Early ‘Ski-wolves’ training leads to top 15 finishes

To kick off the new year and new season the UAA alpine and Nordic ski teams competed in an abundance of meets the week prior to school starting back up for the spring semester. After a nerve-wrecking pre-season that put the entire sport on edge, the team was saved by the NCAA with enough time to let them fully prepare for their first meet.

Even with the disadvantage of not have adequate snow often in Alaska recently, alpine junior Charley Field didn’t feel underprepared.

“We started our training early in Colorado in November and then got some amazing training at Alyeska to end the year off. The coaches have done an excellent job setting up good training spaces for us to be able to have the training we need,” Field said.

Splitting off to their designated meets on the weekend of Jan. 7-8, alpine headed to the slopes in Big Sky, Montana while Nordic took to the trails in Midway, Utah. To continue the trip the teams switched locations, Nordic competed in Bozeman, Montana while Alpine participated in meets in Huntsville, Utah.

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Hailey Swirbul in 10K freestyle at the Montana State Invitational. Swirbul placed seventh in her first ever collegiate race. Photo credit: UAA Athletics

To start the season off impressively, Nordic placed six athletes in the top 15 of the meet. This placed them at an initial sixth place standing for the first day of competition that secured the overall score heading into day two.

Helping start this impressive lead was standout freshman Hailey Swirbul, who placed seventh in her first-ever college race, the 10K freestyle, with a time of 28 minutes, 58.4 seconds. Other impressive performances included sophomore Toomas Kollo and junior Casey Wright.

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Kollo finished 16th in the 10K freestyle with a time of 30 minutes, 28.3 seconds, he also finished the 2015-16 season off at 18th in the NCAA Championships in the same event. While Wright took a solid 10th place in the 15K freestyle at 38 minutes, 23.3 seconds.

It wasn’t until day two of the Utah Invitational that the Nordic team really thrived. The sprint races proved to be the strength of these athletes, putting one female and three males in the top 15. Again, Swirbul placed 12th (3:46) and Wright at fourth (3:36). In addition, freshman Zackarias Toresson finished fifth (3:46) and Kollo right behind in 11th (3:52).

After several things began wrapping up, individual scores were being finalized. “We have had some outstanding [individual] results so far and we will continue to strive for better going into the races hosted in Alaska,” Field said.

While Nordic was wrapping up, things were just heating up in day one of the Montana State Invite for Alpine. Due to several standouts, sub-15th place performances, the Alpine team managed to secure an overall standing of seventh.

Main contributors on day one were junior Field and freshman Dominic Unterberger. Field lead the pack with a 7th place finish with a two-run time of 2 minutes, 17 seconds, while Unterberger placed 12th in the men’s race at 2 minutes, 12 seconds.

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Alix Wells hitting the slopes at the Utah Invitational. Wells finished 14th in the women's slalom. Photo credit: Kelly Gorham

Day two of the Montana State Invite only resulted in one athlete in the top 15, with a total of four in the top 30. Sophomore Alix Wells was the standout of day two in the women’s slalom finishing 14th (1:41). In the men’s slalom, senior Hughston Norton placed 18th (1:46), sophomore Tony Naicuk placed 24th (1:49) and junior Conor McDonald placed 28th (1:51).

As individuals thrived, the team as a whole didn’t necessarily excel to their potential, as Norton noticed.

“Our first meet didn’t go as we all wanted but we were skiing well and just need to be able to put two runs together. As a team we all need to get into race mode and start charging down the hill,” Norton said.

As the week progressed, the alpine and Nordic teams switched states in order to compete in the previous weekend’s meets.

Alpine kicked off the weekend on Friday, Jan. 14 as they began at the Utah Invitational. Starting slightly less successful than the previous weekend, the team only saw one top 10 finish and two additional top 20 finishes.

Regardless, the individuals that did excel surpassed any previous achievements.

“We worked extremely hard in the gym all fall and have seen it pay off in the races that we have had so far this season; [The] majority of our team has posted some of our best results to date,” Wells said.

On the women’s side, Field secured seventh place in the giant slalom with a two-run time of 2 minutes, 29.42 seconds. On the men’s side, Unterberger (2:20.36) and Naciuk (2:20.42) finished 16th and 17th, respectively.

To finish of the Utah Invite, on Saturday, Jan. 14, Naciuk (1:48.42) finished successfully again with a 6th place finish, Norton (1:49.30) in 11th and Curtis McKillop (1:49.99) in 16th. Additionally, Wells (1:55.25) and Field (2:03.13) were able to place on the women’s side.

Finishing off the Utah and Montana State Invitationals only marks the beginning of the Seawolves skiing season. They will continue with giant slalom on Jan. 25 and 26, and slalom on Jan. 27 and 28 with the UAA and Seawolf Invitational in Girdwood, Alaska.