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Gray, Solbakken Win GS National Titles; Montana State And Westminster Lead

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 • by Ron Knabenbauer, Special To RMISA

FRANCONIA, N.H.—Colorado's Cassidy Gray and Westminster's Mikkel Solbakken won individual national titles on Wednesday in the women's and men's giant slalom at the 2021 NCAA Championships at Cannon Mountain Ski Resort.

Westminster College and Montana State are tied for the overall lead after the first day of competition, with both schools recording 137 points following the alpine GS events. Five RMISA schools make up the top five overall, with Colorado just 18 points back in third place (119 points) while Utah is in fourth (108) and Denver in fifth (97). Alaska Anchorage sits in ninth (63).

The Colorado Buffaloes won the women's team giant slalom with 94 points as Gray and teammate Stef Fleckenstein took the top two spots on the stand. Emma Hammergaard also scored in 14th place for the Buffaloes, who edged Westminster as the Griffins finished in second with 79 points.

Gray, a freshman, won her second career collegiate race after also coming in first in the first GS event at the RMISA Invitational on Feb. 11. She was sitting in the third spot after her first run (1:03.35) before recording the best time on her second time down the course (1:03.83) to finish with a total of 2:07.18. Gray is the first individual champion for Colorado in women's alpine since Lucie Zikova won both the slalom and giant slalom in 2008.

"I was really nervous for today, probably the most nervous I was all season and I think that showed in the first run. I was playing it a little bit safe," Gray said. "But it was really cool to see the whole team put a couple runs down today for the girls. Such awesome energy the whole day, we were having so much fun."

Fleckenstein led the field after the first run with a time of 1:02.78 and had the fourth-best second run to finish 48-hundreths of a second back of her teammate, recording a total time of 2:07.18. It was the junior's best-ever finish in now four NCAA Championship events and her second podium of the season (seventh of her career).

"I think [Cassidy] was the reason I was pushing so hard today," Fleckenstein said. "The training day, she was saying that she wasn't feeling too hot, and I was watching her video and she was ripping. So I was like, ‘you know what, we can both go for it tomorrow.'... I'm happy that if anyone had to beat me, it was Cass."

Vermont's Francesca English joined the two Buffs on the podium in third place.

Westminster was the only school to score each of its three skiers in the top 10. The Griffins were led in fourth place by Julia Toiviainen, who finishes the GS season with top-five appearances in all six races. Freshman Hannah Saethereng came in sixth and Lana Zbasnik was 10th.

Other RMISA athletes scoring in the top 10 in the women's giant slalom was Katie Parker of Utah in eighth and Nellie Talbot of Montana State in ninth. Alaska Anchorage's Georgia Burgess was close behind in 11th, while MSU's Tegan Wold was 12th.

Solbakken won the men's giant slalom race for his first national title and second career victory. He produced the fastest time following the first run (59.99) and held onto the lead after his second for a total of 2:01.57. His second run mark of 1:01.58 end up as the second best

"I was telling myself if you do bad the second run, no one is really going to care, but if you do good, people are going to remember it. So I just went for it," Solbakken said. "I don't think I would have been mad if I skied out because I knew I went for it. That was my mentality going into it."

The Westminster sophomore had one of the more consistent seasons on the men's circuit as he's placed in the top 10 in 10 of his 11 races and finished in the top five in five of the six giant slalom races in 2021. Solbakken's first career win came in his collegiate debut last year at the RMISA Alpine Giant Slalom Qualifier on Jan. 10, 2020.

Denver's Tobias Kogler finished in second place while Utah's Gustav Vollo rounded out the top positions in third. Kogler, who won the event last year, registered his third career podium at the national championships and his fourth of the season. Vollo picked up his fourth podium of 2021.

Utah won the men's team event with 84 points, beating out second-place Montana State by four points (81). Also scoring for the Utes were Joachim Lein in the fifth and freshman Wilhelm Normannseth in ninth.

MSU also placed three skiers in the top 10 and at one point in the second run had each in podium position in the standings. Age Solheim led the Bobcats in fourth place, while Riley Seger placed sixth and Louis Muhlen-Schulte came in eighth.

