MIDWAY, Utah – The University of Utah won going away Saturday at the 69th Annual NCAA Skiing Championships, using an impressive performance in the freestyle Nordic events to win its third straight national title.
The championships concluded with the men’s 20K and women’s 15K mass start freestyle events at Soldier Hollow, a world class venue constructed for the 2002 Winter Olympics. After three days of competition, Utah led Vermont by 27.5 points.
With Utah outscoring Vermont in the Nordic classic races on Thursday 148.5-138.5—including 102.5 points from the Ute women—what remained to be seen on Saturday was if the Utes could produce a similar effort or if Vermont could flip the script.
In Saturday’s first race, Vermont’s Ben Ogden completed his sweep of the men’s Nordic titles by winning the 20K. His performance helped the Catamounts outscore Utah 78-73 and close the gap to 22.5 points. However, a one-two finish by Utah’s Sophia Laukli and Novie McCabe in the women’s 15K gave Utah 100 points to Vermont’s 56, carrying Utah to the NCAA title by a comfortable margin.
Utah finished with 578 points to Vermont’s 511.5. Denver was third with 436.5 points and Colorado came in fourth with 435. The rest of the field finished with under 300 points. It was Utah skiing’s 15th national title and 14th NCAA title.
Ogden won the 20K freestyle in 43:00.5. Samuel Hendry of Utah was the silver medalist, finishing in 43:07.9. The junior from Canmore, Alberta, Canada, placed second in the 10K freestyle in both 2020 and 2021.
JC Schoonmaker of Alaska Anchorage held off Bernhard Flaschberger of Denver for third place as they finished in 43.13.9 and 43:14.8, respectively. Peter Wolter of Middlebury was fifth in 43:15.8 to earn first team All-America honors.
Second team honors went to Joe Davies (Alaska Fairbanks), Kjetil Banerud (Northern Michigan), Espen Persen (Alaska Anchorage), Jacob Nystedt (Vermont) and Skylar Patten (Michigan Tech).
The men’s 20K freestyle race consisted of six laps around a 3.3 km course. With a mass start of 40 competitors, the top 30 racers stayed fairly close together with a lead pack of about a dozen forming for the first three laps. During the fourth lap, Ogden tried to forge ahead while going up the course’s biggest climb. However, Luke Jager of Utah and Andreas Kirkeng of Denver chased him down and a lead group of six formed from there.
On the last lap, Flaschberger mounted an effort climbing up the hollow area, but everyone in the lead group was able to hang with him. When they came around to the middle section of the course with two short climbs on Cabin’s Corner, Ogden made his second big move of the race and this time pulled away for good, building a seven-second lead. Schoonmaker put together another push toward Hendry, but the Ute held him off for second place by nearly six seconds.
The women’s 15K freestyle race was four laps around a 3.75 km layout that added a tough climb to the course used by the men. That made for very few flat areas.
Unlike the men’s race that remained tight throughout, Utah’s trio of Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe and Sydney Palmer-Leger pulled away at the first turn and quickly opened up a seven-second separation from the rest of the field. Palmer-Leger began to experience some cramping issues during the second lap, allowing Laukli and McCabe to pull away by 30 seconds.
Palmer-Leger maintained a 30-second lead for third place before her condition worsened in the third lap and she was overtaken by Jasmine Lyons of New Hampshire and Kendall Kramer from Alaska Fairbanks. Laukli had a 14-second lead over McCabe at the start of the final lap and won in 36:35.7. McCabe was the runner-up in 37:09.5.
Before the NCAA Championships, Laukli, a junior from Yarmouth, Maine, had been off since the Beijing Winter Games, where she placed 15th in the 30K freestyle for Team USA.
McCabe won the women’s 5K classic on Thursday, crushing the field by more than 13 seconds. The sophomore from Winthrop, Wash., also competed in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she was part of the U.S. cross-country 4 x 5km relay team that took sixth.
Third place went to Lyons (38:05.0) and Kramer (38:21.7) was fourth. Mariel Pulles of Alaska Fairbanks was fifth (38:41.4). Second team All-America honors went to Anna Bizyukova (Vermont), Hanna Abrahamsson (Colorado), Palmer-Leger, Astrid Stav (Alaska Anchorage) and Renae Anderson (Bowdoin)
Ben Ogden – Vermont (Men’s 20K Champion)
On winning his second title this weekend:
“Beautiful day and just a beautiful course. There’s nothing better. This is a dream come true. The sun, all my friends and a good race. I can’t ask for anything else.”
On knowing if he could pull away at the end:
“If you if watch closely, I tried to do it on the fourth lap. I couldn’t do it and I got chewed up and I thought that was game over. Luckily, I was able to hang on and get some good speed on that last line. I was lucky out there and it was a fun race.”
