PARK CITY, Utah – In the first three years of her college career, Kaitlyn Harsch was one of the better alpine skiers for Colorado, but not quite to the point of being among the top three representing the Buffaloes at the NCAA championships.
This year, Harsch not only broke into CU’s top three but capped her career as one of the best in the nation.
On Friday at the NCAA ski championships at Park City Resort, Harsch posted an eighth-place finish in the women’s slalom, earning second-team All-American honors in the final race of her collegiate career.
“Honestly, I could not have asked for a better ending to my career,” said Harsch, who grew up in Vail. “I surprised myself honestly. I was not even expecting how well I did first run and then I did even better second run. I’m ecstatic. This day, it’s just sunny and beautiful out here and I couldn’t have asked for a better wrap up for my career, for sure.”
Overall, it was not a great day for the Buffs as a team, as they dropped from second to fourth in the standings. Two-time defending champion Utah is the leader, with 405 points, followed by Vermont (377.5), Denver (372.5) and Colorado (368). CU is still in contention for the title heading into Saturday’s Nordic freestyle races.
In Friday’s slalom, the Buffs had some misfortune.
Magdalena Luczak, who won the women’s giant slalom on Thursday, missed a gate on her first slalom run and had to hike up the hill in order to finish and stay in contention for team points. That cost her more than 40 seconds, however. Despite having the fifth-best second run, she placed 29th overall.
On the men’s side, Filip Forejtek was looking for an alpine sweep after winning the GS. He was the leader after the first run but slipped to 10th after his second. He still secured second-team All-American honors.
Despite those results, it was a memorable day for Harsch and freshman Jacob Dilling, who earned second-team All-American honors with a seventh-place finish.
“It’s awesome,” said Dilling, who grew up in Vail with Harsch. “I was hoping for a little bit more, as everyone does, but I’m happy where I ended up and I had a good second run, where I moved up quite a bit.
“Definitely a little bittersweet. I would much rather gotten eighth and (Forejtek) won or been in there as well, but you can’t control that now.”
For Harsh, Friday’s race is the culmination of a long journey.
CU has been stacked with talented women’s alpine skiers during her career, which has left her on the outside at nationals. This year, she was so used to not going to nationals that she figured her career was over after the RMISA championships in Steamboat Springs last month.
“I was saying my goodbyes to people in Steamboat, and then I got word that I would be going with our girls to compete at NCAAs,” she said. “I was crying I was so happy. I was like it all came together at the right moments and today it came together, too.”
Denver’s Katie Hensien won the slalom with a time of 1 minute, 45.40 seconds for her two runs. Harsch posted a time of 1:48.25 and heard cheers from teammates as she crossed the finish line.
“That usually means you did pretty well,” she said with a laugh. “Even before I knew that (she would move up in the standings), I just knew I put down the best run I could possibly have done today, two of them. That’s really hard to do in ski racing. It’s hard to do two runs that are good, so I was just really happy with how I skied today.”
In doing that, Harsch joined her mother, Karen Kendall Harsch, as an All-American. Her mother skied for CU from 1994-96 and was a three-time All-American.
“It’s awesome and my mom’s been at most of my races this year,” Harsch said. “She’s here right now, actually, with my family. Just having her here and joining her in that rank is so cool. I’m so happy. I’ve always been chasing my mom’s shadow a little bit.
“She is so encouraging and she’s always proud of me no matter what. She had tears in her eyes today for sure. She was so proud.”
Emma Hammergaard posted a 12th-place finish for the women with a time of 1:48.70.
In the men’s race, Vermont’s Mathias Tefre was the champion with a time of 1:53.69. Dilling finished in 1:54.68 and Forejtek in 1:54.78. Louis Fausa posted a 15th-place finish (1:56.06) for the Buffs.