A year after posting the team’s highest finish at the NCAA Championships since 1998, the UAA ski team hopes for an even better season this year.
Led by senior Zach Violett, the UAA Nordic team is one of the strongest in the country and complements an improved Alpine squad.
“We have a very close-knit team this year,” said Violett. “Everybody works together and pushes each other. We help each other out. We have five guys who could potentially qualify for NCAA’s and since we are only allowed to send three, so there is a lot of friendly competition within the team.”
Violett earned All-American honors in both of the races at NCAA’s last year finishing seventh in the 10-kilometer freestyle race and fourth in the 20-kilometer classic race.
“I am very happy with the way I skied last year, but I know there is a lot of room for improvement,” Violett said. “This year I want to win the classic race, and I want to finish in the top-three in the freestyle at nationals. I want to finish consistently in the top three and win at least once in the Western Region races.”
Violett says the team this year could be one of the strongest in UAA history. In addition to talented returning skiers, Violett gives credit to some strong newcomers.
“We have some new skiers with a lot of talent who will make things pretty interesting this year,” Violett said. “Ben Sonntag and Kjetil Dammen are big additions to our team. They are very strong skiers and bring a lot of talent.”
Sonntag, from Kuestelberg, Germany, transferred to UAA this year after skiing at the University of Utah last season. It was the first time in seven years that he had skied competitively.The 25-year-old is a talented bicycle racer and won the Winter Triathlon World Championships in 2003. He didn’t think cross country skiing was his calling.
“I had a goal of becoming a professional cyclist prior to going to Utah,” said Sonntag. “I had an accident in May of 2003 and had to stop training to recover. I began skiing with my brother last November and realized that skiing was really my strength.”
Sonntag hopes to improve his results from last year, and he says the UAA team can expect to have another strong season. Sonntag finished 20th and 21st for Utah at last year’s NCAA races.
“I think the UAA team can definitely improve on the sixth place (finish) from last year,” Sonntag said. “Our guys and girls teams look very strong now during the preseason. There is a lot of competition within the team and we always push each other in training. Personally, I hope that I have at least four top-10 finishes this year.”
For the Nordic women, junior Nicole DeYong finished 16th in the 15-kilometer classic race and earned All-American recognition in the 5-kilometer freestyle race by finishing ninth at the NCAA Championships last year. Deyong was pleased with her results from last year but hopes for a stronger showing this year.
“I want to finish in the top-10 more consistently this year,” said DeYong. “I hope to ski better at NCAA’s and earn All-American in both races.”
DeYong agrees with Violett and Sonntag and says the UAA team looks strong going into the season.
“We have our top three Nordic girls still here,” said DeYong. “The guys’ Nordic team looks strong as well, and we still have our top three Alpine men. We also have some strong freshman and transfer students that will help the team.”
Violett and DeYong say a change in coaching staff has helped inspire the team. Greg Cress resigned at the end of last season and assistants Trond Flagstad and Jeff Rust were promoted to as dual head coaches of the Nordic and Alpine teams respectively.
“We have two coaches at practice every day,” said Violett. “With two coaches, we get a lot more help with technique than we did last year. Trond and Eric (Strabel) are out there and they really care about the team.”
“It’s nice to have both coaches there everyday,” said DeYong. “We get a lot more one-on-one time to improve technique.”
The UAA Alpine team, led by junior Christian Ringvold and fellow Norwegian, Marius Elvrum, will return all four of its NCAA qualifiers.
Ringvold finished 15th in the slalom and 11th in the giant slalom last year at the NCAA Championships, while Elvrum finished 27th in the slalom. Elvrum finished the first of two runs of the giant slalom in fifth place but fell in the second run and failed to finish.
UAA’s first competition of the year will be the University of Alaska Fairbanks Invitational Dec. 4 and 5.
“We had a great year last year,” said Violett. “Sixth place at the NCAA Championships is nothing to complain about, but this year I know we have a team that is capable to doing better. This year, the skiers from the UAA ski team are going to turn some heads.”