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Utah Sweeps Women's Podium and Takes Overall Lead at Nationals; Boee and Palmer Leger Win Classic Titles

Thursday, March 11, 2021 • by Ron Knabenbauer, Special To RMISA

JACKSON, N.H.—The University of Utah swept the podium in the women's 5-kilometer classic on Thursday and took the overall lead after the first day of Nordic races at the 2021 NCAA Championships at Jackson Nordic Ski Area. Freshman Sydney Palmer-Leger won the individual national title in the women's race for the Utes and Colorado sophomore Magnus Boee also claimed his first NCAA trophy in the men's 10K.

Utah placed five skiers on the podium in the two races and had all six finish in the top five, recording 211 points on the day and opening up a 66.5-point lead. The University of Colorado moved into second place with 252.5 points, while Montana State is third with 213.5. Alaska Anchorage (200) and Denver (193) round out the top five following four events at the national championships, and Alaska Fairbanks currently sits 11th overall but ranks seventh in the Nordic competition.

It is the UU women's Nordic team's second podium sweep of the season after also doing so on Jan. 17 in the 15K Freestyle at the RMISA Invitational at Utah. The Utes are the first squad to take each of the top three spots at the national championships since Vermont did it in women's slalom in 2014. Northern Michigan was the last school to sweep the podium in women's Nordic at the NCAA Championships, doing so in both the 5K freestyle and 15K classic in 2007.

"Days like this don't come around so often, that's for sure," said Miles Havlick, Utah's head Nordic coach. "We've been lucky enough to have a great fall of training as a team, and the team has been pushing each other day in and day out and I think that really showed today, both on the women's and men's side."

Both races on Thursday were conducted with an interval start, with Palmer-Leger completing the afternoon 5K course in 15:50.7, coming in 5.2 seconds ahead of teammate Julia Richter in second (15:55.9). Novie McCabe was third at 16:12.0, nearly 10 seconds ahead of Astrid Stav of Alaska Anchorage in fourth place (16:21.9).

For Palmer-Leger and McCabe, the two Utes continued their dominant freshmen campaigns that have seen them combine for victories in eight of the nine races they have competed in. A Utah women's Nordic skier has been on top of the podium in 10 of the 11 RMISA races this season, as Thursday's victory marked Palmer-Leger's third while McCabe has won five times and Richter twice.

"The conditions were kind of slow, so I was just trying to make sure my mindset was to keep going because there's not a lot of rest," said Palmer-Leger. "I finished and they told me that was in the lead, and I had to wait for the rest of my teammates to finish and then we were all 1-2-3. It was pretty incredible. I was in shock for a while that we all swept the podium because we've talked about it for a while in doing that since we've been training really hard, all fall and all winter. I'm really excited that we got to do that."

Palmer-Leger has now been on the podium six times this year, while McCabe has ended on the stand in each of her nine races she's competed in.

Richter, the 2021 RMISA Nordic MVP in both classic and freestyle, recorded her fifth podium of the season, all of which have been wins or runner-up placements. The junior's 12 career podiums extended her lead as the most among active RMISA women's Nordic skiers and tied for fifth among all active conference athletes.

The RMISA finished with eight spots in the top 10 in the women's race, with Alaska Anchorage and Denver joining Utah with placing multiple skiers near the top.

Led by Stav's fourth-place finish and fellow freshman Tuva Byrave's sixth-place result, UAA ended up second behind Utah in the women's race with 72 points. DU had Hanna Ray and Vera Norli come in ninth and 10th place, respectively, as the Pioneers were sixth.

Mariel Pulles led the way for Alaska Fairbanks with a seventh-place finish, her fifth top 10 of the year. UAF finished fifth in the women's team event, 1.5 points behind Colorado (45.5)

The day's competition began with Colorado's Magnus Boee winning his third straight race and first individual national championship by finishing the men's 10K classic in 26:17.7. It was Boee's ninth victory of the season and the 12th of his career.

"The conditions were probably the toughest one we've had this season," Boee said. "Though we were at sea-level racing, I felt like we were at altitude. It was super hard. Very draggy and suction-y snow on the skis... I feel like I was able to find a good pace the entire way. I never went too fast or too slow, it was pretty steady, even race. I think I kind of used my energy well throughout the entire race, so I'm pretty happy about how I executed."

Boee has now finished on the podium in eight of his 11 career classic races (includes seven wins) and has 15 overall to tie Alaska Anchorage's Sigurd Roenning for the most among active Nordic skiers.

He is the second Colorado skier to earn an individual title at these nationals after Cassidy Gray finished first in the women's giant slalom on Thursday. He is the first CU men's Nordic skier to win an event since Erik Dengerud in 2019 and the first since 2016 to do it in the classic when Mads Stroem won.

