Skiers Begin Season in Montana Today

With all of the exposure the 2002 Olympic Winter Games will bring the Utah ski team, it also brings temporary headaches.

The U ski team opens its 2002 season short on practice time and may be without a top cross country skier as the Montana Invitational begins today in Bozeman, Mont. The alpine competition starts today and runs into Saturday, whereas the cross country team will hit the snow Jan. 9 and 10.

But along with the first-meet anxiety comes the reality of sparse practice time, at least for the alpine squad.

“Due to construction on Olympic venues, the alpine team hasn’t run the gates as much as I would like them to,” said U ski coach Kevin Sweeney.

In addition, Ute skier and U.S. National Cross Country Team member Torin Koos may not be used at the Invitational by Sweeney because of his favorable chances to earn a spot on the Olympic ski team.

Even without Koos, the Utes will challenge for the title in their season opener.

The team finished fourth for a third consecutive year at last year’s NCAA Championships, and, according to the preseason ski polls, the Utes will threaten in 2002 as well. The Utes were deadlocked with Colorado for second place in the Ski Race polls, but more Colorado first place votes pushed Utah into third place heading into the opening meet. Denver University stood atop both teams in first place.

Still, Sweeney has sensed disrespect from other coaches. “Many coaches know we are strong, [but] others doubt our ability,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney has six freshmen entering the program, but expects his 16 returning athletes to do the bulk of the work.

Though the Utes lost All Americans Kristina Joder, Sabrina Lawrence, Lene Pedersen and Pat Casey, they still have considerable talent coming back.

Slovenia natives Petra Svet and Jernej Bukovec look to continue their success from the 2001 season. Last year, Svet won the women’s NCAA slalom championship in earning All-American status as well as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Female Collegiate Athlete of the Year.

For Bukovec, a win in the men’s slalom marked his second straight year with All American honors in the slalom and giant slalom.

Also returning is All American Scott Woodland. Woodland finished 2001 ranked No. 1 in the slalom, but he is experiencing minor back problems heading into the meet. In addition, Sweeney called incoming freshman skiers Pierre Olsson and Josh Whitham “top-level skiers.”

For the cross-country team, Koos, Ryan Quinn, Zack Simons and All-American Petter Svendsen will lead. The women’s team returns only two of seven skiers from 2001.

Still, Sweeney is encouraged about the opening competition. “The season opener is always exciting to see how each team performs. We plan to go to Montana and score well right off the bat to secure NCAA qualifying points,” he said.

[email protected]