Sophomore Pierre Olsson has made his name known as one of the top competitors in both the slalom and giant slalom.
Oct. 10, 2002
"Ecstatic and proud, yet unsatisfied" is how Utah Head Ski Coach Kevin Sweeney describes his team's performance last year. "Placing third at the NCAA Championships is very respectable and shows we are on the right track," says Sweeney. "Having Torin Koos and (recent alum) Kristina Joder compete in the 2002 Olympic Games was a coach's and program's dream come true."
The 10 All-America performances at the NCAA Championships, 15 Academic All-America honorees and two Verizon Academic All-District recipients of last year certainly demonstrate that Sweeney strives for high marks with his talented group of 25 student-athletes. So where is the lack of satisfaction coming from?
"We are, without a doubt, one of the top skiing programs in the country. Why? Just look at our surrounding environment, some of the best snow and ski resorts in the world are our training and racing venues. The community loves the sport of skiing, and our administration is very supportive of our endeavors."
-- Utah head coach Kevin Sweeney
"We were in the hunt for the gold, but we had some bad luck with illness and a couple of performance lapses," admits Sweeney. "I thought we were in there. In my nine years coaching at Utah, this was a true learning experience. When you have a team as talented and motivated as this, where everyone wants to win and other teams want to knock you off, you have to keep your head up and keep charging. We did that, and I'm proud, but we need better consistency scoring in the top ten," he continues.
"The group that I bring back this year knows this now. They understand a bit more about tradition and the hard work and dedication that it takes to keep it rolling. I'm proud of how this group has responded. It shows. We've kicked off a great new year with dryland training and our focus is to dominate at Dartmouth come March at the NCAA Championships."
Sweeney also hopes to have Ute skiers representing Utah and their respective countries at such elite level competitions as World Ski Championships, Junior World Ski Championships, U-23 and the World University Games. "This could be a great year for us," Sweeney says with a smile. "Oh yes, we are continuing the tradition."
The tradition Sweeney speaks of is the fact that the Utes have won 10 national championships, have garnered 56 individual NCAA titles and have produced 21 Olympians and 271 All-Americans.
"We are, without a doubt, one of the top skiing programs in the country," says Sweeney. "Why? Just look at our surrounding environment, some of the best snow and ski resorts in the world are our training and racing venues. The community loves the sport of skiing, and our administration is very supportive of our endeavors. We also get some great coaches and support staff in here. It's a real honor to be on this team and the athletes reflect this with their hard work and good grades."
Sweeney is optimistic about this year's team. "We are returning an awesome core group with a high level of NCAA experience and maturity," he says. "I have also recruited some immediate point-scoring athletes and also some younger athletes who will have the opportunity to grow and adjust. We are very well balanced and have depth in all disciplines."
Sweeney, however, has had moments of doubt. April Mancuso, who won the prestigious Toril Forland Award last spring after notching a silver medal in the GS at the NCAA's, took a bad fall this summer and ruptured her L2 vertebrate forcing her to miss the entire 2002-03 season. "Losing April is one of the biggest hits I've experienced as a coach," tells Sweeney. "My concern for a podium finish was quickly evaporated when I found out how close to being paralyzed April was. She's with us though, working on rehab and she'll be back. We're all working harder for her and because of her."
The Utes bring in two new staff members this year, including Aaron Atkins, who will serve as the Head Alpine Coach. Atkins competed for the Utes during the 1996 and '97 seasons when the team won back-to-back NCAA titles. For the past five years, he had been serving as the development coach for the Park City Ski Team, which was voted the best club ski team in the U.S. two of the last three seasons.
"Aaron is a natural fit," says Sweeney. "It's just perfect, and I am ecstatic to have him on board. The team is really pumped too."
In addition, Petter Svendsen will assist Sweeney with the cross country team. Svendsen competed for the Utes during the past three seasons, earning All-America honors each year. He was awarded the team's highest honor, the Alf Engen Sportsmanship Award, last spring.
"Petter has been always been a natural team leader," states Sweeney. "It's a great opportunity for me to bring him onboard as a coach. He's quality all the way around and everybody should benefit."
"Goal setting is higher this year than it has ever been," says Sweeney. "We have a blend of both experience and youth, and that is what is going to get us back on top."
Sophomore Pierre Olsson has made his name known as one of the top competitors in both the slalom and giant slalom. The Sweden native won the silver medal in the 2002 NCAA Championships in both disciplines.
"Pierre is an exceptional athlete," boasts Sweeney. "His concern for a strong team performance really impressed me last season." Olsson earned the prestigious David Nouvelle Memorial Award this past spring in recognition of his impressive point tally.
