March 10, 2010

By Lynn DeBruin
Special to NCAA.com

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Eva Huckova brought home bronze last year and a pair of silvers as a freshman at Utah.

On Wednesday, she took a big step to the top of the podium by winning the NCAA women's giant slalom on Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs during the first day of competition. The championships continue with Nordic events on Thursday and Saturday while the men's and women's slalom will be contested on Friday.

Her nearly one-second victory (1 minute, 54.54 seconds combined) ruined Lindsay Cone's shot at defending her GS title, but Cone and her University of Denver teammates weren't complaining.

And Cone's coach, Andy LeRoy, said this year's silver may be more impressive than her win in 2008-09 for St. Lawrence University.

"Last year her team wasn't really vying for the title so she was able to open up the throttle and go as hard as she could," LeRoy said of Cone, who transferred to DU this season. "This year she's got an entire team on her back and to come back and post two very good runs and almost defend is more impressive than just closing your eyes and going like a bat out of hell."

While Cone added silver to her collection, Huckova finally showed her mastery.

"It clearly shows she's the class act of this field," LeRoy said. "She's been one of the fastest over the last several years and definitely on the podium a lot. For her to really step it up and dominate the field, winning both runs the way she did today, showed that she earned the title and deserved it."

Huckova's coach at Utah, Jaka Korencan, said he knew she was capable of winning races after all the podium's she's stood on.

"I think it was about time and she fully deserves it, "he said,

Huckova, now a five-time All-American, ended the season the way she started - with a win.

All in all, an impressive career for a woman who left Slovakia to get away from the politics of the ski team.

"She grew up with extremely tough coaching. She overcame some big obstacles growing up. A lot of pressure," Korencam said.

At Utah she has excelled, her skiing prowess has been matched only by her academic excellence (she carries a 3.98 GPA in business studies).

"I couldn't be more proud of her," Korencam said.

While Huckova and Cone battled it out for top two spots, Colorado junior Katie Hartman, skiing in her second NCAA meet, finished third in 1:55.86. It was the fifth-best result of her collegiate career, and much improved over her 20th-place finish in the GS in last year's NCAA's in Maine. The "bronze" finish earned Hartman, who has skied Steamboat so much she considers it a second home, first-team All-America honors.

Though Huckova won big on Wednesday, DU was the overall big winner, finishing second (Cone), fifth (Ida Dillingoen) and 9th (Jennie VanWagner) to vault the Pioneers atop the points board in the team competition.

"They had a little pressure taken off their shoulders," Cone said of the DU men. "I think we all stepped up to the plate. We didn't' think we could ski as well as we did, but we put our mind to it and the performances came."