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UAA Takes Alaska Nordic Cup Over UAF

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves hold the trophy for the Alaska Nordic Cup at Kincaid Park on Sunday afternoon. (Photo: Andrew Kastning)

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The cup is coming back to Anchorage.

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves (UAA) used two days of balanced performances to top the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (UAF) in the 14th annual Alaska Nordic Cup, an early season contest between Alaska’s two NCAA ski teams. UAA now regains possession of the Alaska Nordic Cup — literally an historic ski that bears scant resemblance to a drinking vessel — for the next year.

The weekend’s racing began on a sunny Saturday morning at Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass, a stunning setting at 3,500′ in the Talkeetna Mountains roughly 60 miles outside of Anchorage. The women raced a 7.5-kilometer classic individual start, covering several short loops wending between the historic mine buildings. The men raced a 10 k classic individual start on the same course.

UAA women dominated the classic race, taking the first five places in a race with 12 collegiate women. First was Hailey Swirbul in 22:45.5, followed by Casey Wright (+41.9) in second and Marte Håkenstad-Bråten (+1:23.6) in third. Hannah Rudd (4th, +1:41) and Sadie Fox (5th, +2:00) also crossed the line before the first UAF skier.

UAF was led by Ann-Cathrin Uhl (+2:09) in sixth, Kati Roivas (+2:13) in seventh, and Anna Darnell (+3:12) in 10th.

Things were much closer in the men’s race, though UAA took the narrow cumulative victory there (based on each team’s top-three skiers) as well.

First on the day was UAA skier Toomas Kollo in 29:03.0. Second overall was Alaska Pacific University (APU) skier Tyler Kornfield (+4.2), whose time did not count toward the total for either NCAA school. (Although the APU ski team is closely affiliated with Alaska Pacific University, the ski team is not affiliated with the NCAA.)

Third through seventh place all finished within 30 seconds of each other: UAF skier Jan Cech in third (+16.5), UAA skier Zacharias Toresson in fourth (+29.3), UAF’s Seiji Takagi in fifth (+38.0), UAA’s Marcus Deuling in sixth (+45.3), and UAF’s Alex Eckert in seventh (+46.9).

A total of 15 women and 19 men raced on Saturday.

Team scores were based on the cumulative time of the top three skiers per gender. Following the classic races UAA had an edge of roughly six minutes over UAF based on combined time. The lion’s share of the advantage came from the women’s race (70:22.0 combined time for UAA women to 75:51.9 for UAF), with an additional 27 seconds coming from the men (88:23.6 to 88:50.4).

Racing continued at Kincaid Park in Anchorage on Sunday morning, under a light but steady snowfall and temperatures hovering around 16° F. Sunday brought a 4 x 5 k skate mixed-gender relay race. It also brought more of the same on the results sheet, with UAA skiing to a slight advantage over UAF in each of its two lead relay teams. The main difference this time was that APU showed up to set the pace.

The fastest relay team on the day was APU 1, which saw Becca Rorabaugh, Rosie Frankowski, and brothers Reese and Logan Hanneman cover roughly 20 k in 61:41.2. The Fairbanks area was not devoid of standout performances on the day; everyone on the winning relay team, save Frankowski, hails from the Golden Heart City. (Frankowski is from Minneapolis, and skied for Northern Michigan University before coming to APU.)

Roughly three minutes behind Logan Hanneman and APU 1, APU 3 (Lydia Blanchet, Taryn Hunt-Smith, Forrest Mahlen, Dawson Knopp) edged out UAA 1 (Håkenstad-Bråten, Swirbul, Tracen Knopp, Kollo) for second overall, finishing 2:59 back to 3:02 for UAA. APU 3 was aided by a Thanksgiving-week loan from the Dartmouth Ski Team, as Anchorage natives Blanchet and Hunt-Smith returned home from Hanover in time to race on Sunday.

UAF 1 (+3:18) was the next scoring college team in fourth, followed by UAA 2 (+4:40) in sixth and UAF 2 (+4:47) in seventh. Additional teams from APU, local club Alaska Winter Stars, and combined UAA–UAF skiers made up the rest of the 12-team relay field.

While APU 1 set the pace for most of the legs, the day’s fastest anchor leg appears to have come from 17-year-old phenom Gus Schumacher, who closed things out for Alaska Winter Stars.

Overall scoring for the Alaska Nordic Cup was based on the combined time of each school’s top three men and women in the classic race, plus each school’s top two teams in the relay race. UAA used a substantial advantage from the women’s classic race, plus smaller but consistent margins in the men’s classic race and both its relay teams, to take the overall victory by more than six minutes, 4:49:49 combined time to 4:56:11 for UAF.

Andrew Kastning, associate coach for Nordic skiing at UAA, was pleased with his team’s performance, while acknowledging some setbacks experienced by UAF. “I think we can feel really good about our season opener,” Kastning wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “UAF was missing a key skier and I know they weren’t 100% healthy so that’s always tough, but the Seawolves skied really well around the challenging Independence Mine trails and our relay teams were able to extend the lead thanks in large part to strong starts from Marte and Casey.”

Kastning continued, “Hailey had a fantastic weekend winning by 41sec in last season’s weaker technique, which she’s been working on a lot, and then establishing a great lead over the UAF relay teams allowing us to be the top NCAA team on both days. Toomas was very strong in the classic and much better this year in skating after coming off compartment surgery in April. Now we head into a big training camp of sleeping eating and skiing over the holiday where we will look to dial in some technique and expand our training base. I don’t want us to get overconfident yet, because the RMISA [Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association] will always be the toughest circuit to race, but this is the start to the season we were looking for.”

UAA’s successful weekend stands in contrast to UAF’s historical success in this skiing rivalry. Coming into the 2017 Alaska Nordic Cup, UAF held a 9–3–1 edge over its Anchorage rival. The record now stands at 9–4–1, advantage UAF.

RMISA racing continues with U.S. Cross Country Championships in early January, again at Kincaid Park.

Results and media: Saturday classic | Sunday relay and totals | Saturday highlight video from UAA

Gavin Kentch

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