Colorado's Filip Forejtek finished in seventh place as the RMISA made up each of the top nine spots on the leaderboard. Didrik Nilsen led Alaska Anchorage in 21st.

The alpine skiers have Thursday off before wrapping up their competition on Friday with the slalom at Cannon Mountain Resort. The Nordic skiers begin their national championships on Thursday with the women's 5K and men's 10K classic races at Jackson Nordic Ski Area. Nationals conclude on Saturday with the women's 15K and men's 20K Nordic freestyle events.

2021 NCAA National Championships Team Standings (through 2 of 8 events): T1. Montana State (137), T1. Westminster (137), 3. Colorado (119), 4. Utah (108), 5. Denver (97), 6. Vermont (94), T7. New Hampshire (77), T7. Plymouth State (77), 9. Alaska Anchorage (63), 10. Boston College (54), 11. St. Lawrence (32). Yet To Compete: Alaska Fairbanks, Clarkson, Colby, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, St. Scholastica.

Team Notes: This is the first time that Westminster has held a share of the lead following the first day of the NCAA Championships, and it is the first time that Montana State has been in that position since 2017 when it led outright ... Colorado's team win in women's giant slalom was the school's first in an alpine event this season; Westminster had won each of the previous five women's GS races in the RMISA this season... CU is the first school to place two athletes on the podium since Vermont finished with skiers in second and third in women's slalom in 2018 ... Utah won the men's team event for the sixth time this season and third time in the GS.

Women's Giant Slalom Top 10 Individual Results: 1. Cassidy Gray, CU, 2:07.18; 2. Stef Fleckenstein, CU, 2:07.66; 3. Francesca English, UVM, 2:08.58; 4. Julia Toiviainen, WMC, 2:08.67; 5. Mathilde Nelles, PSU, 2:08.96; 6. Hannah Saethereng, WMC, 2:09.05; 7. Josefine Selvaag, UVM, 2:09.36; 8. Katie Parker, UU, 2:09.49; 9. Nellie Talbot, MSU, 2:09.84; 10. Lana Zbasnik, WMC, 2:10.07

RMISA Women's Skiers DNF: Sona Moravcikova, UU, 2nd; Katie Vesterstein, UU, 2nd.

Women's Giant Slalom Team Results: 1. Colorado (94), 2. Westminster (79), 3. Vermont (59), 4. Montana State (56), 5. Alaska Anchorage (39), 6. Plymouth State (37), 7. Denver (36), 8. New Hampshire (32), 9. Boston College (25), 10. Utah (23), 11. St. Lawrence (16)

Women's Individual Notes: Colorado's Cassidy Gray (1st) won her first individual NCAA national championship and picked up her second career win ... The freshman also won the first giant slalom race at the RMISA Invitational at Utah on Feb. 11 ... Gray had the fastest second run (1:03.83) after producing the third quickest first run (1:03.35) ... CU teammate Stef Fleckenstein (2nd) is at her third NCAA national championships and recorded her first career podium at the event ... It was Fleckenstein's second podium of the year after coming in second in the GS at the RMISA Championships on Feb. 18 and the eighth of her career ... She has now finished in the top five in each of the last five races she's completed ... Fleckenstein had the best first run with a time of 1:02.78 ... Westminster's Julia Toiviainen (4th) recorded her best career finish at the NCAA Championships after coming in 13th in 2020 in the GS ... Toiviainen finishes the GS season with top-five results in each of the six races, which includes three wins ... She has now finished in the top five in six straight races overall ... WMC freshman Hannah Saethereng (7th) competed at her first national championships and registered her sixth top 10 of the season, all coming in GS competitions ... Utah's Katie Parker (8th) recorded a new career best at the NCAAs after finishing ninth in the GS in 2020 ... Parker has four top 10s in the five races she completed in 2021, and it was her 10th straight top 10 in GS races she has been able to finish (2 DNFs) ... Montana State sophomore Nellie Talbot (9th) recorded her second career Top 10 in the GS at the national championships after placing second in 2020 ... It was Talbot's fourth top 10 in 2021, all of which have come in the GS ... WMC's Lana Zbasnik (10th) had her best finish at the NCAA Championships (15th in 2020 GS) ... Zbasnik registered her ninth top 10 in 11 races his year and has come in the top 10 in each of her six GS races ... Georgia Burgess led all Alaska Anchorage skiers in 11th, and it was the senior's best-ever finish at nationals after coming in 17th twice before (2018 slalom, 2019 GS) ... Denver's highest scorer was 15th in Reece Bell, who was competing in her first NCAA Championships.

