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CU Buffs’ Weronika Kaleta completing busy season at NCAA Championships

Colorado's Weronika Kaleta competes in the women's 5K Nordic classic race at the NCAA Ski Championships at Jackson Nordic Center in Jackson, N.H., on March 11, 2021. Kaleta placed 13th. (Brett Wilhelm/NCAA)
Colorado’s Weronika Kaleta competes in the women’s 5K Nordic classic race at the NCAA Ski Championships at Jackson Nordic Center in Jackson, N.H., on March 11, 2021. Kaleta placed 13th. (Brett Wilhelm/NCAA)
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Colorado’s Weronika Kaleta didn’t sugarcoat her answer when asked how school work was coming along this week.

“To be honest, not very well,” she said, adding a bit of a laugh.

A whirlwind schedule of international skiing has made life difficult in the classroom, but with the NCAA Championships this week, the CU sophomore said she’s grateful for the journey.

“This season was pretty hard, but still I’m super happy to do all of this stuff,” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”

On Wednesday, CU will begin competition in the NCAA Championships in Utah. Alpine events will take place Wednesday and Friday at Park City Mountain Resort, while the Nordic events will be held Thursday and Saturday at Soldier Hollow Resort.

A second-team All-American in the Nordic freestyle race last year as a freshman, placing seventh, Kaleta this week will compete for the Buffs for the first time since Jan. 15.

Kaleta is one of two current Buffs who left the team in the middle of the season to compete in the Olympics for their native Poland. Kaleta, from Kasina Wielka, Poland, competed in the Nordic events in Beijing, while Magdalena Luczak, a freshman from Lodz, Poland, competed in the alpine events.

Colorado’s Weronika Kaleta competes in the women’s 15K Nordic freestyle race at the NCAA Ski Championships at Jackson Nordic Center in Jackson, N.H., on March 13, 2021. Kaleta placed seventh. (Brett Wilhelm/NCAA)

“It’s been challenging, but I think it was something that they knew coming into it and geared up with the mindset of trying to make the most of every day to try and maximize this opportunity, because it is a huge opportunity, aside from the obligations that are massive,” said first-year CU head coach Andy LeRoy.

In addition to the Olympics — as well as school and skiing for the Buffs —  Kaleta and Luczak have also had other international obligations.

Last month, Kaleta participated in the U23 world cross country championships in Norway and returned to the United States last week. Luczak, meanwhile, competed in Panorama, B.C., on Monday in the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships and traveled to Utah on Tuesday so she could compete for CU on Wednesday.

Although fatigue could be a factor this week for Luczak and Kaleta, LeRoy said he’s confident in both.

“I think they’re going to ski well,” he said.

For Kaleta, this is the culmination of what has been a busy, but enjoyable ride this season.

Just two years ago, she got a scholarship offer from CU, but planned to turn it down and focus solely on her sport and the Polish national team.

“Then my father said, ‘Are you stupid? Just try,’” she said.

Kaleta has never regretted her decision to come to CU.

“I’m so happy that I am here,” said Kaleta, who has two top-four finishes in four races this season and 10 top-10 finishes in her career at CU. “I’m so happy that I am with this team, because now I just realize that sport is giving me more fun. I have more fun with this team and it’s not that boring. It’s not that I have only sport. I have people around me. I have a university.”

Kaleta said some of her teammates on the national team did choose to focus only on the sport and added, “They’re, like, actually a little bit depressed I think because they have only sport and I think that you need something else. You need an impulse; like you need to have some fun in your life. So because of this university, because of this team, I feel like I’m alive.”

It has certainly helped that she has developed a close friendship with Luczak, who she didn’t know before CU. Kaleta’s younger sister, Karolina, is also on the Buffs’ ski team.

Kaleta feels blessed academically, as well, even though it’s been a challenge. She took a smaller class load this semester and is grateful that her professors have been willing to work around her Olympic schedule.

Now, as Kaleta prepares for her second NCAA Championships, she also has Poland and her family on her mind.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted many countries in Europe, including Poland, which borders Ukraine. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has been in Kaleta’s thoughts quite a bit.

“I’m scared about my country, for sure, but I feel safe here so far,” she said. “I feel safe here in America, but my family is not safe. That’s the problem. I feel scared about my family, but hopefully that can change.

“My family is doing great for now. Actually, my father has a birthday today.”

Focusing on the positives has helped Kaleta get through many challenges so far this year, because she feels fortunate — not only that her family is safe, but that she has spent the past few months doing what she loves.

“I didn’t expect that this season would be that hard for me,” she said. “It’s actually a pretty hard season, but I’m happy that I was able to qualify for Olympics and I was able to experience this big event (at NCAA Championships). So, actually I’m pretty happy.”

JACKSON, N.H. – March 13, 2021: Colorado’s Magnus Boee won the men’s 20K freestyle Nordic race at the NCAA Ski Championships at Jackson Nordic Center.

NCAA Ski Championships

DATES: Wednesday-Saturday

LOCATION: Park City Mountain Resort, Utah (alpine) and Soldier Hollow Resort, Utah (Nordic).

SCHEDULE (all times MT): Giant slalom (Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.); Classic Nordic (Thursday, 10 a.m.); Slalom (Friday, 9:30 a.m.); Freestyle Nordic (Saturday, 10 a.m.).

BROADCAST: Online stream – NCAA.com; Live scoring – RMISASkiing.com.

CU COACH: Andy LeRoy, 1st season

CU PARTICIPANTS: Alpine – Men: Jacob Dilling, Fr.; Louis Fausa, So.; Filip Forejtek, Sr.; Women: Emma Hammergaard, Jr.; Kaitlyn Harsch, Sr.; Magdalena Luczak, Fr. Nordic – Men: Magnus Boee, Jr.; Will Koch, So.; Fredrik Nilsen, Fr.; Women: Hanna Abrahamsson, Fr.; Anna-Maria Dietze, Jr.; Weronika Kaleta, So.

NOTES: CU is seeking its 21st national title. … Boee is the defending national champion in both men’s Nordic races. … This is the seventh time the state of  Utah has hosted nationals. … CU is the only school to finish top four in each of the last 15 NCAA Championships. The Buffs were runner-up in 2021. … There will be 22 teams competing at nationals, including five fielding full 12-skier teams: CU, Dartmouth, Denver, New Hampshire and Utah. … Defending national champion Utah has won three of the last four national titles. The Utes were dominant during the regular season this year, winning all but one meet. From the east, Vermont has won all five of its regular season meets. … CU had nine skiers on the All-RMISA team, including three first-teamers (Abrahamsson, Boee and Forejtek). … Before coming to CU, LeRoy led Denver to six team national titles in 15 years and he coached 46 individual champions.

COACH LEROY SAID: “I think we’re feeling great. … They have been getting better every single day that we have been going. I think that’s been a huge motivating factor. And for this championship, we’ve worked extremely hard. They’re some of the best in the country and I expect that out on the snow this week, so I feel great about our chances. … The best team is gonna have to go out there and prove it and I think we are going to be one of them, if not the one, that walks away with the title this year. … For sure Utah looks strong on paper. I think if they ski incredible the entire week, they could be tough to pass, but I think if we ski incredible the entire week, we’re also going to be very difficult to pass.”

 

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