Tim Healy is a regular contributor to LetsGoDU on collegiate skiing.
No team at DU toils in more anonymity, yet has had more successful results than Denver Skiing. This year is no exception as Denver athletes compete on faraway slopes and trails in sports that are challenging for spectators to watch or even understand how competitive their team is for that given season. This is especially true in the Nordic events where skiers (like runners or sprinters) use NCAA regular-season races to secure qualifying times or use them merely as training exercises in order to peak for the national championships. And wax selection and team strategy figures in outcomes as well. Never was that clearer than several years ago when Denver dominated Utah in the Rocky Mountain Region Championships and was dusted 10 days later by Utes at Nationals.
We got a glimpse of DU’s national championship hopes from this past weekend RMISA Championships (Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association) in Bozeman, Montana. Denver defeated favored defending National Champion Utah on the final day and signaled to the rest of the collegiate ski world that they are a force to be reckoned with this season as they go for a record 25th national championship (featured photo above).
Denver has qualified 12 skiers for the nationals, the maximum number needed to compete in the male and female divisions of giant slalom and slalom in the Alpine along with 5/10k freestyle and 15/20k Nordic cross country events. With four events each for men and women, Denver will have a full contingent of three competitors in each event.
The NCAA National Championships will be held March 11th to March 14th when Denver returns to familiar terrain, Bozeman once again.
So what to expect of DU’s prospects of another national team championship this season?
On the women’s Alpine side, Seniors Storm Klomhaus, Andrea Komsic, and junior Amelia Smart lead the team in finishes all season. However, they don’t have a lot of collegiate results this season, due to competing in NorAm’s and World Cup races most of the regular season. The collegiate superstar for the entire Denver squad is Amelia Smart, a national champion in multiple Alpine events. And, keep a special eye on the results of Storm Klomhaus after she missed the past two years with a knee injury. She got her first World Cup starts this past December and had returned to top form this season. She has had consistent top-10 finishes in the NorAm races and collegiate races. Freshman Eleri Smart (younger sister of Amelia) has been a consistent top-10 finisher during the regular season as well.
As for NCAA women’s Alpine seeding, Amelia Smart is No. 1 in Slalom, No. 28 in Giant Slalom (low ranking due to lack of race starts, not performance). Klomhaus is No. 3 in Slalom, No. 9 in Giant Slalom. Komsic is No. 3 in Slalom, No. 6 in Giant Slalom. Look for Klomhaus, Amelia Smart and Komsic to be dominant in the Bridger Bowl in Boseman, Montana.
On the men’s Alpine side, Tobias Kogler, Jett Seymor, and Simon Fournier are leading DU in finishes. Seymor has won multiple NorAm races this season and is a consistent top-10 finisher in collegiate races. Kogler finished on the podium nearly every race of the regular season. Fournier is close behind by finishing in the top-10 in almost every race. Look to these three men to lead the charge for Denver.
While Denver is stacking up points in the Alpine events, the team will be relying on a re-tooled Nordic squad led by new coach Toni Roponen who was a long-time Finnish Nordic Olympic coach. The men and women in this group are the ‘wild card’ heading into nationals. But Roponen has been focused on getting his team qualified for nationals and then, peaking at the right time – so, predicting Nordic finishes is much more tricky.
DU’s women’s’ Nordic skiers have been strong and consistent so far this season. Expect freshmen Evelinna Piippo and Vera Norli to be Denver’s top performers. Both Pippo and Norli are usually at the top of the podium in their races. Freshman Emma Larsson is often close behind them in the results and could end up as a top 10 finisher nationally. So, DU’s NCAA team will most likely consist of Piippo (who is going in as the No. 2 seed nationally), Norli and Larsson.
If there is an Achilles heel on this year’s team it is on the men’s Nordic side. The men have struggled with finishes and consistency all season. DU will need a ‘performance break-thru’ to get critical points out of this group. But, if they do surprise the field, the Denver squad would likely take the top spot on the team podium. Bernhard Flaschberger, Borgar Norrud, and OleMarius Kirkeng are Denver’s top three skiers for Classical and Freestyle Nordic events. They are consistent 10-20 finishers but need to push one or two of their finishes into the top 10.
At this point, I would pick Utah to defend their national championship with Denver close on their heels followed by the Colorado Buffalos. But don’t count out the Pioneers yet.
I look forward to providing LetsGoDU readers updates during the NCAA nationals.
Photos courtesy of University of Denver Athletics