Novie McCabe Becomes Three-Time NCAA Champ, Remi Drolet Makes Harvard History

Ben TheyerlMarch 12, 2023

The second half of this year’s NCAA Championships took place Saturday in Lake Placid, New York, with a 20 k mass start classic which both the women’s and men’s field would race in true, dynamic, mass start style. Packs came, moves went and, in the end, one skier would come out the strongest on the day in both the women’s and men’s races.

Novie McCabe controlled the pack for much of Saturday’s 20 k mass start. McCabe became just the fifth three-time NCAA Women’s Champion with her win. (Photo: (c) 2023 Nancie Battaglia)

Thursday’s results left open the possibility for plenty of history to be made. After dominant performances in Thursday’s 10 k/5 k skate race, Novie McCabe and Joe Davies opened the possibility to complete a “sweep” at this year’s Championship, winning both Skate and Classic races. Davies could have become only the second North American male to do so, after Ben Ogden completed the feat last year, and also the first British skier (Davies is half-Canadian, half-British, and competes for Team Great Britain). Novie McCabe, meanwhile, came into Saturday as the defending Classic champion, with a chance—after Thursday’s win—to become the fifth women to win at least three NCAA Championships, joining Laura Wilson (4), Katerina Hanusnova (4), and Antje Maempel (4), and Katharine Ogden (3).

And while there was the possibility of history being made by individuals, the entire women’s field was bound to make history by starting on the day. In a first move towards equal distance racing, the NCAA Championship mass start was a 20 k for both the men’s and women’s field.

The team standings also added intrigue around some historical implications. The University of Utah (UU) and University of Colorado (CU) went into the final Nordic day of NCAA competition separated by just a 1.5 points, 358 for UU, and 356 for CU, at the top of the team standings. With Alpine skiers having completed their part of the combined scoring competition, it would come down to the Nordies out at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. UU had the chance to complete the first 4-peat in modern NCAA history (since ski jumping was dropped in 1977), and Colorado had a chance for its first NCAA Championship since 2015, the last time the Championship was held in Lake Placid.

Temperatures hovered right below the freezing mark on an overcast day in the Adirondacks, as the best collegiate skiers from the country looked to end the season in mass start, pack-style, fashion.

Women’s 20 k Classic Mass Start

The extra 5 k to the Women’s Mass Start this year only extended the tension. As the women’s field started to split mid-way through the race on Saturday, a trio of University of Utah skiers—all of them already NCAA Champions—started to push from the front. Novie McCabe, Sophia Laukli, and Sydney Palmer-Leger were joined by University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ (UAF) Mariel Pulles, and University of Colorado’s (CU) Hanna Abrahamsson. The five skiers traded some leads and pulls, but throughout the race, one skier appeared to control pack surges just a little more than the others, seeming to have an idea of when and where she wanted to make a move. 

Novie McCabe controlled a pack that also contained her teammates Sophia Laukli and Sydney Palmer-Leger. The UU girls finished first, third, and fifth, propelling the Utes to their fourth consecutive NCAA Championship. (Photo: (c) Nancie Battaglia).

That was McCabe, and when the group started to wind around the Lake Placid course one last time, she decided to go. By the end of the lap, she was on her own. McCbe went on to complete her sweep, winning her third NCAA Championship. Her teammates Sophia and Palmer-Leger came through in third and fifth, with Abrahamsson in second and Pulles in fourth splitting the UU girls results. First, third, and fifth though, was enough to all but guarantee that the University of Utah Utes would make history by winning their fourth consecutive NCAA Championship. The trio of McCabe, Laukli, and Palmer-Leger scored the highest team score in an event of the entire NCAA Championships.

In post-race comments to FasterSkier, McCabe wrote that, “I am really excited that we managed to pull off the team win! The Alpiners had some crazy good performances which really helped us out and it was cool to be able to keep that lead today. My time at Utah has been really amazing and I feel so lucky to be part of the team, so being able to contribute to the win was a really great feeling!”

The University of Utah Utes became the first team in modern NCAA Championships history to win four consecutive titles, with their Nordic team leading the way. (Photo: (c) 2023 Nancie Battaglia)

UU Head Coach Miles Havlick wrote to FasterSkier about what distinguished this latest UU Championship: “This year was very much a team effort,” Havlick wrote. “Everyone both on the Alpine side and Nordic understood that their jobs were to score as many points as they could for the team, and it was very evident today. Both in the women’s race and men’s, each of our skiers left every ounce of energy out on the trails and I am super proud of that.”

Havlick also highlighted McCabe’s place not just in this year’s Championship, but in that whole string of Team Championships: “She was definitely on form this week,” he said. “And she will certainly go down as one of the best Ute skiers of all time.” Havlick recognized that the Utes dominance has been part of a feedback loop of determined skiers begetting more determination for each other, “Any one of them, Novie, Sophia, and Sydney, have the ability to take both titles. It has benefitted each of them to have the competition of each other in training day-in and day-out.”

