Back home in Anchorage, University of Utah's Luke Jager sweeps UAA Invite nordic skiing events

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Feb. 22—Anchorage's Luke Jager had plenty of options for finishing off his cross-country ski season.

After winning a pair of national championships earlier this season, he was recently named to Team USA for this month's World Ski Championships.

But Jager, who is also a senior at the University of Utah, wanted to complete his college season. That brought him back home this week to compete.

And compete he did, sweeping both the freestyle sprint and the classic 10K races at the UAA Invite in Kincaid Park.

"It's my senior year of college," he said. "Racing in Alaska, there is nowhere I'd rather be, to come home and race here. I don't know when the next time I'd be able to race at Kincaid."

Traveling to Europe for Worlds with Team USA would have been a nearly monthlong commitment that would have likely made it difficult for him to compete at NCAA Nationals.

"That's something I wanted to do, and I really wanted to come race here," Jager said. "And there will be plenty of World Championships in the future, hopefully. So yeah, it was an easy choice."

In Monday's sprint freestyle race, he edged out Utah teammate Walker Hall with a time of 3:09.98. Tuesday's classic race was equally close as he topped Norwegian Andreas Kirkeng and APU skier Zanden McMullen by less than three seconds each.

Jager said he definitely enjoyed some inside knowledge on the Kincaid trails, and was happy to be on the right side of a race.

"Gus (Schumacher) and I raced here so much when we were younger," he said. "I knew like where I got dropped every time when I was in high school. I thought 'Alright, I can be on the other side of it for once.' I like knew all those secret spots."

Jager wasn't the only Utah skier to find success on the Kincaid trails. Novie McCabe swept both races as well, edging UAF skier Mariel Pulles in Monday's freestyle sprint with a time of 3:39.06.

On Tuesday, it was a relatively easy victory as her time of 30:41 was 20 seconds faster than runner-up Hanna Abrahamsson of the University of Colorado.

"The conditions were perfect," McCabe said. "There were a lot of short hills you could sprint, so it made for exciting racing."

A 2022 U.S. Olympian, McCabe had two other Utah teammates in the top 10.

"I feel like it's like our whole team right now is kind of crushing so that's fun to be a part of," she said.

Pulles capped off a fine UAA Invite with a tough race on Tuesday. After finishing runner-up on Monday, she took a fall in the first 1,000 kilometers of the classic race. Despite going down hard on her face, Pulles raced back and edged out two other skiers down the stretch for third place.

"It was just a face-plant," she said. "I was just trying to finish as quickly as I could."

The week continues with the NCAA West Regional championships that run Wednesday through Saturday with nordic racing at Government Peak and alpine racing at Alyeska in Girdwood.

"I'm not excited for 20K," Pulles said of regionals. "It's just too long for me. But I'm excited to race a lot of races in one weekend and especially Alaska."

In alpine racing at the UAA Invite, Norwegian skier Gustav Rosberg Voello finished first in the giant slalom on Tuesday at Alyeska. UAA's Leon Nikic finished third with a combined 1:33.35, just a half second back of Voello.

Swede Sara Rask won the giant slalom women's event on Monday. UAA's top skier was Ainsley Proffit, who finished 13th in a time of 1:37.73. The UAA Invite wraps up Thursday with slalom races at Alyeska.