Men's Giant Slalom Top 10 Individual Results: 1. Mikkel Solbakken, WMC, 2:01.57; 2. Tobias Kogler, DU, 2:02.16; 3. Gustav Vollo, UU, 2:02.28; 4. Age Solheim, MSU, 2:02.86; 5. Joachim Lein, UU, 2:03.16; 6. Riley Seger, MSU, 2:03.41; 7. Filip Forejtek, 2:03.46; 8. Louis Muhlen-Schulte, MSU, 2:03.84; 9. Wilhelm Normannseth, UU, 2:04.16; 10. Mathias Tefre, UVM, 2:04.32.

RMISA Men's Skiers DNF: Francesco Gori, WMC, DNS 1st; Joey Young, CU, DNF 2nd.

Men's Giant Slalom Team Results: 1. Utah (85), 2. Montana State (81), 3. Denver (61), 4. Westminster (58), 5. New Hampshire (45), 6. Plymouth State (40), 7. Vermont (35), 8. Boston College (29), 9. Colorado (25), 10. Alaska Anchorage (24), 11. St. Lawrence (16).

Men's Individual Notes: Westminster's Mikkel Solbakken (1st) won his first national title as he was competing in his second career race at the NCAA Championships ... It was Solbakken's second career win and his first since the RMISA Alpine GS Qualifier on Jan. 10, 2020 ... Solbakken now has five podiums this season and seven in his career ... Solbakken ends the GS campaign by finishing in the top 10 in all six races ... He had the fastest first run of the day, the only one to finish in under a minute (59.99) ... Denver's Tobias Kogler (2nd) recorded his 15th career podium and his third at six career NCAA Championship races ... Kogler, who was the defending national champion in the event, has finished on the podium in each of his four GS races he competed in this season and now six straight in the discipline dating back to last year ... Utah's Gustav Vollo (3rd) was competing at his second NCAA Championships and had his best finish after coming in 13th in last year's GS ... Vollo recorded his fourth podium in six giant slalom competitions this season ... Montana State's Age Solheim (4th) tied his best finish of the season and registered his best result in now four career races at the NCAA Championships ... Solheim now has three top 10 placements at nationals after coming in sixth in the slalom in 2019 and sixth in the GS in 2020 ... He also finished fourth this season in the second slalom race at the Colorado Invitational on Jan. 13 .... Solheim, who recorded the fastest second run of the men's competition at 1:01.50, has finished in the top 10 in each of his last nine races he's finished this season ... UU's Joachim Lein (5th) recorded his second top five of his career in four all-time races at the NCAA Championships; he finished third in the GS in 2020 ... Lein recorded his third top five of the season and the seventh of his three-year collegiate career ... MSU's Riley Seger (6th) finished his first career NCAA Championship race (DNF the other one) and picked up his fourth top 10 of the season (and fourth in a row in races he's finished) ... He now has seven such top 10s in his career, all coming in the GS ... Colorado's Filip Forejtek (7th) competed in his fourth career NCAA Championship race and registered his second top-10 placement at the national meet ... Forejtek has been in the top 10 in eight consecutive races and in all 10 that he's finished in 2021 ... MSU's Louis Muhlen-Schulte (8th) has now finished in the top 10 in each of his last three races at the national championships (out of four total, DNF the first one) ... It was Muhlen-Schulte's ninth top 10 of the season and 21st of this three-year career ... Utah freshman Wilhelm Normannseth (9th) picked up his ninth top 10 of the season in his debut at nationals ... He has now been in the top 10 in eight straight races ... Didrik Nilsen (21st) is at his second NCAA Championships (second race overall) and led Alaska Anchorage in scoring in the competition.

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