The Castleton’s men’s and women’s ski teams headed northwest to Lake Placid, New York to compete in the USCSA National Championships. When they left, they had done what previous CU teams had never done.
The women’s team finished a program-best third place overall, after finishing second in the slalom and third in the giant slalom.
“Prior to this race, the best our women’s team had ever done at USCSA Nationals was 5th place. Personally, I think we are better in slalom, so when the race was over, and the women claimed a spot on the podium in the giant slalom, I knew it was going to be a special and historic week for them,” said co-head coach Christopher Eder.
It was a strong team effort that boosted the Spartans to their best program finishes ever.
“I’m incredibly proud of how hard all of our girls fought during that week,” said junior Linn Ljungemo. “Conditions weren’t easy but they skied with confidence which landed us the best finish in program history, it’s still a little hard to believe honestly.”
Four USCSA All-American’s led the women’s team. Li Aunes finished fifth overall and earned two All-American honors (slalom and combined). Kylie Mackie and Ljungemo, who finished in 8th and 9th respectively, followed her. After being the first skier in program history to receive all three All-American honors last year, Ljungemo achieved the feat again. Mackie, who also earned the same three, joined her this time. The last All-American for the Spartans was Kirsten Kruk, who finished 17th overall and earned her All-American honor in the slalom.
“I felt like myself for the first time in two years. It felt amazing for all the hard work I’ve put into this sport to pay off,” said Mackie.
It wasn’t just the women’s ski team that was making history either. The men’s team left its mark on the record books as well.
The men managed a four-way tie for first overall and were only 0.04 seconds away from finishing first in the slalom.
“At first we were a little upset because we lost the slalom by four hundredths of a second,” said freshman Paul Rechberger, “but then we slowly realized what we actually achieved, a tie for national champions.”
Rechberger had an impressive showing himself. He was named the national champion in the slalom.
“He was exactly one second off the first run leader, Andraz Reich-Pogladic (national champion in 2016 and 2017) of Rocky Mountain College,” said coach Eder. “When Paul crossed the finish line after his second run, he had taken over the lead with only Andraz remaining in the start, so we knew he was going to at least win the silver. When Andraz made a big mistake during the top quarter of the course in his second run, we knew Paul was going to be a National Champion in the slalom event.”
Rechberger couldn’t believe it himself and is still processing what it means.
“As soon as all my teammates were going crazy, hugging me, and throwing me to the ground, congratulating me, I realized how big this win was,” Rechberger said. “But honestly I still can’t believe it, I guess it will take some time until I realize that I wrote history.”
Rechberger would then go on to finish first overall and became the second skier in men’s program history to earn all three All-American honors. Freshman Oskar Eriksson and junior Cameron Heald finished 12th and 13th and each earned All-American honors themselves. Jan Klindic was also named an All-American in the slalom.
“It’s one of the most unbelievable feelings to be named an All-American,” said Heald. “Finishing both runs at nationals and coming in seventh in the second run was emotional, especially seeing Paul Rechberger come down and win just 20 racers later.”
Of course, history couldn’t have been made without the help of the coaching staff on the team either.
“The coaches were great, they prepared us leading up to nationals,” Heald said. “The coaches were outstanding, and I thank Eder, Dale and Drex so much, thank you three so much.”
“They help us out in any way that they can to make us feel as prepared and calm as possible,” said women’s team skier Ljungemo.
The team returned home having written their names in the annals of collegiate skiing.
“We made history three times in one trip, it’s amazing,” said Mackie.