it certainly will not be easy. I know firsthand that other programs have done an excellent job recruiting so the competition will be really exciting."
Confidence comes from a roster that has eight seniors and 10 student-athletes who competed for the Utes at the 2011 NCAA Championships.
"Once the national competition starts, realistically we have to have 10 of those 12 skiers post All-American finishes," Sweeney said. "We have to have somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of the team at the championships scoring in the top 10 in each discipline. That's not easy to do. Some of the factors you can't control, whether it's injury or illness, but obviously we'll try our best. What we have going for us goes back to the maturity aspect of our team and the confidence that comes with it."
Continuity in the team is an element that Sweeney enjoyed last season and is hopeful that it will even improve as he enters the second year of his second stint as Utah's Director of Skiing.
"Like every sport, there are some extremely stressful times," Sweeney said. "Snow conditions were difficult at last year's NCAA Championships and as a group, the student-athletes and coaching staff worked amazingly well together. It is so valuable to have that for another year, not only from my perspective, but from the athletes'. We have a really good relationship. We can find comfort and support and we can laugh when it's hard. That's very important, especially when the season gets really intense and it will be."
"Our strength as a team lies in how balanced we are," Sweeney said. "We have several podium candidates in each discipline. It's very special when you're this well-balanced. We're a small team [in terms of numbers]. The positive is that it's a very manageable group size to have really good training sessions, for example. The downfall is that we need to be really careful with injury and illness."
"We are all really excited about our 2012 team," head Alpine coach Jaka Korencan said. "The depth of our talent, work ethic, and dedication our student-athletes are showing is just amazing and I feel strongly that this team can be one of the strongest teams Utah has ever had. The senior class on both the men's and women's side is definitely our strength. They all have rich NCAA experience, and unparalleled leadership skills."
The Ute men's Alpine competitors were second at the national meet and Utah has all three of last year's NCAA Championships participants returning. Torjus Krogdahl is a four-time All-American over his career after finishing in the top seven of both the slalom and giant slalom at last year's national meet. Ryan Wilson earned the first All-American recognition of his career after claiming third place in the country in the giant slalom last season. Jeremy Elliot also represented Utah at last season's NCAA Championships and is looking for improved results after an impressive summer and fall of training. Nick Cohee, Eian Sandvik and newcomer Tim Hribar will also vie for the right to represent Utah in the national meet.
The Ute women's Alpine group has two returners from last year's squad that took third place in their respective event at the 2011 NCAA's. Tii-Maria Romar posted a pair of All-American performances in her first-ever experience at the NCAA Championships, while Anna Kocken earned All-American honors in her second career race at the NCAA Championships, the slalom. Jaime Dupratt returns to the fold as well after posting a season-best eighth-place finish in the first slalom run at the New Mexico Invitational. Newcomer Julie Bordeau is expected to be in the mix as well. Bordeau comes to Utah with a lot of international experience after representing the French National Ski Team.
"As a coach, it is rare and exciting to have an opportunity to work with such a talented and experienced group of athletes," Head Nordic coach Abi Holt said. "Every member of this year's Nordic team is a returning member from last year, so this is an established team and a very mature group of student athletes. The shift from summer training to fall training was smooth and I am expecting a similarly smooth move into the winter racing season. I am truly excited to see what we will accomplish this coming race season."
The Utah men's Nordic team will have all three of its 2011 NCAA Championships representatives back this season. The group finished second at last season's national meet and was paced by Ski Racing Magazine's Men's Nordic Skier of the Year Miles Havlick, who turned in a podium finish at last season's national meet with a third-place effort in the 10k classical and finished sixth in the 10k freestyle. Didrik Smith returns to the Ute roster after taking home a pair of All-American awards after taking fifth in the 20k freestyle and sixth in the 10k freestyle. Tom Smith posted 10 top-25 finishes last season and returns with Rolf Figi, who took fifth in the 10k freestyle at last year's RMISA/NCAA West Regional Championships.
Utah took second in the women's Nordic competition, led by Maria Graefnings, who was named the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association Female Skier of the Year, FasterSkier.com Women's Collegiate Skier of the Year and Ski Racing Magazine's Nordic Collegiate Skier of the Year for 2011. Graefnings returns to Utah after winning the NCAA 5k freestyle title for the first time in her career and taking second in the women's 15k classical race. Marta Larsen also competed well at nationals as she was 12th in the 15k classical and 17th in the 5k freestyle race at nationals. Rose Kemp, Parker Tyler and Mali Noyes round out a very experienced and close-knit women's squad.