The New Mexico men’s basketball team may make the most headlines around town. The Lobo men’s soccer team may have some sustained success for more than a decade. But there’s another program at UNM that has also built a successful legacy on a national stage.
The Lobo ski team brought home a third-place trophy from the NCAA Championships held March 5-8 in Soldier Hollow and Park City, Utah, benefitting from an individual Nordic win by freshman Eva Sever Rus.
The team remains the school’s only NCAA champion, with a win back in 2004, and second place in 2006. Other third-place trophies came from its 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
Under the seven-year tutelage of head coach Fredrik Landstedt, UNM has placed no lower than eighth at the NCAAs. He said after the team’s end-of-season banquet last Thursday that he knew early on this squad would have a chance at a podium finish at the NCAAs.
“Pretty much from the beginning we knew we had a shot,” he said. “As long as you have a shot to compete, anything can happen at the championship.”
Sever Rus captured her individual title in the 15K women’s freestyle event with a time of 40 minutes, 15.10 seconds. She beat Northern Michigan’s Rosie Frankowski by 1.8 seconds.
Sever Rus became UNM’s 17th skiing national champion and the school’s 10th female champ. It’s the team’s first freestyle title since Ivana Radlova’s win in 1993 and the first Nordic title since Kristina Strandberg’s in 2000.
She also placed third in the women’s 5K classical race with a tim of 14:01.00.
Freestyle Nordic technique involves pushing off the ground to accelerate, more akin to ice skating, while the classical technique focuses on the legs’ back-and-forth motion.
“It was a tough race. All the girls were so good,” Sever Rus said. “I just tried to go as fast as I could and focus on my technique. There was enough for a win.”
UNM boasted other strong finishes from senior Armin Triendi, second in the men’s giant slalom; Mats Resaland, third in the men’s 20K freestyle; and junior Sean Horner, fifth in the men’s slalom. Resaland and Trendl each earned their third All-American honors at the meet.
Throughout the season the Lobos placed at least third in every meet, including a first-place finish at the Jade Enerprises/Lobo Invitational and third at the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association meet. Horner also claimed the RMISA Alpine MVP award.
“It was really a great way to end (the season), but the season starts in the fall,” Horner said. “We were able to get a great conditioning program in the fall with our trainer. It set us up really good (in) great physical shape. All the guys and the girls mesh really well together, a good team atmosphere.”
In addition to the regular-season success, freshman Aku Nikander won the 50K classical mass start race at U.S. National Championships and Supertour Finals held March 30 in Anchorage, Alaska. He completed the race in 2:23:08, a full nine seconds faster than runner-up Noah Hoffman, an Olympian for the U.S. national team.
Nikander is the first UNM skier to win a U.S. National Championship title since 2003, when Martina Strusova took the 15K classical race.
“I didn’t do as well as I wanted to at the NCAAs,” said Nikander, who placed ninth at the 10K classical. “After the NCAAs I went to Alaska for two and a half weeks. At sea level, I recovered and prepared for the 50K. That was my main goal this season, and I succeeded there pretty well.”
UNM’s NCAA First Team All-Americans
Armin Trendl, giant slalom; Eva Sever Rus, Nordic classical and Nordic freestyle; Sean Horner, slalom; Mats Resaland, Nordic freestyle.
UNM’s Second Team All-Americans
Sean Horner, giant slalom; Karoline Myklebust, giant slalom; Courtney Altringer, giant slalom; Aku Nikander, Nordic classical; Mateja Robnik, slalom; Aljaz Praznik, Nordic freestyle.