Big Green Takes Third at NCAA Championships

by Evan Morgan | 3/26/18 2:20am


Men's 10K Classic

The trophy case in Robinson Hall might need a new shelf following Dartmouth’s return from the 2018 NCAA skiing championships in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The team won four individual titles and took third place overall, tied with 2011 for the program’s best finish since its 2007 national championship win.

While another national championship eluded the Big Green, freshman sensation Katharine Ogden ’21 and men’s alpine veterans Tanguy Nef ’20 and Brian McLaughlin ’18 made Dartmouth just the ninth team to win four individual titles in a single year since 1989 when all eight events were included.

Day One compressed all the triumphs and agonies of the NCAA Championships into three hours of racing. The event opened in thrilling fashion with the men’s giant slalom. McLaughlin and Nef both made up big chunks of time on the bottom half of the course to finish the first run in fourth and sixth, respectively. The second time down the course, consistency carried the day. McLaughlin charged down the hill with the third-fastest run and took over first place from Nef, who led all skiers on the second run. When the powder settled, McLaughlin and Nef remained in first and second. It was the first men’s giant slalom title for Dartmouth since 1999, and the pair of podiums — plus Thomas Woolson ’17s 16th-place finish — shot the Big Green into first place overall. Even for an extremely talented men’s alpine team, the one-two finish was nearly a best-case scenario.

But the women’s giant slalom soon turned into a worst-case scenario. Neither sophomore standout Steph Currie ’20 nor Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association giant slalom leader Foreste Peterson ’18 made it down the hill in their second run. The rare off day from two of the East’s top giant slalom skiers left Alexa Dlouhy ’19 as the last Big Green woman standing. Though Dlouhy scooped up 4.5 points, Dartmouth plummeted to fifth overall, effectively out of the running for the team championship.

“Certainly when the guys went one-two the first morning, it sort of made everyone feel like ‘Oh, we have to give it all we’ve got,’ and maybe that’s part of what contributed to [Peterson] and [Currie] going out that afternoon because they were a little bit overhyped on the day,” said director of skiing and head coach of women’s Nordic skiing Cami Thompson Graves. “Then when [the women’s alpine team] didn’t have a great afternoon, it took a little bit of the pressure off [the Nordic teams].”

Over the remaining three days, the team battled back up in the overall standings. Ogden became the first female Dartmouth skier ever to win an NCAA cross-country title, and she made it look easy as she beat the field by more than 45 seconds in Thursday’s 5-kilometer race. Lydia Blanchet ’19 also finished ninth, giving Dartmouth two more All-Americans.

Dartmouth added another two All-Americans later in the day when Callan DeLine ’18 and Luke Brown ’18 finished sixth and ninth in the 10-kilometer classic. The Nordic teams’ efforts earned 121 points and the Big Green gained a spot in the standings, moving from fifth to fourth.

Day Three brought alpine teams back to Howelsen Hill, this time under the lights in the night slalom. Dlouhy earned a spot on the All-America second team for the third straight year, finishing tenth, with Currie close behind in 13th. In a cruel twist, Peterson’s college career ended with a DNF as she fell on the upper section of the course.

Then all eyes were on Nef, the top men’s slalom skier in the East this season. A solid first run put him into third, 11 hundredths of a second back from Vermont’s Sandy Vietze in first. With some adjustments, Nef had the fastest second run of the evening. No athlete would come close to touching the Swiss native as he won by more than three quarters of a second.

“Getting second in the [giant slalom] behind [McLaughlin] was the best feeling because we were both enjoying the day, the perfect day, and I was glad that he was able to win,” Nef said. “Then the slalom felt like it was my turn, it was my event and I was able to make it happen, and that was pretty insane to enjoy that moment in front of all these people, and to score for the team with the Nordies around and my dad watching, my friends watching.”

Woolson and McLaughlin finished in 12th and 16th to give the men 74 points. Dartmouth moved past the University of Utah into third place overall.

Conditions were cold and snowy for the mass start freestyle on the final day, and plenty of excitement remained for the Big Green. The men skied a 20-kilometer race that was close until the end. When a lead group of 10 skiers broke away from the field, DeLine skied out among them. The Colorado native took a shift in the lead on the third 5-kilometer lap and held onto fifth place when the field turned through the stadium and crossed the finish line.

Ogden saved the most dominant performance of the championship for the final race, the 15-kilometer freestyle. The women’s field stayed bunched up through the first lap, creating some traffic on the trail. Ogden made a move at the beginning of the second lap intending to clear the traffic, but to her surprise, nobody had the legs to respond.

“I was definitely a little stressed because I didn’t know if I could hold that pace or if they would catch up to me, and it’s usually kind of a sketchy strategy to be skiing by yourself, so I kind of knew that in the back of my mind too,” Ogden said.

Over the final nine kilometers, Ogden simply skied away from the rest of the field. She entered the stadium for the final time without a competitor in sight, hoisting a Dartmouth flag over her head as she skied the final meters of what would be a 48-second win. More than a minute and a half back, Lauren Jortberg ’20 crossed the line in eighth.

In the end, the numbers told the story at Steamboat. Dartmouth skiers earned 11 All-American honors. They won four individual titles. The alpine men scored 166 points. A top-three overall finish is a benchmark for a successful season, Thompson Graves said.

Yet despite the honors and despite the hardware, there is a sense that the team has yet to realize its full potential. The Big Green finished 155.5 points behind Denver University and 114.5 behind the University of Colorado.

The last time Dartmouth finished third at an NCAA Championships in Steamboat was in 2006. The Big Green won a national championship the following year.

“It’s always good to end the season with confidence and know that while we were third, we can do better,” Thompson Graves said. “We just have to make sure that things go right, and that’s not a bad way to approach next season.”

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