Steamboat skier nearly helps DU to national title before NCAA canceled championships
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The world will never know if the University of Denver would have won the 2020 NCAA ski championship, but man, did it come close.
Led by some extremely talented skiers, Denver came away with a second-place finish and three individual national titles from four completed events before the championships in Bozeman, Montana, were canceled due to COVID-19.
“I was pretty upset. I think most competitors were,” said DU junior and Steamboat Springs native Jett Seymour. “We like to finish everything we start and see it through. Having an unknown or an asterisk by that championship just doesn’t seem right, but we also understand that it’s what’s happening right now. … They probably made the right call to take preventative measures.”
While it was the right call, it’s left Denver coaches and athletes wondering what could have happened.
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“From a coach’s side, I’ve never seen such a strong team so well prepared with the conditions we had out there, along with our Nordic team,” said Alpine head coach Andy Leroy.
On the first day of competition, a pair of Pioneers walked away with giant slalom national titles. Senior Storm Klomhaus out of Boulder won the women’s competition, while junior Tobias Kogler of Austria was the victor on the men’s side. Narrowly missing the top 10 and All-American status, Seymour finished 12th in the giant slalom race. After one day, Denver was the No. 1 team in the standings.
The next day, Denver skier Eveliina Piippo won the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle race. However, the University of Utah had an excellent Nordic team, giving them the No. 1 spot in the team standings after day two.
Before the slalom and classic races, the NCAA decided to cancel the remainder of the championships. So, the Pioneers will forever sit in second with 261 points, while Utah is frozen in first with 293.
With such a strong slalom squad, Leroy was hesitant to say an event sweep would have been certain, but it was likely.
“I do wonder what that team would have looked like at that slalom championship because we were skiing so much better than everybody else,” he said. “We had so many strong athletes. It would have been interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever brought a team that was capable of sweeping both events.”
Seymour is the defending national champion in men’s slalom, picking up the only title for a Pioneer skier in 2019.
The 2020 slalom team was a different beast, though. At the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association West Regional Championships, the Denver women swept the podium in slalom. Amelia Smart was the victor, as teammates Klomhaus and Katie Hensien earned second and third, respectively.
On the men’s side, Kogler won, while Simon Fournier finished third. Seymour took 22nd but was still confident he could potentially repeat as national champion. Cole Puckett, another Steamboat athlete, earned eighth on the men’s slalom at the West Regional Championships. Complete domination gave Denver the West Regional victory ahead of nationals.
Of course, there really is no way of telling how things would have shook out if the national competition continued. The Utah Nordic team’s performance in the final classic race could have very well earned the school its second straight title. Then again, maybe Denver could have kept the streak of winning every other year since 2014.
“I am confident we would have been competitive,” Seymour said. “Stuff would have had to go right, so there’s no saying how we would have done. Most athletes are thankful we ended the season healthy even if it was an abrupt ending.”
Fortunately for him, Seymour has one more year to prove what he can do. For eight seniors, including Steamboat’s own Evan Barbier and Serina Kidd, 2020 was the year for one last team national title.
Still, the Denver ski team has a lot to be proud of, and Seymour hopes the seniors can take solace in that.
“Out of the four races that were held, DU was able to take home three national titles out of four,” Seymour said. “Those are the only four national titles that will be awarded in 2020.”
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