In the campaign to save UAA’s alpine ski team from elimination, coach Sparky Anderson pounded a constant drumbeat: One team.
Cutting the alpine half of the program, as was proposed last year, would leave the Seawolves with an incomplete team, Anderson argued time and time again. Alpine skiers and nordic skiers train separately and compete on different days but together they are one big team, chasing the common dream of a national championship, he maintained.
The Seawolves survived the threat of elimination, and on Saturday they celebrated their “one team” dream by capturing the fourth-place trophy at the NCAA Championships in New Hampshire.
It’s UAA’s best team showing at the national championships, matching a fourth-place finish in 2009.
The Seawolves finished with a school-record nine All-America performances during the four-day competition, which included two alpine events and two cross-country events.
“This means everything to me. So much more than I can even express,” Anderson said by text. “... Our team, ONE TEAM, battled together and climbed into podium position. To be in the Final Four at the conclusion of the NCAA Championship is so huge. Of all the years to demonstrate why it’s so important to field a full team, four events, this trophy means a lot.”
A superb day on the cross-country trails at Jackson XC on Saturday allowed the Seawolves to vault from sixth place to fourth place on the final day of competition.
Freshmen Astrid Stav and Tuva Bygrave finished second and fourth in the women’s race, and Sigurd Roenning and Magnus Noroey placed fifth and seventh in the men’s race.
“It was a fantastic day for us and I am really proud of the team for coming through when it counted the most,” UAA cross-country coach Trond Flagstad said by email. “We knew it was tight for fourth overall and we also wanted to take second in the nordic standings, which we did.
“What really impressed me the most was that they skied strong under pressure. ... Last night we talked about how it would be really fun to get at least four more All-Americans today and then they go out there and do it — that’s great, and fun to watch.”
The top 10 of the women’s 15-kilometer freestyle race was packed with four Alaska skiers.
Stav, a freshman from Norway, was the national runner-up behind Utah’s Sydney Palmer Leger, who won both cross-country races to lead the Utes to the team championship. Palmer Leger won by 24 seconds.
Tuva Bygrave, another UAA freshman from Norway, finished fourth, nearly a minute off the winning pace of 38:31. It was the second top-10 finish of the week for both her and Stav.
UAF boasted All-Americans in fifth-place Mariel Pulles, who was three seconds behind Bygrave, and eighth-place Kendall Kramer, who clocked 40:04.
Anchorage skiers Adrianna Proffitt and Aubrey Leclair placed 19th and 28th for Montana State, and freshman Pascale Paradis scored points for UAA with a 28th-place finish.
In the men’s 20K freestyle, Roenning, a junior from Norway, finished fifth and Noroey, a sophomore from Norway, was seventh. Colorado’s Magnus Boee won in 48:02.4, more than 50 seconds ahead of Roenning.
Anchorage’s Zanden McMullen, who skis for Montana State, placed 11th, missing All-America status by one spot for the second time of the week. Anchorage skier Luke Jager, who was second in the classic race Thursday, was 19th Saturday for the University of Utah.
Eight of UAA’s nine All-America finishes came in cross country. Earlier in the week, Stav and Bygrave placed fourth and sixth in the women’s 5K classic and Espen Person and Noroey placed fourth and ninth in the men’s 10K classic.
In Friday’s slalom race, Rebecca Fiegl grabbed sixth place in the women’s race to give the alpine squad an All-American.
Utah won the national title with 554 points. Colorado was next with 522.5, followed by Denver with 442, UAA with 411 and Montana State with 383.5. Seventeen schools competed.
Among UAA’s points, 283 came from the nordic side and 128 came from the alpine side.
The alpine team was spared from elimination after a massive fundraising campaign reaped $628,000 in about four months. Senior alpine skier Michael Soetaert said Anderson did the bulk of the fundraising work so team members could focus on training and schoolwork. Contributions large and small came from hundreds of donors in Alaska and beyond.
Anderson said he worked on raising money “every waking minute.”
“I really want to thank all the people who helped us this year,” he said. “The skiing community in Anchorage, in Alaska, and around the world can celebrate today.”