After three straight years of finishing runner-up in the NCAA Ski Championships, the University of Utah is ready to prove what it's made of when the 2014 NCAA Ski Championships hit the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort and the track at Soldier Hollow March 5-8.
After watching Colorado (2013, 2011) and Vermont (2012) hoist the first-place trophy the past three years, Utah director of skiing Kevin Sweeney said he hopes things are different on the Utes' home turf.
"The last time we hosted was in 2000," he said. "Those were pre-Olympic test events for both venues. So it's been a long time since we hosted at home."
He said the Utes are more relaxed preparing for what is essentially another home meet.
"It feels great right now," he said. "Despite all the hard work that everybody organizers, Utah staff, volunteers is putting in, it just feels good that we're at home. Our venues Park City and Soldier Hollow have been fantastic in supporting us for this event."
Though Sweeney said his team, made up of six alpine skiers and six Nordic skiers, enjoys competing everywhere, there's something about PCMR and Soldier Hollow that feels a step above the rest of the competition venues.
"All the racers across the country are very excited to come to race venues of this caliber," he said. "That's not always the case. I don't want to downplay that. That just doesn't happen that we're on a world-class course with world-class organization.
But just being at home isn't going to be enough to give Utah the edge, especially with last year's champion (University of Colorado) and the 2012 champion (University of Vermont) both sending the maximum of 12 skiers to Park City to try to earn another NCAA title.
"We just need to score solid in all eight actual events," Sweeney said. "Our focus is to be scoring in the top-15 and top-12 in every event. That will certainly put us in the hunt for a title.
Coming off of a Western Regional title, which the Utes narrowly captured thanks to a last-day surge over Colorado, Sweeney said his squad is ready to get back on the hills and the track.
"That was a real confidence booster," he said. "That was a nice way to wrap up the season. If there were some lingering doubts among the team [about winning an NCAA title], I think they were squelched there."
But the Utes can't get too confident just because they were the best of the West. With Vermont and other powerful schools coming out of the East, there's going to be plenty of competition for the NCAA title.
"There are some great teams out there," Sweeney said. "We won the regionals by an extremely narrow margin. The East is going to come with two teams that could challenge for the title, too. Throw them into the mix and there really is no room for error."
The giant slalom event will take place at PCMR on March 5 and the slalom races on March 7. Soldier Hollow will host the classic cross-country races on March 6 and the freestyle races on March 8.