Competition to take place in December
[ by Chris Rourke, WCU communications officer ]
Three Western Colorado University Nordic skiers will see their childhood dreams come true. They have been selected as a part of the team representing the United States at the World University Games held near Lucerne, Switzerland in December.
Senior Caroline Benney, and sophomores Bria Rickert and Hannah Cryder were chosen through a unique process this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. team leaders accepted applications and evaluated skiers on their qualifications.
Held every two years, the winter version of the World Collegiate Games hosts several thousand student-athletes competing in various events. The games under the International University Sports Federation are among the world’s largest winter multi-sports competitions. This year’s games will be held on December 11-21.
Head coach Kevin Geisen explained that when the games were postponed from February 2021 to December 2021 due to the pandemic, a few athletes that had qualified backed out. Because Rickert and Cryder were freshmen last season, they had the unique opportunity of making the games without having participated in the 2020 U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association Nationals. Applicants were considered based on their USSA points (a national ranking system used in the sport of Nordic skiing), academic merit and past results. The three Western skiers were chosen.
“Our team is fortunate to have three very strong women that all rose to the top of the application pool,” Geisen said.
Rickert grew up in Gunnison in the Nordic ski community. She first strapped on the skis at the age of 4, and joined the Gunnison Nordic team when she turned 8. Among many winter contests, Rickert has been to four Junior National Competitions and the Alley Loop Nordic Marathon, placing second in the overall women collegiate standings. Camaraderie, she said, is a strength among the three women who made the world games team.
“It’s encouraging and uplifting and it never feels like we’re competing against each other,” Rickert said. “We push each other to get better.”
Fellow sophomore Cryder grew up in Alaska, a huge hub for Nordic skiing. Cryder took up the sport casually in middle school, and with encouragement from high school coaches she joined a club team and began to compete. She qualified for the Junior Nationals and the Arctic Winter Games in Canada, which were cancelled due to the pandemic. She credits Mountain Sports and her coach in helping her pursue a great opportunity.
“My coach really encouraged me to apply for the games despite it seeming to be a shot in the dark,” Cryder said. “I gave the application my best effort, prayed I’d get in, but really had no expectation and was beyond excited to find out I got in.”
Senior skier Benney started skiing in sixth grade, but didn’t become competitive until high school. She competed for the Summit County High School and the Summit Nordic Ski Club teams. Benney took a break from the sport her freshman year of college and returned to competition placing in the top three to five slots. Benney competed at the 2020 USCSA Nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., placing seventh in the 7.5K race, her first top 10 placing at the national level. She finished 11th overall at Lake Placid. Like Rickert, she too sees the benefit of training with fellow teammates for the international competition.
“The team environment is super positive,” she said. “Everyone wants to be a part of the team and put forth their best effort. It’s a great environment.”
The trip to Switzerland isn’t free. Coach Geisen—who also competed in the games in the past—said Mountain Sports is contributing to each athlete’s travel costs. The skiers are responsible for about 70 percent of their expenses and each is fundraising individually. You can help Rickert and Cryder at their GoFundMe sites. Benney is privately fundraising.
More on the international competition can be found at fisu.net.