“I had the whole self-doubt going in my head that today isn’t my day and I was just fighting for third. But there were about 150 people on that back hill, and one was my best friend from growing up who was out there with a chain saw, making all kinds of noise and I got my second wind. And I was lucky to get over the finish line. It’s all about the noise and the loud cheers, and that was the deciding factor for me.”
On making his move to pull away in the last lap:
“I’m a good sprinter so I know I can take those boys over for a kilometer if I have some energy. So when my fourth lap move didn’t work, I figured I had to wait until the bitter end and make them hurt in the last minute and 30. It worked.”
Sophia Laukli – Utah (Women’s 15K Champion)
On if she felt like she could win entering the race:
“I knew that it was definitely possible on a good day, but I haven’t been racing a lot so I didn’t know what kind of shape that I was in. I knew it was going to be pretty fun to race with Novie (McCabe) and with Sydney (Palmer-Leger) and try to ski away from the pack. Sydney had some kind of injury during the race so she didn’t have her best day, but I was excited to race with Novie out front. I felt really good. I had some really fast skis so that worked to my advantage and it ended up just playing out really well.”
“When I was warming up I was like, oh no, this might be a long race. But, honestly, I tend to race better when I warm up and feel a little bit off. So I was hoping that was going to be the case today and it definitely did work. The course was great for me. A lot of gradual climbing and it was good.”
On the race strategy:
“I ended up leading a lot. There was a part where Novie started to lead and I noticed that my skis were a lot faster than hers so it didn’t make sense for her to lead. So I ended up ahead most of the time and I was able to get a little bit of a gap.”
“When I pulled away, I was not sure if it was going to be the right call. I was feeling good but it was a long race, so I was just hoping that I wasn’t going to blow up. I’m always nervous about breaking away too early so it wasn’t the most confident breakaway. It just gradually got bigger and luckily it was enough.”
On her thoughts at the finish line:
“I thought Novie was really close behind me so I was going to try to ski as fast as I could until the end, but then I saw them handing the flag to me, and so I thought I would take it and hoped it’s enough. But it was not until I came down the last downhill it really sank in because I tend to fall when I’m doing well and I was just praying that I would just stay on my feet. It was a great feeling.”
On racing in front of home fans:
“I was grateful that everyone was in the hardest places on the course because I definitely pushed a lot harder there. This is why I love racing the U.S. and why I keep doing that. Just this whole vibe the entire uphill, it’s so motivating and so cool.”
Fredrik Landstedt – Utah (Director of Skiing)
On winning a third-consecutive NCAA Championship:
“It’s amazing, especially here and winning it at home in front of the big crowds and everybody that’s up here cheering us on. It’s just an incredible feeling. Winning our third straight, it feels great. There’s always more pressure when you are trying to do it at home. But we were able to do it here and after some bad weather on Wednesday, it was really good in Park City and near perfect conditions here at Soldier Hollow as well.”
On how confident he was during the week:
“I felt good about our team but I get nervous for sure. Any time you ski alpine it swings so quick. You have one person ski out and it’s 30 points less. It can swing 60-70 points in just one race. You can never be sure. But it’s always tight.”
On the women’s 15K freestyle race:
“We knew that all three of them could be up there. It’s very tough competition between those three as well, so they really went out there and almost tried to beat up each other almost a little too much. But it turned out well. Sydney (Palmer-Leger) had a cramp the last two laps and was fighting super hard to get the position she had. And Sophia (Laukli) had an amazing day and really good skis. Novie (McCabe) is always up there and fighting really hard. So it was great to see them perform so well.”
On the men’s 20K freestyle race:
“Sam (Hendry) had an amazing race. We’ve been waiting for this but he hasn’t felt too good in his body the last few competitions. But today he was right on it, you could see it in him. He really wanted to go. On the last lap, he asked me how many he had to go, and I told him that was it and he had to go now. But he was really feeling good for sure. Then Luke (Jager) and Bjorn (Riksaasen) weren’t having their best days but they were really fighting hard and go the points they needed.”
On his team’s journey this season:
“It was a tougher season because we had people out for the Olympics and the World Cup circuit, and then we had skiers over in Norway for the World Junior Championships and the U23 World Championships. So we had athletes all over the place and that made it tougher for us during the regular season even to sometimes put a team together for a meet. It’s also hard for the team dynamics when they are all over the place. But at the same time, everyone was super psyched because we had Olympians, people in the World Cups and people in Norway, and they were all skiing well and getting medals in Junior Worlds. Overall, it was a different year but a great year for sure. But I think this year showed off the quality of our program because we not only have the top collegiate program in the country, but we also have one of the top ski clubs all over the country. We have everyone working for the team and that seems to be something that we have been very successful at lately.”