FRANCONA, N.H. – Cassidy Gray admitted to feeling some nerves going into her first career race at the NCAA skiing championships.
The freshman from Panorama, British Columbia, didn’t show it on the course, however.
On Wednesday at Cannon Mountain, Gray won the national title in the women’s giant slalom, edging teammate Stef Fleckenstein, who was second.
Gray is the 96th individual NCAA champion in CU skiing history and the first CU women’s alpine skier to win a national title since Lucie Zikova swept the slalom and GS races at the 2008 nationals.
“I was really nervous for today,” she said. “Probably the most nervous I’ve been all season, and I think it kind of showed in the first round. I was playing it a little bit safe, but it was really cool to see the whole team really put a couple of runs down today. Such awesome energy the whole day.”
The 1-2 finish by Gray and Fleckenstein put CU in third place after the first day, with 119 points. Montana State and Westminster are tied for the lead with 137 points. Utah, which won the most recent team title in 2019, is in fourth, at 108.
The classic Nordic races will take place on Thursday, with the slalom on Friday and freestyle Nordic races on Saturday.
Gray posted a combined time of 2 minutes, 7.18 seconds in her two runs, while Fleckenstein finished in 2:07.66. The Buffs’ Emma Hammergaard was 14th, in 2:10.83.
Fleckenstein had the lead after the first run, posting the fastest run of the day (1:02.78). Gray was in third, but jumped into the lead on her second run. Fleckenstein, also from British Columbia, was the last skier and came up just shy of the title.
“Honestly, I just knew that she was going to go for it the second run, and I had a feeling I was going to be battling with her so I just kind of went for it, as well,” said Fleckenstein, who earned her second career All-American honor.
“I think Cass was the reason I was pushing so hard today, honestly. … I think the girls’ vibe was just really high today and everyone was really focused on the race, which was awesome.”
Gray has spent much of her season away from CU and competing internationally. She made her World Cup debut earlier this season. She then competed for the Canadian National Team at the World Championships last month, placing 23th in the giant slalom. She arrived in New Hampshire on Monday night from Slovakia.
Gray won the only other GS she has completed for CU, at Park City, Utah, in February.
“There have been a lot of highlights (this year),” she said. “This was definitely a big one because it’s so cool to have such a close team; people that are really cheering for you and really supporting you. Today was really cool because I felt that so much, with the coaches and the team.”
It was the first 1-2 finish at nationals for CU since 2013 when Joanne Reid and Eliska Hajkova took the top two spots in the women’s freestyle Nordic race.
“Absolutely great feeling to have 1-2,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said. “Both girls are capable of doing it and they just put it in today and it was great race.”
Meanwhile, the men’s alpine team had a tough day.
Junior Filip Forejtek finished seventh in the men’s GS, but teammates Louis Fausa and Joey Young both fell on their second runs. Fausa was able to recover and finish his run, but landed in 31st in place, with no team points. Young did not finish and, therefore, did not score points for the team. Both were top 13 on their first runs.
“It happens,” Rokos said. “All three are capable to be in top 10, there is no question, and it happened to be a little disaster on their side. No way to put a finger on it because the snow was same as the first round, the course was similar, everything was similar.”
Sitting in third as a team, however, the Buffs are in position to make a run at the national title over the next three days.
“I think it’s really important to have a good first day,” Fleckenstein said. “I’m confident in us. I’m confident in the whole team, though. I really believe in the whole team, which is kind of a cool feeling.”
Gray is the 98th national champion overall for CU, as the NCAA doesn’t recognize the two AIAW titles the Buffs won in the early 1980s.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM STANDINGS (Through 2 of 8 Races): 1. Montana State & Westminster, 137; 3. Colorado 119; 4. Utah 108; 5. Denver 97; 6. Vermont 94; 7. New Hampshire & Plymouth State 77; 9. Alaska Anchorage 63; 10. Boston College 54; 11. St. Lawrence 32.
WOMEN’S GIANT SLALOM (28 collegiate finishers)—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. Other CU Finisher: 16. Emma Hammergaard, 2:10.83.
MEN’S GIANT SLALOM (31 collegiate finishers)—1. Mikkel Solbakken, WMC, 2:01.57; 2. Tobias Kogler, DU, 2:02.16; 3. Gustav Vollo, UU, 2:02.28; 4. Aage Solheim, MSU, 2:02.86; 5. Joachim Lein, UU, 2:03.16; 6. Riley Seger, MSU, 2:03.41; 7. Filip Forejtek, CU, 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. Other CU Finisher: 31. Louis Fausa, 2:09.61. Did Not Finish Second Run: Joey Young.