Freshman Scott Veenis crowned '06 NCAA GS champion
April 26, 2006
SALT LAKE CITY -- In his first season at the helm of one of the most successful skiing programs on the college racing circuit, head coach Eli Brown led the University of Utah to an eighth-place finish at the 2006 NCAA National Skiing Championships. That followed a fifth-place mark at the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Skiing Association (RMISA) Championships/NCAA West Regionals.
"It was great to get to know the team this season," said Brown. "It is amazing to see the motivation and drive that all of them carried throughout the season. Although there is almost six months until dryland training starts, I for one, can't wait to get started again."
Brown left a position as Fischer Sports USA's nordic race director and returned to his alma mater to become the 10th head ski coach in Utah history. The former Ute cross country assistant coach (1998-99) had his hands full, rebuilding a team that lost eight former All-Americans from the 2005 bronze medal team.
After an impressive freshman season with the U., newly acclaimed first-team All-American Scott Veenis won the national GS title after tearing up the competition with a blazing two-run time of 1:05.59. This prestigious gold medal marked his second GS victory this season, improving upon his RMISA MVP honor awarded earlier this season.
"Watching Scottie win the GS was an awesome moment," remarked Brown. "It was also equally as meaningful to watch him after crashing and hiking on the first run of the slalom, crash and hike again on the second run."
On the nordic side, Ute freshman Sara Schweiger earned second-team All-American honors after rallying to a 10th-place finish in the 5-km classical with a overall time of 17:20.3. The Schwangau, Germany native came into this event ranked eighth and had compiled three previous top-10 finishes this season.
Prior to the 2006 campaign, Ski Racing magazine compiled the opinions of head ski coaches across the country and Utah ranked fifth in the NCAA preseason poll. The University of Denver was the clear favorite, followed by Colorado, New Mexico and Vermont.
Utah's best overall team finish of the year was the season opening Alaska-Anchorage Invite, where the Utes' took third on the their own Olympic training venues. On the season, Utah finished with two fourth-place performances (Montana State Invite and Western State Invite) and two fifth-place finishes (Colorado Invite and NCAA West Regionals) prior to NCAAs.
Headlining the men's alpine team was first-year competitor Veenis. The freshman sensation finished with nine top 10 performances in both the GS and slalom. Veenis was presented with the prestigious Alf Engen Sportsmanship Award, which is the highest and most esteemed skiing award given to any student-athlete on the team. This honor is awarded to the outstanding athlete who has best demonstrated the most "inspirational" qualities. This award takes into consideration outstanding competitive achievement as well as noteworthy leadership and sportsmanship.
"Scott is an outstanding competitor," said head alpine coach Jaka Korencan. "He was a standout all season and showed up everyday ready to ski. From winning his first college race to winning the GS title, he raced hard every run and we really enjoyed watching him excel this season."
Newcomer Veenis also took home the David Novelle Outstanding Skier Award, which 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.
Cross country specialist Jess Kiesel was presented with the C.D. Reddish Memorial Award. This award is given to the 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.
"Jess is a true team player," remarked Korencan. "Despite personal struggle, Jess went the extra mile for the team. Jess gave 100-percent effort on the ski track, despite a heart condition. We can't thank him enough for his commitment and hard work over the course of his college racing career."
Senior alpine racer Erika Hogan and junior nordic skier Nicole Naef shared this year's Toril Forland Outstanding Skier Award. This honor is given to the female skier who has been an important factor to the success and accomplishments of the women's ski team programs.
"Erika and Nicole were are top female skiers this season," said Korencan. "Erika was ranked seventh by the RMISA in the SL and 21st in the GS, while Nicole ranked second in the skate and eighth in the classic."
Prior to NCAAs, the ski team was also individually honored with seven top 10 All-Conference RMISA rankings. Making this elite list of collegiate skiers were Veenis, Gaspar Perricone, Will McDonald, Hogan, Kim Stephens, Naef and Schweiger.
Outside the college racing circuit, Veenis challenged the top competitors in the world, skiing in the GS at the 2006 U.S. alpine championships. The freshman finished with a 12th-place mark with a scorching two-run time of 2:12.74. Veenis' downhill performance was good enough to beatout U.S. Ski Team member Tom Rothrock (13th).
Utah was also acknowledged for its academic success in the classroom this season, finishing with nine Academic All-Americans. Ute skiers Erik Gjomle, Kiesel, McDonald, Ben Thornhill, Veenis, Mikaela Grassl, Chelsea Laswell, Schweiger and Anna Sprague were all awarded with this scholastic honor.
In addition, the women skiers were awarded with the highest overall team grade point average (GPA) in Utah Athletics, boasting a 3.38 GPA.
Utah was home to 17 student-athletes on the spring honor roll, while five of those skiers were named to the spring Dean's List. The Mountain West Conference acknowledged four Ute skiers with the Scholar-Athlete award, which is given to the student-athletes that maintain a 3.5 cumulative GPA.
The Utes received media recognition and were featured on local affiliated radio station Hot Ticket 700 and were covered in Ski Racing magazine. Utah also was featured in the Salt Lake City Tribune and Deseret Morning News.
Utah is also excited to welcome two-time Olympic skier Wendy Wagner as the newly appointed assistant nordic ski coach. Wagner returns to Utah after retiring from the international racing circuit prior to winning the U.S. national marathon championships in March. She and teammate Kikkan Randall also made history by finishing 10th in the sprint relay at the '06 Olympic Winter Games, marking the first-ever American team to ski into the top 10. She is also currently the No. 1 ranked female cross country skier in the U.S.
"I'm very excited that Wendy approached me about coaching at Utah," said Brown. "She has an outstanding personality, a strong will and a great sense of sportsmanship. Besides being a solid character and a two-time Olympian, she is also a local. Having Wendy on board will be a great for our program."
The University of New Hampshire will host the 2007 NCAA Championships. The event will be held March 7-10 with Attitash as the venue for the alpine events and the Jackson Cross Country Center as the site of the nordic competitions.