"Days leading into the race, I could tell it's kind of different when it's actually a national championship title depending on it," Boee said. "I just tried to focus on doing the exact same thing I've been doing the entire season, don't make it any more special, don't get any higher shoulders. But it's been working well the entire season, just not overthinking or getting too tense about the race. I just focused on having fun."

The Buffaloes finished with three skiers in the top 10 in the men's event as Will Koch came in seventh and Oyvind Haugan in eighth, but they finished second in the team scores behind Utah with 88 points.

The Utes held the other two spots on the podium and scored their other in the top five to win with 100 points. Luke Jager finished second (26:30.5) and Sam Hendry came in third (26:43.0), while Bjorn Riksaasen was fifth (26:48.0).

Jager, a sophomore, was participating at his first NCAA Championships and picked up his first podium of the season. His second-place finish tied his career best that he accomplished twice last season. For Hendry, his third-place result marked his eighth straight podium of 2021 and his second at nationals after being second in last year's 10K freestyle.

The UAA Seawolves were in third place (65 points) as they also had multiple top-10 finishers with Espen Persen in fourth and Magnus Noroey coming in ninth. Denver's Bernhard Flaschberger was also near the top of the leaderboard in the sixth spot.

The NCAA Championships resume on Friday with the final day of the alpine events with the women's and men's slalom competitions at Cannon Mountain Resort. Nordic freestyle will close this year's national championship with the women's 15K and men's 20K on Saturday at Jackson Nordic Ski Area.

2021 NCAA National Championships Team Standings (through 4 of 8 events): 1. Utah (319), 2. Colorado (252.5), 3. Montana State (213.5), 4. Alaska Anchorage (200), 5. Denver (193), 6. Vermont (151), 7. Westminster (137), 8. Northern Michigan (100), 9. New Hampshire (96), 10. Plymouth State (77), 11. Alaska Fairbanks (75), 12. Boston College (54), 13. St. Lawrence (40), 14. Michigan Tech (39), 15. St. Scholastica (25), 16. Colby (21), 17. Clarkson (0)

Team Notes: Five RMISA Schools remain in the top five in the overall team standings ... Utah moved up from fourth to first, gaining 211 points on the day .... Utah leads after the second day at the national championship for the first time since 2017 ... CU moved up to second place after recording 133.5 points ... Alaska Anchorage went from sixth to fourth after earning 137 points on day 2, while Montana State (third) and Denver (fifth) remain in the top five ... With Magnus Boee's win in the men's classic, Colorado now has two individual national champions at this year's event as Cassidy Gray won the women's giant slalom on Thursday ... Sydney Palmer-Leger's victory in the women's classic was Utah's first individual national champion since her current teammate Julia Richter won the women's 5K freestyle on the first day of competition in 2019 ... The Utah women's Nordic team has won all 11 of its races this season, garnering 100 or more points nine times and earning two podium sweeps ... The Utes' men's Nordic team won its seventh team event and fifth in classic in 2021.

Men's Classic Top 10 Individual Results: 1. Magnus Boee, CU, 26:17.7; 2. Luke Jager, UU, 26:30.5; 3. Sam Hendry, UU, 26:43.0; 4. Espen Persen, UAA, 26:44.7; 5. Bjorn Riksaasen, UU, 26:48.0; 6. Bernhard Flaschberger, DU, 26:49.9; 7. Will Koch, CU, 26:51.2; 8. Oyvind Haugan, CU, 27:13.4; 9. Magnus Noroey, UAA, 27:14.5; 10. Emil Book Bratbak, CSS, 27:20.6

Men's Classic Team Results: 1. Utah (100), 2. Colorado (88), 3. Alaska Anchorage (65), 4. Denver (53), 5. Montana State (48), 6. Northern Michigan (35), 7. Alaska Fairbanks (31), 8. St. Scholastica (21), 9. Michigan Tech (20), 10. Vermont (19), 11. Colby (12), 12. New Hampshire (7), 13. Clarkson (0), T13. St. Lawrence (0)

