After three-straight second-place finishes at the NCAA Championships, the Utah ski team looks forward to the 2014 season with optimism and excitement. Every returning skier for the Utes either skied at the 2013 championships or served as an alternate, and the year culminates in Utah hosting NCAA’s for the first time since 2000.
Lakeland Union High School graduate Kevin Bolger will join the Utes, who return six All-Americans – alpine skiers Andy Trow, Ana Kobal and Kristiina Rove and Nordic skiers Niklas Persson, Sloan Storey and Anna Svendsen.
Utah graduated five All-Americans from last year’s team, most notably two-time NCAA Champion Miles Havlick, but has a solid class of recruits who have been strong during fall training.
“Overall, we had a big turnover and a very large recruiting class in both alpine and nordic,” Kevin Sweeney, Utah Director of Skiing said. “The main focus this fall has been getting this new group on board, understanding what college ski racing is all about, getting them focused on their academics, and getting them synced with the returning skiers.
“Our defining feature this year is that we’re a young team,” Abi Holt, Utah Nordic head coach said. “Everyone knows expectations are high. There are no upperclassmen to hide behind. I think it’s been motivating for the team this year. All of our returning athletes are solid skiers. Sometimes freshmen need an adjustment period, but I don’t have that feeling this year. They have all had at least one year of training and racing between high school and college, and I think that makes a big difference in a racer’s maturity. If fall racing is any indication, it’s going to be a very competitive. I feel really good about the team right now. They work very well together, and I think that we are where we need to be right now. They have done an amazing job managing their energy and obligations.”
Leading the men’s Nordic returners is sophomore Persson, who finished fifth in the 20-km free to earn All-America honors last year. He was in the top 10 in eight races last season and never finished outside the top 20. Sophomore Noé Bellet served as an alternate last season for NCAA’s and took 10th or better in eight races last year.
“Niklas and Noe were racing shoulder-to-shoulder with Miles and Einar Ulsund last year,” Holt said. “I think they learned a lot and are hungry to step up.”
Sophomore Tucker McCrerey was also an NCAA alternate last year with a season-best eighth-place finish at the 20-km free at the Colorado Invitational. He represented the US at the FIS Nordic Junior Championships last year.
Newcomers for the men are Kevin Bolger and Oscar Ivars. Bolger is a two-time high school state champion and has had multiple top finishes in the junior ranks. Ivars has also been strong in the junior ranks for Sweden, including a third-place finish at the 2013 Junior World Championships in the 4x5 km relay.
All-Americans Storey and Svendsen return for the women. Storey finished fifth in the 5-km classic at NCAA’s last year and had five top-10 finishes during the season. Svendsen was 10th in the 5-km classic at NCAA’s last season. She had six top-20 finishes last year.
“Sloan, who was a freshman last year, has definitely stepped up as a leader this year,” Holt said.
The Utah women have three newcomers, Anna-Lena Heynen, Madeleine Thorn and Josefin Nilsson. Heynen has had several top three positions in German Cup. Thorn finished in the top 10 in three races at the Swedish National Championships last year. Nilsson is from Sweden.
“Kevin and Anna-Lena have been with us through the fall, and have been right there with the upperclassmen in time trials,” Holt said. “Every performance measure we have indicates that they will have a great season for us.”