After a significant amount of attention and turmoil that the UAA Ski Team has received in the past months due to prospective budget cuts, the skiers are just on the brink of their season with competition starting in less than a month.
“Our team’s attitudes and motivation definitely got amped up from the scare of being cut… It also made our team come together as a family, I feel a lot closer to everyone cause we all wanted to support each other,” alpine senior Miranda Sheely said.
As part of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, the Seawolves will compete from the months of January until March, side by side with the additional nine schools in the RMISA as well as other Division II teams.
With a quick glimpse into their season potential, the Seawolves competed in the Alaska Nordic Cup last month that resulted in a loss against University of Alaska, Fairbanks, but not without putting up a fight. The mixed relay teams, with two males and two females, competed in 4 by 4K relays, finishing only 4 minutes behind UAF in combined total times.
With the Nordic Cup looking at the prospective season for the Seawolves, a lot of potential has already been sparked. With the unfortunate departure of now graduated 2016 All-American Sean Alexander and All-RMISA Mackenzie Kanady, UAA prepared for the 2017 season by adding three new freshmen on the men’s side and six new freshmen on the women’s side — a considerable amount to the team with a total 23 skiers. Incomers also boast an impressive worldly presence, traveling to UAA anywhere from Sweden to Italy, and even close to home from Canada.
The total of nine newcomers adds only two to the alpine side, while the remaining six participate on the Nordic side.
Even though the Nordic and alpine teams are split, they are still able to communicate and witness some progress of one another just like alpine junior Martins Onskulis noticed.
“Nordic side has a lot of new faces this year, I can’t tell much how it’s going to affect them, but in a long run they have potential with such a young skiers,” Onskulis said.
In addition, even with the total rejuvenation of the younger side of the team, there is still a large number of seasoned skiers.
“We are actually split about half and half upper-class men and lower class men, so it’s nice cause the younger guys have a lot of us to look up to and learn the ropes from,” Sheely said.
In addition, a remaining 2016 All-RMISA competitor returns, alpine sophomore Maria Gudmundsdottir. Last season, Gudmundsdottir ended runner-up at the RMISA Championships in the slalom and even made a debut at the NCAA championships as a freshman, helping the women’s team to a ninth place finish.
As for training and preparation, the UAA team already falls short with an inadvertent disadvantage.
“The only difference is that everything comes down to that if we have snow or not. Compared to other ski teams in the lower 48, they have already spent [many] more days on snow than we, so they already have [an] advantage of that,” Onskulis said.
With a sport so dependent on weather, a person would think that Alaska would be the ideal location for competitive skiers to train and prepare, but unfortunately the UAA Ski Team has suffered in the past couple years due to unnaturally warm winters.
Regardless of what happens in Alaska, the Seawolves have their first official meets on Jan. 7, 2017: the giant slalom in Big Sky, Montana for alpine skiing and 10 and 15K freestyle in Soldier Hallow, Utah for Nordic skiing.