The Utes officially open the 2005 season by hosting the Utah Invitational, Jan. 5-6.
Dec. 1, 2004
SALT LAKE CITY -- Votes are in and the University of Utah ski team is seeded No. 1 overall among the top-ten teams within the RMISA (Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Skiing Association). The Utes (144) beatout skiing powerhouse Denver (141) and defending national champion New Mexico (139) for the top-spot.
"This news has certainly gotten us fired up for the season," says Head Coach Kevin Sweeney. "The word has gotten out that we are in fact a very strong team all across the board. I like the recognition. It feels good as we have been training this fall very well with great focus and enthusiasm. We need to be cautious, however, as the top tier is going to be extremely competitive. We need to look at how close the rankings are and use this to motivate us even more. This is where we need to find the right blend of our success of gold in 2003 and our hard earned silver in 2004."
According to Ski Racing magazine, the NCAA Skiing Preview poll was conducted by 29 coaches of the leading Division I skiing programs. The coaches were asked to go through a list of the top-15 teams from the '04 NCAA Championships and pick their top-10 finishers for 2005.
The magazine received 17 responses. Ten points were awarded for a first-place vote, nine for a second-place vote, down to one point for tenth-place votes.
This season, Utah is geared up to make another run for its 12th National Championship. The University of Vermont will be hosting the '05 NCAA Ski Championships from March 9-12. The slalom and giant slalom races will be held on Mt. Mansfield's notorious Hayride. The cross country events well be held at the Trapp Family Lodge.
The Utes' alpine team is solid with tremendous NCAA experience, returning every skier from last year's roster. Leading the pack will be senior All-American Ben Thornhill. The two-time giant slalom champion will be entering his third year of competition at the U. Senior Lina Johannson returns to the team after taking home the 2003 slalom championship. Fellow senior All-Americans April Mancuso and Rowena Hyldahl will assist the Utes in the alpine events. Mancuso, a Lake Tahoe, Calif., native, was the 2002 GS silver medalist, while Hyldahl, an Australian Olympian, raced to the GS bronze medal in 2003.
Freshman Matic Ramus will be joining the team this season after tearing up the National Junior Championships. At the '03 Czech National Championships, Ramus skied past Michal Rajcan, the Slovakian sliver and bronze medalist at the '04 NCAAs. Senior second-team All-American Mark Heinrich-Wallace comes to Utah looking to make an impact in the slalom event.
With the loss of dual '04 NCAA gold medalist Henning Dybendal and All-American Jenny Hansson, Utah will rely on the experience of returners senior Barbro Hatlevik, sophomore Daniel Sonntag and junior Jess Kiesel to lead the cross country teams.
Hatlevik, a Vagstranda, Norway native, returns to Utah in her third year of competition. The nordic skier earned All-American honors after skiing third in the 5-km FS at the '04 NCAA Championships.
Sonntag qualified and skied well at the '04 NCAAs as a freshman, skiing 12th in the 10-km freestyle and 13th in the 20-km classical. Kiesel is overcoming a successful heart surgery and will hopefully return as one of the highest-ranked American classic skiers in the West.
Newcomer Magnus Carlsson will join the team after skiing to a first-place finish in the 30-km classic at the '02 Swedish Junior Championship. The following season, Carlsson finished fifth in the classical at the U-23 World Championships.
Perhaps Utah's biggest pickup was assistant nordic coach Stephan Kunz, who competed in three Olympics and finished seventh overall in the World Cup in 2000.
"My upperclassmen and classwomen need to be the leaders and share their experiences," says Sweeney. "The season is quite short but very intense. I think we have a good shot at the title if we stay on our current track."
The Utes officially open the 2005 season by hosting the Utah Invitational. The first day, Jan. 5, will consist of the GS and FS races, while the second day, Jan. 6, will feature the SL and the CL.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: 11 (1978, 1981, 1983-84, 1986-88, 1993, 1996-97, 2003)
RETURNING NCAA CHAMPIONS: Ben Thornhill, GS 2003 and 2004; Lina Joansson, SL 2003.
2005 NCAA Skiing Preview
Utah 144 Denver 141 New Mexico 139 Colorado 131 Vermont 117 Alaska-Anchorage 78 Middlebury College 59 Dartmouth College 58 Nevada 44 Alaska-Fairbanks 9