STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - The Saint Michael's College Alpine skiing team lifted the institution to a 15th-place finish when the 63rd annual NCAA Championship concluded on Saturday. Three Alpine racers competed on Wednesday and Friday, but the Purple Knights needed to wait out Saturday's Nordic skiing events, for which no Saint Michael's student-athletes qualified, to learn their final placement.
Sophomore Meggane Grand (La Plagne, France/Lycée des métiers Ambroise Croizat) and first-years Guillaume Grand (La Plagne, France/Lycée Général Ferrié) and Torjus Grimsrud (Stabekk, Norway/Donski Alpine) gave the College a school-record three qualifiers for the NCAA Championship, which involved Division I, II and III student-athletes and was hosted by the University of Colorado, Boulder. All three Purple Knights made their NCAA debuts.
Behind a school-record 50 points, which nearly matched the 52 it compiled at the last three championships combined, the Purple and Gold had its second-best finish ever at an NCAA meet, behind only a 13th-place performance among 15 schools in 1988. This year, 15th-place Saint Michael's was competing in a 21-college field. The University of Denver won the title with 567.5 points.
Guillaume Grand first placed 12th in Wednesday's giant slalom, at the time the best finish ever by a Saint Michael's skier at the national championship, and he was just 0.01 seconds short of the top 10, which would have garnered him an All-America placement in the event. However, he followed that up with a ninth-place performance in Friday's slalom, claiming not only the top finish ever by a Purple Knight skier at NCAAs but also the initial All-America laurel by a Saint Michael's competitor at nationals, regardless of gender or discipline, landing on the second team. Based on available records, Grand is the 61st Purple Knight in school history across all sports to earn an All-America accolade.
Also an Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) All-East second team honoree following the regular-season-ending Middlebury College Carnival, which doubled as the EISA Championship and the NCAA East Regional Championship, Grand was among the top 10 in 13 of 14 races during his debut season in college racing.
Meggane Grand, the third Purple Knight female Alpine skier to ever compete at an NCAA Championship, and the first since Megan McCarthy '05 in 2002, finished 27th in Wednesday's giant slalom before not completing the slalom. Grimsrud had the opposite experience, taking 26th during the slalom after being a DNF in the GS.
Grimsrud and the Grand siblings are now among 13 Purple Knights - nine being Alpine racers - to ever compete at NCAAs. Thirty-four male and 34 female Alpine skiers qualified for the championship, including 16 apiece from the East Region. The College has now had representation at the last five NCAA Championships, and seven of eight since 2009.
Head Coach Gus MacLeod '02
"I am happy with how things went for the first go-around for all three of those guys here at NCAA Championships. Definitely a little tough with the nerves, just not quite knowing what to expect. You could see the first run [on Friday] with Torjus and Meggane, definitely the nerves were there, and they skied a little tight. Second run was better for both of them. And then Guillaume, same sort of thing; he was a little tight, but he skied well. We came here and we were able to do what we've wanted to, for the most part. I know all of them feel like they could do a little better than what they ended up with, but for their first go-around, I'm happy, and I'm happy for them."
"We're moving in the right direction. We've been building for years, with the student-athletes we've had in the past, just with what they've been able to accomplish over the years, and with them skiing well, it brings in more people and better student-athletes. We're moving in the right direction and we're looking forward to next year; we should do even better, I'm hoping. I'm happy with the direction we're going with this program, it's awesome to see."
On an event - Friday's slalom - being contested under the lights for just the third time in 63 championships...
"It was a lot of fun, just really cool. Great atmosphere, a lot of the townspeople out watching and cheering, good crowd out to watch the race and really cheer on everybody, which made it a lot of fun for the athletes."
On Guillaume Grand becoming the first All-America skier at Saint Michael's...
"It was awesome, I'm super psyched for Guillaume. He skied well and kept his nerves in check for the most part, which is great. But he felt like he had a few mistakes, and his skiing wasn't as clean as he had been in the training, but to be able to at least come close to what he was doing in the training during high-pressure race day, it was good. It shows that he's a competitor. He skied well, I'm very psyched for him."
Sophomore Meggane Grand
On her first NCAA Championship, which included a DNF in Friday's slalom...
"I definitely didn't have the week I was hoping for. I think I was pretty nervous, it was my first NCAAs, and I didn't really show my potential. I really didn't ski the way I'm capable of. I was really bummed yesterday, second run, because I was actually skiing pretty well and actually skiing the way I can, and I straddled six gates from the finish. But it was a great experience, and I think it's going to be great hopefully for future years if I qualify again because now I'm going to have the experience of this week."
On the slalom event...
"The snow was a little soft, so that definitely didn't help, but it was fine. It was a pretty hard hill because it was kind of steep. I was really [unhappy] because I skied well the entire way throughout the really steep parts, just at the bottom when it was almost over, I just...you know, it happens, you get a little too close to the gate."
Her takeaway from the NCAA Championship...
"Just the fact of skiing with the best skiers in the U.S., and competing with the West, too - there are great skiers out East, but it's definitely great to have both, and it just brings the level up by a lot. I feel like I'm going to train a lot harder and push everybody to train harder. Just the experience of being here for a week..."
First-year Torjus Grimsrud
On Friday's slalom...
"It was a great race day. I have skied like that before, but of course you feel the pressure, you feel the pressure of wanting to do well and perform for the team. It was a bit different. Having a lot of people watching, you're competing against fast racers, a lot of people watching, you want to do well for the team, break new records and stuff. You feel like you have some pressure, but it's a part of the game, too. It was really fun. It was a really tough race, especially first run, it was hard to catch up with the best guys, but second run I did a lot better. It felt really good to beat some of the best racers, and hopefully next year we'll beat some more. But it feels good to know you're right there with the best racers."
On helping Saint Michael's to 15th place, its best since 1988...
"It feels really good. For the most part it's been Guillaume that's been performing really well, but it's been a great experience to be with the team out here, having a good time and being there for each other. Being part of a team that's strong and close, it feels great to be part of a team like that. It's been a great week, it's been really nice."
First-year Guillaume Grand
"Some ex-racers from SMC came [Kris Ochs '10, Nathan Bryant '12, Matt Beers '14]. They were wearing the hats, the Saint Michael's jackets, so that was pretty cool. They were like, 'Oh my God, that's impressive, congratulations guys.' I think people don't look at us like before. I think now people can just say, 'Why not go to Saint Michael's, because they have a great team?'"
On becoming the first All-America skier in Saint Michael's history...
"I'm really happy, that was one of my goals coming here, I tried to break records and tried to do my best. Coming [to NCAAs], I was really [focused] on doing very well here because I know it's important; there was pressure, but I used that pressure to be more aggressive and ski pretty well."
On the NCAA Championship experience...
"Today we went to the Nordic race, and that's pretty impressive; that's crazy, that sport. That was kind of [unfortunate] to not have a Nordic skier from Saint Michael's to cheer for, but that was really fun. Yesterday was a really fun event because a lot of people at the bottom were cheering for everybody. That was a lot of pressure; that's cool, good pressure. That's good to do that kind of event [NCAAs]. Not a lot of people can live it, so we were there and we consciously knew that, so we were trying to live that thing the best that we can."