With the 2017/2018 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., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding college athletes in cross-country skiing.
Katharine Ogden, Dartmouth College
Katharine Ogden skiing fast doesn’t exactly surprise anyone. A medalist in both individual and relay events at last year’s World Junior Championships, the Stratton Mountain alum and U.S. Ski Team “D” team member won half of the women’s races on the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association schedule this season, including the final three individual races of the year.
But when the Dartmouth skier swept both races at NCAA Championships, first winning the 5 k classic by a stunning 46.9 seconds, then taking the 15 k skate by 38.4 seconds, that was something else.
“I was definitely a little stressed because I didn’t know if I could hold that pace or if they would catch up to me, and it’s usually kind of a sketchy strategy to be skiing by yourself, so I kind of knew that in the back of my mind too,” Ogden told The Dartmouth of her mid-race decision to make a move after the 5 k mark of the mass start, when it then turned out that nobody went with her.
The last time an American topped both women’s races at NCAA Championships was a decade ago, and though both 2007 titles were taken by a Lindsey, they weren’t the same one: Lindsey Williams and Lindsey Weir, both of Northern Michigan University.
It wasn’t since 1990 and 1991, when Laura Wilson of UVM swept NCAA’s, that the same American woman had won both races.
“Katharine absolutely wanted this one, and she really likes to win,” said Cami Thompson Graves, the Dartmouth Director of Skiing and women’s Nordic head coach, in a press release after Ogden’s second title. “She wasn’t about to let a fall slow her down, she has such a great competitive fire.”
Despite Dartmouth’s strong history of women’s skiing – alums Sophie Caldwell, Ida Sargent, Rosie Brennan, and Susan Dunklee competed in the 2018 Olympics alone, with many more alums at previous Games – Ogden was actually the first female Big Green cross-country skier to take an NCAA title.
“One day I would love to be one of the Dartmouth alums racing in the Olympics,” she said in a Dartmouth press release. “A lot of the reason I decided to come here for school had to do with growing up with Sophie Caldwell and seeing what a positive experience she had at Dartmouth.”
Ian Torchia, Northern Michigan University
Likewise, Ian Torchia has been a top junior athlete for the U.S. for some time now. By the time he went to NCAA Championships, he had already been to U23 World Championships, where his 27th- and 32nd-place finishes were the top American results in the 30 k skiathlon and 15 k classic, respectively.
Although he is enrolled at Northern Michigan University and trains there with the team, college racing was not his number one goal this season. Torchia won a 15 k skate NorAm in Sovereign Lake, British Columbia, early in the season in pursuit of those higher goals.
“My main goal for the season was to have a strong start to the season so I could qualify for U23s and the Olympics,” Torchia wrote in an email last week. “Competing in Yellowstone and Silver Star was a first for me, and coming into Nationals in the first spot on the Olympic qualifying list was exciting and nerve-wracking. Unfortunately, I had some sub-par racing at Nationals and missed the Olympics but qualified for U23s. I was definitely satisfied with the efforts I put in at U23s, but not with my execution and results. Finishing barely in the top 30 was not was I was hoping for but racing alongside guys who have gotten top-10’s on the World Cup was definitely motivating and gave me a real idea of where I need to be and what I need to do to get there.”
Coming back from Europe, he had to re-tool and had a solid training camp in Steamboat Springs before NCAA’s.
There, he finished fifth in the 10 k classic, the top American 46.2 seconds behind race winner Martin Bergström of Utah.
And in the 20 k skate mass start, he took his first NCAA title, holding off Alvar Alev of the University of Colorado by just two seconds, with Eivind Kvaale of Denver University another two seconds back.
“The first two laps of the race were very slow and it took patience to follow Coach Sten [Fjeldheim]’s plan of not leading,” Torchia wrote. “The Denver guys led it out on lap three and started gradually pushing the pace. On the final lap, people started throwing down and I was able to cover moves until 2.5 k to go when I gradually pulled the trigger. Alvar Alev from Colorado went on the final uphill and I was able to hang with him into the 2 k downhill. Coming into the final downhill he slingshotted by me but I was able to overtake him before the final turn and sprint faster than I’ve ever sprinted before for the win! I am not known as a sprinter on our team, so I was definitely nervous with a big group around me. But Sten has always told me that a sea level distance guy can outsprint an altitude sprinter, as training at lower elevation is beneficial to speed training.”
Torchia was the first American in three years to stand atop the NCAA podium; the last guy to do it was U.S. Ski Team teammate Patrick Caldwell in 2015. University of Alaska Anchorage’s Hailey Swirbul said that the international flavor of college racing is fantastic and helps her prepare for international competition and to be a better skier.
But to win NCAA’s as an American is still a perk.
“I definitely did not think about it before the race, but after it was pretty cool to think about the rarity of American winners,” Torchia wrote. “Fun to share it with my buddy Paddy Caldwell!”
Honorable Mention: Zane Fields, Colby College
And on the men’s side in the East, one of the biggest revelations was the Colby squad. Andrew Egger qualified for U23’s and finished 47th in the sprint there, the second American. (“To be honest, making the U-23 World Championship team wasn’t really on my radar when I decided to go to Alaska [for U.S. Nationals]… That said, my goal standing on the start line of the sprints was to win,” Egger told the Colby sports department.)
On the college circuit, though, it wasn’t Egger who was making Colby history. Zane Fields demolished carnival after carnival, sweeping all five skate races before also winning the final classic race of the eastern season. At NCAA’s, the Colby junior finished sixth in the 20 k skate.
It was the best season-long tally by any Colby skier ever, and that final race made him Colby’s first male All-American in cr0ss-country skiing.
“This season has been a dream,” Fields said in a Colby press release after the 20 k. “If you had told me two months ago that things would unfold the way they did, I wouldn’t have believed you. While the sport is an individual one, I have the greatest coaches and team supporting me through every race.”
As a team, the Colby men finished third in two races this season behind Fields, and had a number of fourth- and fifth-place finishes.
“This has been the most fun year of skiing I have ever had,” Fields said in the press release. “The season is one that certainly makes the 500-plus hours of training and sacrifices worth it. I’m excited to see what my team and I can accomplish next year.”
Honorable Mention: Alayna Sonnesyn, University of Vermont
Those half of the EISA carnival races that Katharine Ogden didn’t win? They went to UVM’s Alayna Sonnesyn, who dominated the first half of the season and won three skate races and two classic races.
Sonnesyn also had a stellar U.S. Nationals earlier in the season, finishing eighth in the skate sprint and sixth in the 20 k classic; all but one of the skiers ahead of her in that race (winner Hedda Baangman of Sweden) went to the Olympics.