ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Senior Maria Graefnings and junior Miles Havlick both won their respective 10-kilometer freestyle races as the University of Utah ski team assumed control of first place after the Nordic portion of the Alaska Anchorage Invitational on Monday at Kincaid Park.
For the second straight race, five of the six Nordic skiers who scored points for the Utes finished among the top 10 to help Utah grab first place in the team standings with 470 points, which is 22 points ahead of reigning NCAA champion Colorado heading into this week's Alpine competition.
"Today was a really exciting day for the Utes," Utah Director of Skiing Kevin Sweeney said. "Both the women's and men's teams were attacking, especially on the second lap of the 10km course. This was great to see and builds confidence in what our level of fitness is right now. Putting nearly all of our top three scorers in the top 10 was outstanding. This was dynamite team skiing.
"We are still a bit cautious with some illness going around. I am impressed on all fronts. We are still posting some personal-best results on this squad, so no doubt we are fired up."
Utah's women's team dominated the action with two podium performances to help accumulate 122 points in the race, compared to 110 for second-place Colorado.
"I am very proud of the Utah ski team today," Utah head Nordic coach Abi Holt said. "Of course, it's thrilling to see Miles and Maria back on top of the RMISA podium, but beyond that, nearly every Ute either tied or improved on their best result of the season so far. It was just a great day of racing for us. Rose Kemp had a great meet with two podium finishes. Tom (Smith) and Rolf (Figi) are both skiing as well as I have seen them ski, and Parker (Tyler) just seems to be getting stronger with each race."
Graefnings took first place for her first victory of the season and the eighth of her Utah career. She finished exactly six seconds ahead of Colorado's Eliska Hajkova.
Kemp followed right behind Hajkova and joined Graefnings on the podium for the second straight race with a third-place finish, which ties her career best. Before the UAA Invitational, Kemp's previous best finishes were fifth-place efforts in both races at the CU Invite to start this season.
Tyler turned in a 12th-place finish, while Marta Larsen rounded out the Utah effort on the women's side with a 24th-place performance.
After taking second or third place in each of the first five races this season, Havlick won the men's race by nearly eight seconds over Montana State's David Norris. Havlick now owns five career victories.
"Today was another dream day in Alaska," Havlick said. "The women's team performed well again this morning, which really fired up the men's team. The coaches have really been crushing on the wax front. Our skis were the best out there today and the team gave it everything today to repay them for their efforts. We are looking forward to getting Didrik (Smith) and Mali (Noyes) healthy again for the next set of races. It was another great day to be a Ute."
Smith turned in his second fifth-place effort this year and has now finished fifth or better in five races over his career.
Figi was the third Ute among the top 10 as he posted a ninth-place finish, the fourth top-10 effort of his career.
"It always takes skiers who train at altitude a couple days to calibrate to racing at sea level, and I think this group showed today that they have adjusted to the racing here in Anchorage," Holt said. "Now we'll focus on two solid days of recovery and studying before we start the second race series of this trip. The main goal in these next few days will be to keep the team healthy and happy, so we can try to build on the momentum of these first races."
Didrik Smith and Noyes did not compete as they were recovering from illness.
"We are psyched the Alpine team has arrived (in Alaska)," Sweeney said. "Their energy is motivating us and vice versa."
The Seawolf Invitational begins Thursday with the 5/10k freestyle and the giant slalom events, while the Alpine portion of the UAA Invitational will begin with the giant slalom at the Alyeska Resort on Friday.