With the 2016/2017 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S. and Canada, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding male and female skiers on the U.S. NCAA collegiate circuit.
When you win both races at NCAA Championships, that makes you an easy pick for Collegiate Skier of the Year. Both Martin Bergström and Petra Hyncicova swept the two men’s and women’s nordic races, respectively, at this year’s NCAA Skiing Championships in Jackson, N.H., with Bergström winning the men’s 10-kilometer classic individual start by almost 27 seconds and Hyncicova topping the women’s 5 k classic by almost 19 seconds. It was the first NCAA title for both skiers, with Bergström new to the NCAA scene as a University of Utah freshman from Sweden, and Hyncicova a University of Colorado-Boulder junior from the Czech Republic.
Martin Bergström, University of Utah
Two days later, Bergström, 25, won the men’s 20 k freestyle mass start on one of the coldest days of the year in the northeast. Rounding Jackson Ski Touring Center’s 5 k loop four times, he navigated the icy conditions and strong headwind in the stadium with the best of them, outlasting last year’s NCAA Champion Mads Strøm for the win by 0.5 seconds.
“I just went for it,” Bergström told FasterSkier afterward. “… I was just happy too see that it was a high-tempo, pack finish, and with the wind and everything, I think it was smart to go a little before the final stretch.”
In doing so, Bergström led the University of Utah to its first NCAA Skiing team title (nordic & alpine) since 2003.
It was his first win and sixth podium of the season after competing on the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) circuit since January. Two years ago at U23 World Championships, the Swede finished seventh in the classic sprint in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He’s started four World Cups, posting a career-best 23rd in a 2014 freestyle sprint in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. And two years ago, the former Swedish National Development Team member stopped skiing. He returned to it as a Utah Ute this season.
“Two years ago, I quit skiing back in Sweden, and I took one year off just studying,” Bergström explained. “A friend of mine was on the [Utah] team and he said there were spots open and that I should try a different environment of skiing and studying. So I talked to the coaches and eventually went for this trip and have had so much fun and made many friends. I’m just so happy I came here.”
After starting a civil engineering program in Sweden, he explained he has two years of eligibility left as a U.S. collegiate skier, but was unsure of his plans as of mid-March.
“I took a chance and came here, but I haven’t decided if I’m going to stay or not, but we’ll see,” he said.
Petra Hynčicova, University of Colorado-Boulder
Then there was Hynčicova, a 22-year-old from the Czech Republic, who won the 2017 NCAA Championships women’s 15 k freestyle mass start by 21 seconds over the University of Vermont’s Alayna Sonnesyn after breaking away on the last lap.
“I’m so glad I went to the U.S. Every year I’m more and more glad,” Hynčicova said after. “This year was actually supposed to be my last year. I have one more year of NCAA eligibility so I applied for a master’s program [at CU] so I can be here next year also and I’m so excited.”
Over the course of the 2017 RMISA season, Hynčicova notched five podiums, two of which were wins. She picked up two more victories — her first NCAA titles — to end her season in Jackson. And at this year’s U23 World Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah, she finished 17th in the 10 k freestyle for her best result at her second U23’s. Three years ago at 2014 Junior World Championships, Hynčicova placed ninth in a freestyle sprint.
Notably, in 28 career races at CU, she has finished fifth or better in 20 of them and won five races. She is a six-time All-American and is the 15th CU Buff to sweep both women’s nordic races at NCAA Championships.
“When the season started, I figured that I was in really good shape this year, so I was hoping that I could be on the podium again at NCAA’s and maybe hoping that I could win the skate race,” Hynčicova said. “But after winning the classic race and after the injury and everything I can’t believe it, it’s insane for me.”
Since U23 Worlds, she had been nursing a painful bursa between her Achilles tendon and heel bone.
“It’s better, but it hurts in every race so I’m glad I’m done because the season’s over,” Hynčicova said.
Honorable Mention: Alayna Sonnesyn, University of Vermont
The only woman to share the podium with Hynčicova both days: Alayna Sonnesyn of UVM. Sonnesyn placed third in the 5 k classic and second in the 15 k skate, the best NCAA finishes of her career by far.
“I am so happy with the way things went,” Sonnesyn said of the Championships. “I definitely had some high goals for this week. I haven’t had the best luck with my NCAA experiences in the past and so I knew I could be competitive this year, but I didn’t know how competitive I could be.”
Sonnesyn, who is originally from Minnesota, was also the only American on the podium either day.
And like Hynčicova, she had taken a break mid-season from college racing to represent her country at U23 Championships earlier in the season, finishing 33rd in the 10 k freestyle. Before that, at U.S. National Championships, she was the top collegiate athlete in the women’s 20 k classic, finishing 14th.
“The best advice anyone ever gave me about racing was to have fun,” Sonnesyn wrote in her Under 23 Questions profile earlier this season.
Honorable Mention: Fabián Štoček, Dartmouth College
You can see Fabián Štoček in the photo of Bergström enjoying his 20 k win. The Dartmouth College senior is right there, on the right, in it ’til the end but 1.3 seconds off the podium.
Štoček landed fifth in that race, the top guy from the East, after finishing 12th in the 10 k classic. But his finishes at NCAA Championships didn’t tell the whole story of the season: Štoček thoroughly dominated the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association circuit, winning seven races and landing as the overall leader in both the classic and freestyle disciplines. His performance in the 20 k also helped Dartmouth to fourth place at NCAA’s, their best finish in five years.