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Two juniors, one from Montana State University (MSU) and the other from the host team, the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU), claimed the ultimate collegiate titles on Thursday at 2016 NCAA Skiing Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
It was the first of two days of nordic racing at Howelsen Hill, and Anika Miller (MSU) and Mads Strøm (CU) emerged as the individual winners in the 5- and 10-kilometer freestyle races, respectively.
Miller led four Bobcats in the top 10, winning the women’s 5 k freestyle individual start in 13:06.1. Her teammate, Cambria McDermott, placed fourth, 9.4 seconds back.
“When I finished, I had no idea how I’d done actually until my teammates jumped on me and were screaming,” Miller told NCAA.com. “I had no idea. I just started crying.”
A native of McCall, Idaho, Miller bested second-place finisher Petra Hyncicova (CU) by 7.9 seconds for the win, becoming the first MSU skier to win an individual title since 1978, when Dan Brelsford (now the director of skiing) won the slalom race, according to an MSU press release. She is also the first female skier to win an individual title for MSU.
Just one-tenth of a second behind Hyncicova, Sloan Storey (University of Utah) reached the final step of the podium in third.
An NCAA champion in 2014, Strøm achieved his second freestyle title in the men’s 10 k freestyle on Thursday in 22:06.8. His time proved to be 10.6 seconds faster than runner-up Ian Torchia of Northern Michigan University (NMU). Denver University’s Moritz Madlener placed third (+19.8).
For Strøm, the win was his fifth in a row and seventh total this season, according to a CU press release.
“It feels awesome, it feels amazing,” the 24-year-old Norwegian told CUBuffs.com. “For ten months this has been my goal and to accomplish my goal is amazing. I was so nervous. I knew there was going to be a mass crowd out. I just had to find good skis, good pacing, and push it as hard as possible. It was definitely the best win of the year. Pulling it off when it matters the most is great.”
Strøm explained he had to “push it all the way to the end,” so hard that he was physically ill across the line.
“I was so tired in the end,” he added. “As soon as I crossed the finish line, I had to lie down.”
With his seventh win, Strøm is the winningest male nordic skier in CU history. He exceeded the amount of wins of Per Kare Jakobsen (who won six races in 1989) and Ove Erik Tronvoll (six in 1999). It was also the 89th individual win by a Buff, the most of any school in NCAA history, the CU release stated.
For women’s runner-up Hyncicova, a 21-year-old sophomore from the Czech Republic, second stood as her best result of the season and matched her career best.
“It was so hard, but it was really nice in the end. I didn’t hope for getting second, so it’s really nice,” Hyncicova told CUBuffs.com. “I really didn’t have any idea what I was hoping for. In each race you want to win, but I didn’t expect that I would win here because I was always around fifth [place] this season. I went to Romania a couple of weeks ago [for U23 World Championships], so I was really tired and didn’t feel that great.
“I was really nervous before the start,” she added. “But once I saw everyone here — the alpine’s and everyone who cheered for us — I was like, ‘Yes I have to do it. I have to do it for the team.’ ”
“I feel somewhat relieved but happy,” CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. “Compared to racing, coaching is way more stressful. You are worried about everyone and getting the right wax. I am still trying to calm down. I get so fired up.
“Mads did great,” Cranmer added. “The guy that got second [Torchia] is one of the top U.S. [skiers] that went to World Juniors. [Mads] was on really good form before he got here, so I had high expectations without trying to get too caught up.
“As for Petra, we were hoping for a top five finish. That is we thought she was capable of. … For her to finish in second is awesome. … She does really well in skating.”
Late last month, Torchia led the U.S. junior men in Romania with his top individual result of the week in 15th in the 15 k freestyle. It was his second-best at Junior Worlds since placing 11th last year in the 20 k skiathlon.
Following Torchia in second, Northern Michigan had three in the top 10 with Adam Martin in fourth (+28.4) and Jake Brown in ninth (+56.1).
“We knew that if we had a good day, all three of those guys were capable of winning and we just didn’t know which one,” said NMU Head Coach Sten Fjeldheim told NCAA.com. “We weren’t shocked or surprised that they’re all in the top 10, but you never know at altitude.”
The base elevation of Steamboat Springs’ Howelsen Hill is about 6,700 feet.
Through four events (two cross-country and two alpine) at 2016 NCAA Championships, Montana State leads the team standings with 282 points and Utah is second with 264. Denver is a close third, with 263 points after two days of racing. With a win and second-place finish on Thursday, CU moved into fourth in the standings, with 214.5 points.
MSU’s previous team best was seventh, which it achieved last year with 259 points. The University has already exceeded that total at the halfway point of the championships. Racing wraps up Saturday with 15/20 k classic mass starts.
“The momentum definitely helps our mindset, but the bottom line is we’ve got to go out and race the same way that we race everyday. That’s the way to succeed,” MSU Head Coach Matthew Johnson told NCAA.com. “Trying to mix it up and change it for the championship isn’t going to go well. Coming in with too much excitement isn’t going to go well, but skiing like we’re in the lead and skiing like we’re champions is going to do well for us.”
Top 10 men:
- Mads Strøm (CU) 22:06.8
- Ian Torchia (NMU) +10.6
- Moritz Madlener (DU) +19.8
- Adam Martin (NMU) +28.4
- Sawyer Kesselheim (MSU) +28.6
- Petter Reistad (CU) +35.1
- Nick Hendrickson (DU) +40.6
- Lars Hannah (DU) +50.1
- Jake Brown (NMU) +56.1
- Jack Hegman (UVM) +56.9
Top 10 women:
- Anika Miller (MSU) 13:06.1
- Petra Hyncicova (CU) +7.9
- Sloan Storey (Utah) +8.0
- Cambria McDermott (MSU) +9.4
- Emilie Cedervaern (UNM) +12.8
- Natalia Mueller (Utah) +13.1
- Taeler McCrerey (DU) +13.4
- Linn Eriksen (DU) +13.6
- Ane Johnsen (CU) +14.7
- Mary Kate Cirelli (UVM) +17.5