For McCabe, there’s more ahead too, with Havlick being the first to say that after her NCAA sweep, “it will be fun to see how she stacks up she heads back over to Europe for the final World Cups of the season.”

Men’s 20 k Classic Mass Start

John Steel Hagenbuch has made the tough new course at Lake Placid a kind of home field this season. In January, he won the 30 k freestyle mass start at the World University Games, and was the bronze medalist in that Games’ pursuit as well. He swept this year’s St. Lawrence Carnival, and was runner-up in Thursday’s NCAA Championship race. Neon headband wrapped around his Big Green suit, the Dartmouth Junior was ready to light out for a win from the lead pack of three skiers that had formed mid-way through Saturday’s race.

The men’s lead pack embraces after a 20 k pitched battle: (L-R) John Steel Hagenbuch (Dartmouth), Jacob Nystedt (UVM), and winner Remi Drolet (Harvard). (Photo: (c) 2023 Nancie Battaglia)

For a little bit, it seemed Hagenbuch had left it all behind. University of Vermont’s Jacob Nystedt was dropped. Harvard’s Remi Drolet though, was just out of the picture. Then, as the finish came into focus, so did Drolet. The Canadian National Team member steadily, and then suddenly, passed Hagenbuch; a final battle concluded before they hit the finishing straight. Remi Drolet crossed the finish line to win his first NCAA Championship, and the first for the Harvard Crimson Nordic Ski Team in its history.

“I tried to be aggressive throughout the race, and us top three eastern guys. [Hagenbuch and Nystedt] were able to pull away from the pack by pushing the uphill fairly hard every lap” wrote Remi Drolet in post-race comments to Fasterskier. “Apart from [the tactics], I think I just really wanted it. I wasn’t sure I had it in me going into the race, but I was able to dig really deep.”

Harvard Head Coach Chris City wrote to FasterSkier that there was an underlying confidence heading into today that helped boost Drolet and the Harvard team,:“[Remi] is such a strong classic skier and it’s a course that really asks a lot in terms of striding. His seventh place [Thursday]—a first All-American for our program—gave us a feeling that Remi was in a good place to compete in a classic.” Pre-race confidence translated to, “one of the most exciting collegiate races I’ve seen,” added City.

Remi Drolet became the first Harvard NCAA Champion in program history with his win in the 20 k classic Saturday. (Photo: (c) 2023 Nancie Battaglia)

Excitement during the race crescendoed afterward, as both coach and athlete recognized that the result of one race extended far beyond the finish line, “It feels really nice to know that I wrote this down as a goal with [the Harvard team] at the beginning of the season, and that we were able to come together to make an NCAA title happen wrote Drolet. “I’m so proud of him and of his teammates,” Coach City wrote, “and of the many other Harvard skiers who helped build the program to where we reached today.”

Collegiate Skiing Comes to a Close, with more to come

College skiing is a circuit uniquely attuned to constant transition; so, as the banners and barriers come down in Lake Placid, coaches and athletes are looking back, and beginning to look ahead.

For many programs, they will be looking not just at historic firsts at the top of the results, but the ranks of the All-American finishes that marked an individual achievement, powered by a whole program’s efforts. To be designated an All-American, skiers place in the top ten of an event.

NCAAs leave Lake Placid with many programs having achieved milestones. Harvard saw its first NCAA All-American and Champion with Remi Drolet, while University of Alaska-Fairbanks saw seven All-American finishes over two days of racing. (Photo: (c) 2023 Nancie Battaglia)

Remi Drolet’s history-making finishes for Harvard—a first All-American for the Crimson on Thursday, and a first NCAA Championship for the Crimson Saturday—is a stark and impressive example. Dartmouth College, the University of Colorado, and the University of Utah all showed impressive signs of sustained top performance, with four All-Americans between the Women’s and Men’s race on Saturday.

That was nearly matched by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF), which had three All-Americans today, and a total of seven in this Championships. For the Nanooks, that is a sign of something special growing. “We come away from these championships both proud of what we accomplished, and also hungry for more” wrote UAF Assistant Coach Benjamin Buck to FasterSkier. “We came closer to winning the overall nordic competition than I think anyone expected.”

After all the scores are tallied, honors awarded, and results sheets posted, the athletes and coaches leaving Lake Placid are looking at one aspect of the College circuit that doesn’t seem to change, even as the participants constantly do. Take it from this year’s winner, Novie McCabe: “The college ski community is just so great and everyone is supportive of each other,” she said. “It’s really just such a lovely group of people. Yes, winning was a goal of mine, but mainly, I’m just happy I got to experience racing in this insane atmosphere!”

Full Women’s 20 k Classic Mass Start RESULTS

Full Men’s 20 k Classic Mass Start RESULTS

Women’s 20 k classic mass start NCAA podium, 1st) Novie McCabe (UU), 2nd) Hanna Abrahamsson (CU), and 3rd) Sophia Laukli (UU). (Photo: (c) 2023 Nancie Battaglia)

Ben Theyerl

Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.

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