Utah celebrates its third-place podium finish at the 2005 NCAA Championships.
April 21, 2005
SALT LAKE CITY -- With Head Coach Kevin Sweeney in his sixth season at the reigns, the University of Utah ski program rallied from behind to race to its third-place podium finish at the 2005 NCAA National Championships and fifth-place finish at the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) Western Regional Championships this season.
"The tradition of excellence of the Utah Ski Team is alive and well," said Sweeney. "We had a great year in all regards. Our third-place finish at the NCAA Championships was a demonstration of 100-percent commitment and determination. I am super proud of this team."
Utah's third-place performance was one its best finishes of the season, skating past former NCAA national champions New Mexico and fellow powerhouse teams Dartmouth and Colorado. Denver was the favorite to win the NCAAs, sweeping the RMISA competition this season with five consecutive first-place finishes including the West Regional Championships. The Pioneers beatout second-place host Vermont by 47.5-points showing they were the team to beat this season, marking its 18th national championship.
The Ute skiers made an incredible surge on the final day of competition to take home the bronze medal, while the Lobos finished fourth and Dartmouth claimed fifth.
"We fought hard all season battling unfortunate injury and illness to capture a podium position," remarked Sweeney. "It wasn't easy and in the end I can only congratulate everyone who stayed focused and believed that we are one of the premier ski teams in the country. Having this kind of team to work with is the best."
The NCAAs have been dominated by the Western schools, racking up a combine 11 consecutive team titles. Utah is one of only six schools (Colorado, Denver, New Mexico, Vermont, Wyoming) to win the NCAA Championships since the event went coed in 1983. The Utes' last crowned title run was in '03.
Prior to the season opener, Ski Racing Magazine's NCAA preseason coaches' poll ranked Utah No. 1 infront of Denver, New Mexico and Colorado. And rightfully so knowing Utah was home to one of the most dynamic alpine teams in the country along side an experienced and talented cross country squad.
Leading this season's women's alpine team was senior April Mancuso. The downhill skier finished with 10 individual top 10 finishes in both the giant slalom and slalom. Mancuso was awarded with the prestigious Alf Engen Sportsmanship Award, which is the highest and most esteemed skiing award given to any student-athlete on the team. The Alf Engen Sportsmanship Award is awarded to the outstanding athlete in either their junior or senior year on the team who has best demonstrated the most "inspirational" qualities. This award takes into consideration outstanding competitive achievement as well as noteworthy leadership and sportsmanship.
Nordic skier Sandra Gredig was awarded with the C.D. Reddish Memorial Award and Toril Forland Outstanding Skier Award after a remarkable season. The sophomore posted all but one of her finishes in the the top-seven this season. The C.D. Reddish Memorial Award is given to the graduating senior or upper classman that has contributed the most to the team, not only in results, per se, but in respect to community relations and promoting the sport as a diplomatic ambassador.
The Toril Forland Outstanding Skier Award is awarded to the female athlete who has been an important factor to the success and accomplishments of the women's ski team programs.
Senior Mark Heinrich-Wallace and junior Magnus Carlsson garnered duel honors by being awarded with the David Novelle Outstanding Skier Award. This award is honored to the male athlete that has been one of the most influential factors to the success of our team with outstanding results through the entire competitive season.
Six Utes were selected to the All-American ski team (top 10 at the NCAAs). The list comprised of three skiers from both teams. For the cross country team, Carlsson (CL and FS), Gredig (FS) and Daniel Sonntag (FS) were all honored for their performance in the 20/15-km freestyle and 10/5-km classical. Alpine skiers Heinrich-Wallace (GS), Mancuso (GS) and Ben Thornhill (GS) were honored for their efforts in the GS.
In addition to national recognition, Utah took rank with some of the best college racers in the world as Ute skiers Thornhill, Mancuso and Gredig competed in Innsbruck, Austria at the '05 World University Games.
In the junior ranks this year, Casey Simons' stellar sophomore season landed him on the World Junior Nordic Ski Championships. Simons was one 10 cross country skiers that competed in Rowaniemi, Finland.
"We had a great group this year and we are very much looking forward to next year," remarked Sweeney. "We will lose many seniors who have been so important to our success the past few years. We will miss their leadership immensely. We have a few injuries to rehab and several new recruits on board."
Academically, skiers Tony Bozzio, Barbro Hatlevik, Hyldahl, Johansson, Jess Kiesel, Mancuso, Ashley McQueen, Gaspar Perricone, Linda Pettersson, Sonntag, Anna Sprague, Elisha Stephens, Kim Stephens, Thornhill, Andi Weiser all received Academic All-American honors.
Utah also ended the season with 16 student-athletes on the '04 fall semester honor roll and five student-athletes were named to the Dean's List. Sprague was honored for her flawless academic record. The senior earned a 4.0 GPA during the fall semester.
The ski team has also been a huge contributor to the community as they teamed up with The Utah Nordic Alliance (TUNA) and helped mentor at-risk youth with the KIDZ-SKI program this season. The Ute skiers instructed the local children from the Youth City after school program on how to cross country ski. This annual event was held at Mountain Dell Golf Course.
The Utes also received media recognition and were featured on local affiliated TV and radio stations, including KJZZ and Hot Ticket 700. Utah was also covered in Ski Racing Magazine and Sports Illustrated On Campus.
"We really went for it on all fronts as our academic success, community service and international racing presence confirms," said Sweeney. "This also reflects directly on the excellence of our support staff, the athletic department and a great community that supports our endeavors. Words can't say how much we appreciate this. We are proud to be ambassadors for the University and the sport of skiing."
"A special thanks needs to go out to my great staff," said Sweeney. "They are dynamite and at the top of their game. There is no question our program is at the top level thanks to their commitment, progressive knowledge and long hours they put in on and off the race course. GO UTES!"
Next season, the University of Colorado will host the annual NCAA National Skiing Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The last time the Buffs hosted the NCAA was in 1993. The alpine events will be held in Howelsen Hill (slalom) and Mount Werner (giant slalom), while the cross country venues will also be held in Howelsen.
"NCAA Championships will be in Steamboat, Colo., March 8-12, 2006," added Sweeney. "We are excited about this. The west region is definitely the most competitive. It's a short drive and a fun town, so we hope we can put on a good show for our supporters and alums."