In a season full of surprises, the University of Utah ski team was still able to keep the championship pedigree that has been a staple of the program for so long, and they demonstrated just that this weekend, taking their 12th NCAA National Championship. The crown is not unfamiliar to the team, as this is their second national championship in three years.
The event, held in Stowe, VT, was a competition ripe for the taking at the Utes’ hands. After a shaky start to their 2019 campaign, the team turned the heat up and was able to come into the championship weekend with some of the best performances of the season. The team tore through its Alaska tour, taking first place in seven of eight events, their only blemish being a second place finish in the Freestyle event at the Alaska Anchorage Invitational.
After that, it was full-steam ahead for the NCAA Championships, and the Utes would take the trophy by storm.
The event started on Wednesday, March 8 with the Nordic Freestyle event. Both Utah and the host school, the University of Vermont, kept the scores close, but at the end of day one, Utah freshman Julia Richter took her first national championship, beating Denver’s Jasmi Joensuu by only a second, walking away with the women’s 5k freestyle. Richter’s performance was followed by Guro Jordheim, who finished fifth, and Karianne Moe, who came in 18th. The team would head into day two with a slim 142-141 lead over Vermont.
“We knew, going into today, that the times would be super tight,” said head Nordic coach Miles Havlick to Utah Athletics. “We were really focusing on closing hard up the final climb to the finish.”
The next day, the teams headed to the Giant Slalom, where the Utes have found spotty success throughout the year. They finished first in the event in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) Championships and the Alaska Anchorage Invitational, but they finished sixth in the same event at the Montana State Invitational. The men’s team left much to be desired, with Mark Engel placing the highest on the team at 12th. Roni Remme kept the team alive through day two with a second-place finish, but the Utes still found themselves behind coming into day three, trailing Dartmouth by six points.
Day three is where the team took control of the leaderboards. Richter had a second place finish in her event, followed by Jordheim’s fourth place finish, and Maximilian Bie and Ola Jordheim who placed third and fifth, respectively.
Both teams had strong performances, and at the end of the day, the Utes had a commanding 426.5 point total through the third day, with Colorado trailing in second with 361 points.
Heading into the fourth and final day of the tournament, the Utes had to do little more than defend their immense lead. Remme had another podium performance, taking second place in the women’s slalom event. When all was said and done, the Utes were able to call themselves champions once again, with a 530.5 point finish over the host school, Vermont, who put up a 476.
Head Alpine coach JJ Johnson was wary of the team’s huge lead coming into day four and stressed that following the ceremonies.
“Obviously we had a big lead going into the day,” Johnson said to Utah Athletics. “We made a plan to ski very aggressive, but in a smart way, in conservative lines. Everyone executed that to a tee.”
The championship marks the 12th in program history and second championship for the team in three seasons. The victory also marks the 517th NCAA championship for the Pac-12.
Statistics and times aside, Johnson summed up the feelings of the day perfectly to Utah Athletics.
“It was just an awesome day.”