Men's Individual Notes: Colorado's Magnus Boee (1st) won his first national title as he competed in his second career NCAA Championship race (finished 8th in 10K freestyle in 2020) ... Boee's victory was his ninth of the season, third in a row and his fifth in classic ... He is the RMISA active leader in career wins with 12 and now has 15 career podiums, tying Sigurd Roenning of UAA men's Nordic for the most among active RMISA skiers ... Boee is the seventh national champion in men's classic in CU history and the first in the discipline since Mads Stroem in 2016 (20K mass start) ... Erik Dengerud was the last men's Nordic champion for Colorado in freestyle in 2019 (interval start) ... Utah's Luke Jager (2nd) was participating in his first NCAA Championship race and recorded his first podium of the season ... His second-place finish tied his career high as it's his third career runner-up placement and his second such in Classic ... Jager has finished in the top 10 in each of his last five races ... UU teammate Sam Hendry (3rd) recorded his second career podium at nationals after coming in second in his debut at last year's 10K freestyle ... Hendry has finished on the podium in each of the last eight races he's participated in, recording two wins, five runner-ups and now a third-place placement ... Alaska Anchorage's Espen Persen (4th) earned his second top-five finish of the season and the sixth of his career ... He now has two top-10 finishes in his national championship career after coming seventh in his debut at last year's 10K freestyle ... UU's Bjorn Riksaasen (5th) had his best-ever finish at the NCAA Championships (third race), topping his previous high mark of seventh in the 10K freestyle in 2019 ... Riksaasen earned his sixth top five of the year, with three each in classic and freestyle ... Denver's Bernhard Flaschberger (6th) earned his ninth top 10 of the season and his second in two career races at the NCAAs after coming in third in the 2020 freestyle 10K ... CU's Will Koch (7th) registered his fourth top 10 of his freshman season and set a new best in classic after coming in eighth at the men's 10K of the Denver Invitational on Jan. 23 ... Colorado teammate Oyvind Haugan (8th) picked up his eighth top 10 of the season in his first nationals race ... UAA Magnus Noroey (9th) recorded his fourth top 10 of his career/season and a new personal best in the classic at his debut at the national championships ... Zanden McMullen led Montana State in 11th place, his new best finish at nationals ... It was his first race since the Denver Invitational on Jan. 23 ... Christopher Kalev made his NCAA Championship debut and finished as the highest-placed skier for Alaska Fairbanks in 14th ...

Women's Classic Top 10 Individual Results: 1. Sydney Palmer-Leger, UU, 15:50.7; 2. Julia Richter, UU, 15:55.9; 3. Novie McCabe, UU, 16:12.0; 4. Astrid Stav, UAA, 16:21.9; Molly Miller, NMU, 16:27.8; Tuva Bygrave, UAA, 16:29.0; Mariel Pulles, UAF, 16:31.8; Anna Bizyukova, UVM, 16:40.2; 9. Hanna Ray, DU, 16:43.1; 10. Vera Norli, DU, 16:47.8

Women's Classic Team Results: 1. Utah (111), 2. Alaska Anchorage (72), 3. Northern Michigan (65), 4. Colorado (45.5), 5. Alaska Fairbanks (44), 6. Denver (43), 7. Vermont (38), 8. Montana State (28.5), 9. Michigan Tech (19), 10. New Hampshire (12), 11. Colby (9), 12. St. Lawrence (8), 13. St. Scholastica (4), 14. Clarkson (0)

Women's Individual Notes: Utah's Sydney Palmer-Leger (1st) won her first individual national title in her NCAA Championship debut and picked up her third victory of the year, all of which have come in classic ... The freshman has now finished on the podium in three straight races and seven total in 2021 ... UU junior Julia Richter (2nd) recorded her third career podium at the national championships after winning the 5K freestyle and finishing as the runner-up in the 15K classic in 2019 ... Richter has placed on the podium five times in 2021 and 12 overall in her three-year career ... UU's Novie McCabe (3rd) registered her ninth podium of the season in her NCAA Championship debut ... McCabe has finished on the stand in every race she's participated in during the 2021 campaign ... Alaska Anchorage's Astrid Stav (4th) recorded her fourth straight top-five result as she made her debut at nationals ... The freshman has finished in the top five in eight of her nine races in 2021 ... UAA freshman teammate Tuva Bygrave (6th) has finished in the top 10 in four of her five races this year as she competed for the first time since the Denver Invitational on Jan. 23 ... Alaska Fairbanks' Mariel Pulles (7th) set a new person best at the national championships after coming in 18th in the 5K freestyle in 2020 ... Pulles has been in the top 10 in five of her seven races this year and eight overall in her career ... Denver's Hanna Ray (9th) tied her career best (ninth in 5K Classic at RMISA Championships) and recorded her third top 10 in five races during her freshman campaign ... DU teammate Vera Norli (10th) picked up her eighth top 10 of the season and set a new career best at nationals ... Norli has finished in the top 10 in all 11 classic races of her two-year career ... Freshman Weronika Kaleta led Colorado in 11th and teammate Ezra Smith was right behind her in 12th as both skiers made their debuts at the national championships ... Freshman Sophia Mazzoni was the highest-placed finisher for Montana State in 16th.

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