Saturday, March 14, 2015

Utah slips to third by end of NCAA Ski Championships

Utah's lone All-America on Saturday, Andy Trow in action

     Utah slips to third by end of NCAA Ski Championships

On a cloudy, windy morning on the slalom ski slopes of Whiteface Mountain, the Skiing Utes tumbled to third for the NCAA team title. 

The Utes headed into the final day in Lake Placid, NY behind the eventual champion Colorado Buffalos. Denver University put up the day’s dominate performance in the men’s slalom by going two-three-four. 

“I have to hand it to Denver today,” Utah’s ski director Kevin Sweeney said. “They skied solid. No, it was more than solid. They put down some results today where I had to go, ‘Wow, that’s impressive. To do that they did I was actually in awe of that.’”

The NCAAs were the first time all season the defending national champion Pioneers defeated the Utes in a team title competition. 

“I think that’s where we got into a little bit of trouble — we were skiing solid but conservative to defend our position,” Sweeney said. “We took more rounded lines and skied a bit cautious as opposed to taking tighter lines and letting the skis really run.”

At these championships Utah tallied 13 All-America performances during the four days of races though only junior Andy Trow’s seventh earned the honors Saturday.

In addition to Trow’s run, Joergen Brath finished 15th while Endre Bjertness was 26th. Ana Kobal led the Utah women in 12th while Kristiina Rove finished 17th and Chloe Fausa was 20th.

“I’m sitting here trying to digest it,” Sweeney said. “This group is of championship quality. I need to remind myself we were on the podium as a team and that’s certainly an accomplishment. Yet at the same time, we had the opportunity to take gold and we didn’t capitalize.”

Colorado won by scoring 505 points during the five days of competition, followed by Denver (478) and Utah (471). Vermont (443) and New Mexico (402) rounded out the top five teams. 

In the last five years, Utah has three second-place finishes and one third-place. Utah hasn’t won the team title since 2003. This twelve-year title drought is the longest in school history.

“He was really in the zone,” Sweeney said about Trow’s two All-America performances at the championships. “He was really focused and came in here with a lot of confidence. I give him a lot of credit for being able to dial it in while under such pressure.”

Trow started his first run with a mid-pack starting position, yet skied into ninth. On his second run, Trow was able to move up two positions. The Canmore, Alberta native said blocking out the team title standings was key for his consistent performances.

“I can’t start counting the points to see where we are at,” Trow said. “I just try to ignore all that. I know how to ski race. Team standings are important but I can’t let that change my game plan. I just have to go out there and race like I do every day. I just try and block all the rest of that out and perform. When I do that, that’s what’s best for the team.”

Utah’s individual national champion undecided 

While Utah might have left upstate New York without the crown jewel of NCAA skiing, the Utes return to Salt Lake City with some hardware. Veronikia Mayerhofer won the individual title in the women’s 5-km freestyle. The freshman from Bad Gastein, Austria nearly added another in Friday’s 15-km classic but lost out in a photo finish. 

The 22-year old says she will soon decide whether she’ll return of Utah next year. Mayerhofer was an up-and-coming talent with the Austrian national team. Despite making last year’s Sochi Olympics, she said she was burnt out and looking for a new challenge. Psychology studies and competing with the more team-oriented focus of NCAA skiing for Utah provided the new environment. It’s her teammates that might keep Mayerhofer wearing Ute Red (Pantone 187) for years to come.

“We spend so much time together, not just training,” Mayerhofer said. “I don’t know how to live without them. Yeah, I’ll come back… but the final decision will be made in the next week.”

Utah hopes Mayerhofer returns, not just for her performance but what she brings to the team’s dynamic. “It’s been a tremendous experience having Veronika on the team,” Sweeney said. “She’s found a team, she’s found friends and she’s found success in all that. I’m just hoping she wants more.”

The Utes are also already aiming for more than just a place on the podium at next year’s NCAA championship.  “We’re happy with what we did but we wanted more,” Trow said. “We definitely wanted more. We’re just going to train harder, train faster and beat them all next year.”

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