Midseason Ski Team Update

I never like to report on DU skiing until I have a chance to personally watch the team. I recently made it up to Loveland to watch DU’s Alpine skiers compete at the DU Invitational and learn more about the Nordic team. At this point, it looks like a three-team race between Utah, Colorado, and Denver for the team NCAA Championships in Lake Placid, NY March 8th – 11th.

Overall, the Pios look strong but Utah seems to have the depth and edge – a trend DU needs to stop. There are some outstanding individuals on the men’s and women’s teams and there are certainly going to be plenty of Pioneer All-Americans at the end of this season. However, depth is the name of the game for the team title and DU has some work to do to earn its 25th team title. DU’s last team title was in 2018 – so, they have ‘stalled’ at 24 Championships.

As you may recall, DU needs a full squad of 12 qualified skiers with three competitors in each discipline – Nordic classic and freestyle along with Alpine slalom and giant slalom – each with three skiers. So I thought I would give you a preview of the team in each discipline.

Denver has historically been very good in women’s Alpine and that trend continues this season. In slalom, DU has added a real gem in freshman Sara Rask who is dominating early season podiums along with Junior Nora Brand. Rask has several international wins, including 2 European Cup wins and 6 World Cup starts. Sara is considered one of Sweden’s most promising Alpine skiers.

Another Denver freshman, Mia Hunt is showing great promise, too.  I also really like Eleri Smart, former DU star Amelia Smart’s sister, but she needs to pick it up over the next several weeks. It will be difficult to pick between the final three slalom skiers who will compete for DU slots at Lake placid –  all four are fully capable of being in the points.

In women’s giant slalom, look for Rask again, along with Hunt and Nora Brand. Galena Wardle and Eleri Smart are very capable skiers so it will be a coaching decision to select the top three skiers for nationals. Alpine coach Joonas Rasanen will have to make the call and there are sure to be some disappointed athletes.

Men’s slalom, unfortunately, has not been great this season but they have a high ceiling. Senior Simon Fournier has the best chance to drop into the top ten and could even finish on the podium at nationals. Trey Seymour and Cole Puckett are fully capable of scoring high on the leaderboard. Denver just needs more consistency to make some dramatic improvements in this discipline before nationals. There is still time for some improvement but DU needs to step it up with consistency and aggressiveness to put a dent in the Utah and CU programs which are deep and loaded.

In men’s giant slalom, look for the same three skiers for Denver with Fournier as DU’s strongest skier. Still, Utah has the strongest and most consistent skiers from top to bottom in this discipline once again this season. It is a dogfight between CU and DU after the Utes. Denver will have some work to do to earn points in this discipline,  outside of Fournier.

In men’s nordic classical, DU has two sure-fire point-getters. Bernhard Flaschberger and Andreas Kirkeng are rock-solid All-American candidates this season. It is not clear who will be the third skier but look for either Elijah Weenig or Johan Steinberg to round out the team and points for DU. Rogan Brown, DU’s head Nordic coach, will have to make the call on the top three at Lake Placid.

In men’s nordic freestyle, look for points from Kirkeng and Flaschberger. The third skier for DU is likely to be Steinberg or Weenig again but one or both needs to improve their finishes over the next month to make it into the points at the NCAA championships in either classical or freestyle.

In women’s Nordic, the DU women are getting stronger and better results with every race. In nordic classical, Hanna Ray and Selma Anderson have reasonable chances to earn valuable team points but it will be challenging for the pair to crack the top 10 during the NCAA Championships. However, many teams like DU are trying to peak at the NCAA Championships and use these early events as training sessions for the athletes, so it’s not clear how much Denver is ‘leaving in the tank,’ saving for the RMISA Championships and Nationals. DU needs Bettina Burgess or Emma Larsson to begin to peak over the next several weeks if DU wants to earn significant classical points at nationals.

Women’s nordic freestyle may be Denver’s weakest event…and Utah’s strongest. The Utes may even finish 1-2-3 at Lake Placid. Nonetheless, the Pios still need to get points. Selma Anderson and Hannah Ray give Denver the best chance in this area but it’s unlikely that DU can get a lot of points here.

One mystery on the college skiing front is the recent departure of Andy LeRoy as Head Coach of the CU squad at the midseason. His name has been removed from the CU Ski team roster.  Jana Weinberger, a former Nordic skier and coach, has been elevated to interim head coach.

I am confident that Denver has a top-three team but Utah is the clear favorite and Colorado has an ever-so-slight edge for the silver. However, as we have learned from the past, ski racing is unpredictable, especially in Nordic events, so anything can happen.

Denver travels to Alaska on February 20th-24 before they set out to Nationals at Lake Placid March 8th -11th.

Keep your tips up and go Pioneers!

Photo of freshman Sara Rask courtesy of Denver Athletics

5 thoughts on “Midseason Ski Team Update”

  1. Willy has been skiing the black diamonds in heaven since 1988. He can’t help us anymore. Tim is being gentle in this article, and reading between the lines, it sounds like DU just don’t have enough quality women’s Nordic skiers to contend with Utah this year, and its been that way since 2019…

  2. I get that Utah is a big school…they have great mountains…they have some increased visibility with the success of their football program…and they have an excellent ski program. But c’mon….this is Denver, the best NCAA ski program in the country, in a cool city, in a great state, with the best mountains and overall ski environment in the whole country. At a great private school. WHY can’t DU out-recruit and then out-coach any nordic skiing program in the country??? Makes no sense.

    On a positive note…our alpine team has been awesome the last few years, with some real super-stars. Love it.

    And what happened with Andy Leroy…bolts DU for CU, and then mysteriously parts ways with CU just one year later??? He was great at DU, I think he won 6 national titles here. Probably shouldn’t have left for CU.

  3. Quick update from this past week. Pioneer finished 2nd at the conference championship/NCAA Regionals. Was only 35 point behind 1st place Utah. I’d expect this battle to continue in 2 weeks at NCAA Nationals.

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