Jernej "Buka" Bukovec, the 2001 NCAA Slalom champion, returns for his senior year. "Jernej's consistency is unparalleled," says Sweeney. "He is a threat whenever he gets in the gate. Besides his skiing accomplishments, Bukovec was also named to the Verizon Academic All-District Team last spring.
Josh Whitham, whose sixth-place in the GS at the NCAA's helped the Utes charge into second place at the time, is, according to Sweeney, "emerging as real team leader." Meanwhile Canadian Kristian Guay also returns and is expected to challenge for an NCAA position. "I would like to see him balance his GS and SL results," says Sweeney. "He could be a very serious podium contender."
New to the men's alpine squad is Canadian Ben Thornhill. "Ben is a former junior national team member," explains Sweeney. "Our team has a lot of depth so I'm looking for Ben to come in, adjust, have fun and let his natural talent be displayed. I think we will all be pleasantly surprised."
On the women's side, Petra Svet returns with one more year of eligibility earned through prop 48. "Petra is a wonderful person and a fierce competitor. She embodies everything this team stands for. So, of course I am ecstatic to have her return for another season." The senior was the 2001 NCAA SL gold and 2002 NCAA SL bronze medallist. Svet was also named to the Verizon Academic All-District Team this past spring.
This year will also mark Elisha Stephens' comeback from knee surgery. "Elisha is so motivated, and has trained very hard with dryland and on snow over the summer," boasts Sweeney. "She had a few starts last season, and I think she has good confidence in her knee, her turns and her coaching staff."
Senior Christina Babilis returns after having her best collegiate season thus far. Sweeney is convinced she can raise the bar and challenge for an NCAA position.
Newcomers to the women's alpine team are Sweden native Lina Johansson and Australian Rowena Bright. "These two are great additions to the program," says Sweeney. "They should make an immediate impact, and are very talented and a lot of fun to be around."
CROSS COUNTRY TEAM
The men's cross country team's performance this year lies on the shoulders of the three American seniors, Zack Simons, Ryan Quinn and Koos. "I have very high expectations in every regard," states Sweeney. "They have great experience, they know me well and they know what it takes to win the title. They have all been improving each year so I think this will be a very enjoyable year for all of us."
Simons returns to the team after being the highest ranked Ute man on the RMISA XC points list last season. "Zack is a great talent," boasts Sweeney. "I'd love to see him qualify for U-23 Games. He's been working hard and has a good perspective."
Quinn, who earned All-America honors last season in Anchorage and is also the ski team's Student Athletic-Advisory Committee representative, looks balanced, strong and right on track.
Koos, who represented the U.S. Ski Team at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in the sprint event, was named to the U.S. Ski Team for the upcoming season. "Torin has been making leaps and bounds in all areas," marvels Sweeney. "It's been very fun to help him develop. He really values the University and the ski team for friendships, fun and the competitive spirit." Koos had a stellar NCAA championship last year, placing fourth in the classic and sixth in the skate event. "I am hopeful that he'll continue to improve," admits Sweeney.
Newcomers to the men's cross country team are Anders Hansson from Sweden, and Americans Jess Kiesel and Tony Bozzio. "It's great to be able to bring these three in to accompany the three seniors," says Sweeney. "I'm expecting the newcomers to make an immediate impact, and adjust to the western collegiate circuit, which is arguably the most difficult in the country."
The women's cross country team will be led by returning NCAA competitor Sara Svendsen and NCAA qualifier Anna Sprague. "It's great to have these two as my team leaders," admits Sweeney. "Having Sara return means a lot for the program. She is a natural leader and perhaps the most technically proficient athlete on the team. It is great to see her motivation, and I feel confident about her potential this year."
Sprague is coming off a great summer training session with former Ute assistant coach Eli Brown. "Anna is right on track," says Sweeney. "I think she is going to be a real force this year. She learned so much last year and appears to be in great shape and confident."
The newcomers include Ashley McQueen and Norwegians Barbro Hatlevik and Kjersti Veum. "Ashely comes from a great program and has put up some impressive junior results," states Sweeney. "Barbro and Kjersti have been very competitive in the Norwegian Cup. All three bring a great spirit to the team."
Fall training began September 17th and has been going great for the team. Sweeney compliments his staff, strength coaches, athletic trainers and academic advisor for making the fall adjustment period go so smoothly. "Everybody is pretty fired up," tells Sweeney "With a dusting of snow on the mountains, no Olympic entanglements to hamper our training and a well balanced team full of enthusiasm, I am very optimistic we can vie for our 11th national championship."