Mark Bedics, NCAA.com
It would appear to be a rough year for the University of Denver ski team. The Pioneers have finished no higher than third in any Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association regular season event, and in fact, have finished fourth twice and even sixth at the New Mexico Invitational. In addition, they have been no higher than fifth in the Ski Racing Magazine power rankings, including two weeks entirely out of the rankings.
Add everything together and it would appear that the prospect of a fourth consecutive NCAA Skiing title for Denver is daunting at best.
Just don’t tell that to Pioneers coach Andy LeRoy.
“I like our chances (of repeating),” said LeRoy. “If we can keep everyone healthy and continue to improve it is going to take an extraordinary performance to beat us at NCAAs. Regular season doesn’t matter when it comes to the NCAA meet, everyone starts at zero. It just matters what happens on those four days. We have plenty of people on the team who have been there before and know what it takes to win.”
Injuries have almost decimated the men’s portion of the Pioneer alpine team as the list looks like a MASH unit. A.J. Avrin, a first team All-American last season in the giant slalom, had season-ending shoulder surgery. Grant Jampolsky, who had a fourth and a sixth place finish at the World University Games earlier this month in Turkey, suffered a season-ending ankle injury. In addition, last season’s NCAA Giant Slalom champion Leif Kristian Haugen didn’t return this season as he is having significant success on the World Cup circuit.
However, the cupboard is far from bare; senior Seppi Stiegler has been dominant. He is the No. 1-ranked skier in the RMISA in giant slalom and has five podium finishes in eight races overall. In addition, he won the gold medal in the slalom and a silver medal in the alpine overall at the World University Games. Andreas Kilde, although currently out with a bulging disc in his back, is expected to be in action at the regional championships. In addition, freshman Kitt Flowers has performed well in his inaugural season as a Pioneer.
“Seppi has really had an amazing year,” LeRoy said. “He missed the majority of last season with an injury so for him to come back at this level has been great to see. When he is skiing the way he has been, I don’t think anyone in college can beat him. Time will tell.”
The women’s alpine is a different story for the Pioneers. DU returns all three skiers from last year’s NCAA Championship team. Junior Lindsay Cone, who won the NCAA giant slalom as a freshman and was a first team All-American in both giant slalom and slalom a year ago. Junior Ida Dillingoen was a first team All-American last season in the slalom and has six top-10 finishes this season. Last but not least, sophomore Jennie VanWagner was a second team All-American last season in the giant slalom and won the same event two weeks ago at the World University Games.
In addition, freshman Sterling Grant has been tremendous winning every single slalom competition in which she has competed including the World University Games. However, NCAA rules allow for only three female alpine competitors on each team at the championships.
“It’s a good problem to have,” LeRoy said. “Trying to figure out which three will be going to Stowe has been taking up a lot of my time lately. I have looked at their results every way possible – from consistency to good results – and we will just have to wait and see how it all plays out.”
On the Nordic side, Andrew Dougherty, Christian Soerlund, Markus Moe and Trygve Markset have all been steady for the Pioneers. Dougherty even competed for the United States at the World Junior Championships in Estonia in January.
For the female Nordic competitors, junior Kate Dolan has had an outstanding season to date including being named the conference female Nordic skier of the week after a third and fifth place finish at the New Mexico Invitational. Sophomore Mari Elden earned first and second team All-American honors a season ago and has continued that success this season. Sophomore Makayla Cappel had to sit out all last season due to injury but has shown promising results this year.
“We have almost a month left to prepare,” LeRoy said. “We try to have a system in place which helps our skiers keep improving as the year goes on. So, we are right where we want to be at this point of the season. There is no other place I would rather be.”
• Northern Michigan’s Andrew Liebner was named the Central Collegiate Ski Association (CCSA) male skier of the week after winning both races during the conference championship. Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Carolyn Freeman was the female CCSA skier of the week after winning the freestyle race and finishing second in the classic competition.
• The RMISA skiers of the week from the Denver Invitational were Colorado’s Andreas Haug (male alpine) after placing third in both the slalom and giant slalom, Utah’s Eva Huckova (female alpine), who was second in slalom and third in giant slalom, Colorado’s Reid Pletcher (male Nordic), who was first in classical and sixth in freestyle and fellow Buffalo teammate Joanne Reid (female Nordic), who won the classic race and was third in freestyle.
• The Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) skiers of the week for the Dartmouth Carnival were Dartmouth’s Rosie Brennan (female Nordic), who was third in the freestyle and second in the classic, Vermont’s Franz Bernstein (male Nordic), who was fourth in the freestyle and third in the classic, Dartmouth’s Courtney Hammond (female alpine), who won the giant slalom and was sixth in the slalom and Vermont’s Kevin Drury (male alpine), who was fifth in the giant slalom and second in the slalom.
Need to Know
• Utah’s Maria Graefnings had her undefeated season end in the 5k classic with a fifth-place finish at the Denver Invitational. She rebounded to win the freestyle competition and is now seven for eight on the season.
• Vermont’s Caitlin Patterson continued her unbeaten streak as she swept both Nordic races and now is a perfect 6-for-6 in EISA Carnival competition.
• Vermont’s Kate Ryley kept alive her streak of podium finishes as she now has been on the podium in all eight EISA alpine competitions.
• The CCSA skiers will be competing in the Central Region Championship Feb. 18-19 in Houghton, Mich., at Michigan Tech.
• The EISA is back in action Feb. 18-19 at the Middlebury Carnival.
• The RMISA has the week off prior to hosting the conference and West Region championships Feb. 25-26 in Utah at Park City and Soldier Hollow.