UW Men's, Women's Nordic Ski Teams Repeat as National Champions
Last Friday, the University of Wyoming men's Nordic Ski club team wrapped up its second consecutive Division II United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSSA) National Championship.
The UW women were just hoping to win the final team relay event of the competition. The Cowgirls got more than they ever expected -- a second straight national title as well.
And they needed everything to go right for them on the final day of competition last Saturday at Black Mountain near Rumford, Maine, for the team to win its fifth USCSSA national title since 2003. The UW Cowboys have now won three championships during that same time frame.
The UW women were sitting in third place in the overall standings heading into Saturday's final 15km team relay, trailing leader St. Olaf College (Northfield, Minn.) by 14 points and runner-up Whitman College (Walla Walla, Wash.) by eight points. The best the team had hoped for was to at least catch Whitman College and settle for national runners-up.
"To tell you the truth, the women only were thinking about winning the relay race. There was no way we thought we'd ever catch St. Olaf," Coach Christi Boggs says. In order to surpass the Minnesota school, the Cowgirls would have to win the relay race and hope that St. Olaf finished fourth or lower in the standings, with three teams total surpassing them in the final race.
"Last year, our women won the national title and finished second in the relay. This year, knowing that we were out of the title chase, all they wanted to do on the final day was to win the relay race," Boggs says. "It kind of gave them the motivation to do it. And they just went out and skied their hearts out."
Jackson's Gracey Lewis, who was battling an injury for much of the week, went out and gave the Cowgirls an insurmountable 45-second lead on the opening leg. Next, Marie Cartwright of Lander added five more seconds.
St. Olaf loaded its relay team with its two final skiers who ended up as the two overall individual points leaders at the national competition Even though the remaining competitors managed to chop into final skier Gwynn Barrows' (Laramie) time, it wasn't enough, with the Cowgirls getting a 15-second win over runner-up Whitman College.
"At that point, we were just so excited that we won the relay. We had no idea that St. Olaf finished fourth," Boggs says. It wasn't until later that they found out the final results and that UW had slipped in as national champions by just a single point ahead of Whitman College.
The Cowgirls tallied a week-long low 64 points, Whitman 65, St. Olaf fell to third overall with 78 and Clarkson University (Potsdam, N.Y.) was fourth with 164 points.
"For a team that just wanted to win the relay, wow. They surpassed our expectations. They really, really showed a lot of heart," Boggs says about the women's team.
It was foregone conclusion for the UW men that they would repeat as national champions, but it was a little tense. Sickness ran rampant among the Cowboys' relay team members, but they gutted it out on the final day to place second to Western State College of Gunnison, Colo. On the UW men's relay team were John Kirlin of Casper, Daniel Lewis of Jackson and Evgeniy Panzhinskiy from Khabaravsk, Russia.
By winning half the men's events during the week, the Cowboys dominated the field with 59 overall points, while St. Olaf had 88 and Clarkson 105.
"The men have either been injured or sick all year. During the week they managed to stay healthy for the individual races, but it finally caught up with them on the final day," Boggs says. "The same thing could have happened to us like the St. Olaf women, going from first to fourth in the overall standings, but our guys would not let that happen. They just skied very well."
Panzhinskiy tied for first in the overall individual points standings, while Eliah Pedersen of Lander was fifth, Lewis seventh and Kirlin ninth. UW was the only team to put four individuals in the overall top 10. The UW Cowgirls were the only club to have three individuals in the top 10 -- Lewis tied for second, Barrows sixth and Cartwright placed seventh overall.
All earned All-American honors.
"All year we had a bulls-eye on our backs and everyone was gunning after us," Boggs says. "We thought the men could repeat as national champions because we had so many guys back. But, for the women, we lost our best skier through graduation, and we weren't quite sure we had enough to win it."
Boggs adds that last season everything came so easy for both the men's and women's teams when they dominated at each competition.
"But this year everything was a struggle for us," she adds. "They just skied way beyond our expectations this season."
Six UW team members earned Academic All-American honors: Willie Via of Fairbanks, Alaska; Michael Fitzgerald from Laramie; Adam Karges, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cara Noseworthy, Medford, N.J.; Panzhinskiy; and Cartwright.
University of Wyoming women's Nordic ski team members, from left, Marie Cartwright, Lander; Gwynn Barrows, Laramie; and Gracey Lewis, Jackson, were on the winning 15km relay team that produced a national title for the Cowgirls.