Athletics & Recreation / News

Pioneers ready for 2011 skiing campaign

DU's Leif Kristian Haugen should play a significant role in the Pioneers' pursuit of a fourth consectuve NCCA national championship.

“Our chances are better than ever.”

That’s the DU ski team’s head coach, Andy LeRoy, and his answer to the question: Can the Pioneers take home their fourth NCAA title in a row in 2011?

“Three straight is a wonderful feat for the recent era, and things look good for the coming season,” LeRoy says. The school record is seven straight from 1961–67.

Why the optimism? Plenty of reasons — so many even LeRoy has trouble naming the best one.

“It’s tough to pinpoint,” he says, with a light laugh. Then he spurts a laundry list: great weather for training, a new weight room, sports psychology, mountains in the backyard, a storied history of success and, of course, motivated and extraordinary student-athletes.

The lesson DU is learning, given those last two reasons, is this: success begets success. The snowball is gaining momentum rolling down Colorado’s mountains — a huge ski magnet — pulling in students from high points of North America and a few from Norway. 

“DU is now one of the top choices among elite skiers, it’s very attractive and it’s a place they [the student-athletes] want to be,” says DU’s Nordic skiing coach, Dave Stewart.

One of those top skiers is Leif Kristian Haugen, a junior international business major from Lommedalen, Norway, who competed in the 2010 Olympics for Norway. To him, it was DU or nothing.

“I didn’t think of any other teams,” Haugen says. “DU had just won the NCAAs and the business school had a stellar reputation, too. Plus, it’s a great location with some of the best skiing in the world.”

And yes, even Olympians get better at DU.

“DU has helped me. Both the Olympics and DU have amazing possibilities to develop your athletic abilities — both the mental and physical sides of yourself,” Haugen says.

Haugen, who won the individual national championship in giant slalom last year, adds that DU has been particularly helpful on the mental side with academics.

“I feel like everything is not skiing now. I’m just going to have fun and if I don’t end up being No. 1, I haven’t wasted my time,” Haugen says. “I can get a good job, and I have experienced a lot of fun and made a lot of friends.”

That’s something Stewart says he believes has added to the team’s success.

“The team aspect is new to them and it’s a motivational factor to perform well,” Stewart says. “There can be a lot of pressure skiing just for yourself, but with a team some of that pressure is relieved and performance goes up. It’s about fun, a lot of joy; it’s not a job.” 

Another standout swayed by DU’s prestige is Kate Dolan, a junior integrated sciences major from Bozeman, Mont., and captain of the women’s Nordic team.

“Past success [of a ski team] was definitely important to me when I was looking for schools,” says Dolan, who passed over schools in Vermont, New Hampshire and Utah for DU. “I wanted a place where I could improve and I knew DU had a great reputation. It was a good decision because I’ve improved a lot; it’s a great atmosphere.”

Dolan attributes DU’s success in skiing to four reasons: good coaches, support from the school, location and motivated athletes.

“Those all make for an all-around great environment for success,” she says.

Another advantage, Stewart says, is the diversity of students.

“It may be our most diverse team, some are older with more experience, some are younger, some have been trained differently with completely different backgrounds, but they all help each other and learn from each other,” he says.

Dolan agrees.

“I remember when I was a freshman, the older members took me under their wings,” she says. “They had so much experience. I’d watch them and mimic them. I couldn’t help but get better.”

DU skiing is prepping for the future, too. One the men’s side, watch for two freshmen, Trygve Markset and Markus Moe, both from Norway, and a sophomore, Andrew Dougherty of Alaska.

“They come with really strong backgrounds and should have an immediate impact,” Stewart says.

For the women’s Nordic side, Dolan and Mari Elden, a sophomore from Norway and all-American, are expected to make headlines.

“They’ve been strong and they continue to be productive,” Stewart says.

LeRoy says in alpine he believes Haugen and Lindsay Cone, a junior from Vermont for the women, “will have a huge impact this season.” Cone was the runner-up in both slalom and giant slalom events at the NCAA championships last year.

But the student-athletes are achieving off the snow, too. Coaches tout academic success: a 100 percent graduation rate and a cumulative GPA north of 3.5.

“They’re getting it done on the hill and in the classroom,” LeRoy says.

Despite all the success, both coaches warn there are teams that could give DU a run for the upcoming season: the University of Colorado, the University of Utah, the University of New Mexico and the University of Vermont.

“They are the usual suspects,” LeRoy says.

Still, the team is confident, especially the students.

“Like last year, we have just as good a chance to win,” Haugen says. “We have team members coming back from last year, good experience and we have coaches who know how to win.”

Dolan says she feels good for the coming season. “I’m not injured, I’ve had a lot of good practice and there’s really no good reason we shouldn’t have a good season.”

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