MIDWAY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – For the third straight year, and fourth time in the last five years, the University of Utah skiing team wins the NCAA National Championship.
Utah junior Sophia Laukli put in a dominant performance Saturday to win the NCAA women’s Nordic 15-kilometer freestyle championship at Soldier Hollow, as the Utes won its 15th team national championship in program history.
The Utes took the crown by amassing 578 total points over the three-day competition, followed by Vermont in second place (511.5), Denver in third (436.5) and Colorado in fourth (435).
“It’s amazing, especially (being) here and winning it at home in front of the big crowds and everybody that’s up here cheering us on,” said Utah Director of Skiing Fredrik Landstedt. “It’s just an incredible feeling. Winning our third straight, it feels great. There’s always more pressure when you are trying to do it at home. But we were able to do it here and after some bad weather on Wednesday, it was really good in Park City and near perfect conditions here at Soldier Hollow as well.”
Novie McCabe —who captured the women’s 5k classic national title on Thursday—finished second in 37:09.5, following her teammate Laukli, who crossed the line in a winning time of 36:35.7. Sydney Palmer-Legar, who won both national championship races last year in leading Utah to the team title, contributed valuable points with an eighth-place finish in today’s race (38:53.8) to earn the fourth All-America award of her career.
It was Laukli’s first NCAA individual championship and gave her three first-team All-America honors for her career. She tied for second in Thursday’s 5K classical race behind McCabe. McCabe’s runner-up performance today raised her tally to four career first-team All-America honors.
“I knew that it was definitely possible on a good day, but I haven’t been racing (collegiately) a lot so I didn’t know what kind of shape that I was in,” Laukli said. “I knew it was going to be pretty fun to race with Novie (McCabe) and with Sydney (Palmer-Leger) and try to ski away from the pack. I felt really good. I had some really fast skis so that worked to my advantage and it ended up just playing out really well.”
Laukli credited the home-course fans for helping her through the grueling race.
“I was grateful that everyone was in the hardest places on the course because I definitely pushed a lot harder there. This is why I love racing in the U.S. and why I keep doing that. Just this whole vibe the entire uphill, it’s so motivating and so cool.”
Samuel Hendry placed second in the Men’s 20K Freestyle to earn his fourth career top-three finish in an NCAA Championships race. His performance, along with a 12th-place finish by graduate student Bjorn Riksaasen and 14th-place by Luke Jager, helped the Utes to a second-place team finish in the race, with 73.0 points, just behind team winner Vermont (78).
Hendry led the way for the Utes in the day’s opening race, the men’s 20K Freestyle, covering the course in 43:07.9, just seven seconds behind national champion Ben Ogden of Vermont. It was Hendry’s second consecutive runner-up finish in the NCAA Championships 20K Freestyle, and the fourth top-three NCAA finish of his career.
“I’m really happy with second, especially to such a strong guy like Ben (Ogden of Vermont),” Hendry said. “Ben is coming off a wonderful season going to the World Cup and the Olympics. He is definitely the biggest guy out there. Thursday we really struggled and probably had our worst day as a team in my time at Utah. So it was great to bounce back today and be in there. We knew that was not the norm, that was the exception. So it was easy to put it behind us.”
Utah Head Nordic Coach Miles Havlick said the way the women’s race played out was aligned with the way the team talked last night about the approach to the race.
“We were hoping they would stick together for the first couple of laps, and then start jockeying for position, and who wanted to take it,” Havlick said. “They obviously had a really high pace from the beginning. Sophia’s been waiting for that one. She’s been second several times at NCAAs, so a national championship is amazing for her. Novie was just a little bit off, behind her, but incredible day. They’ve just been pushing each other all year. Sydney has had some struggles with her legs a little bit, so they were kind of cramping out there with the heat and with the effort, but she pushed it all the way to the end and gave it everything she could.”
Today’s performances saw four Utes earn All-America honors (Hendry, Laukli, McCabe and Palmer-Leger), bringing Utah’s total for this year’s NCAA Championships meet to 14. With Laukli’s individual title today, paired with McCabe’s national title on Thursday, Utah has swept the women’s Nordic races in consecutive years. Palmer-Leger won both races at last year’s championships.
The team title is Coach Landstedt’s third championship at Utah (2019, ’21 and ’22) and fifth overall in collegiate skiing.
“It was a tougher season because we had people out for the Olympics and the World Cup circuit, and then we had skiers over in Norway for the World Junior Championships and the U23 World Championships,” Landstedt added. “So we had athletes all over the place and that made it tougher for us during the regular season even to sometimes put a team together for a meet. It’s also hard for the team dynamics when they are all over the place. But at the same time, everyone was super psyched because we had Olympians, people in the World Cups and people in Norway, and they were all skiing well and getting medals in Junior Worlds. Overall, it was a different year but a great year for sure. But I think this year showed off the quality of our program because we not only have the top collegiate program in the country, but we also have one of the top ski clubs all over the country. We have everyone working for the team and that seems to be something that we have been very successful at lately.”
This is the University of Utah’s 29th team national championship in school history, and fourth national title for Utah skiing in the past five completed NCAA Championships, dating back to 2017.