Kevin Stell of Juneau may be a rookie on the college skiing circuit, but his first season with the University of Colorado ski team has not been the typical rookie year.
Stell had been the perfect college skier until Friday, when some minor back pain caused him to skip the second giant slalom run at the NCAA West Regionals. Until this weekend he'd never finished below eighth place in a race all season, either in GS or slalom. Stell was the type of skier a coach put in the race and know by the time things were done he'd most likely have a top-10 finish.
Stell, who has battled recurring back pain, completed the first run of Friday's GS race but didn't start the second run because he's already qualified for the NCAA National Championships March 7-9 in Middlebury, Vt., and he wanted to protect his chances for a national title. He rebounded to finish third in Saturday's slalom race at the Western Regionals.
"I would say he's been our No. 1 skier as far as consistency," said Colorado coach Richard Rokos, who led the Buffaloes to three straight NCAA titles until last year's second-place finish. "As far as absolute speed, I'd say he's behind Josh Nolting and Chad Wolk but those guys take a lot more risks. In college, consistency is a virtue. You need a guy or two like this to be the cornerstone of your team, so you know you'll get points. Then you can wrap the risk takers around him."
"It's been a good season," Stell said from Vail as he prepared for this weekend's racing. "Being consistent is the key to college skiing."
Stell hasn't won a race so far this season, but he's come close. He took second place in a giant slalom race in Colorado, where most of the region's top skiers were in attendance. Stell also has three fourth-place finishes, a fifth and two eighths. He was headed into another top-eight finish Thursday in Vail, when they were making up a giant slalom race from a meet two weeks ago in New Mexico, but Stell cut a corner too tightly and ended up with his worst college finish of the season at 15th place.
"I was riding up the lift when Kevin was making his second run, and he looked like he was right in there. But he made a big mistake at the bottom of the course," said Chip Woods, the director of Ski Club Vail, where Stell has trained off-and-on for the past three or four years. Woods, a former Alaskan, is also the co-founder of the now-defunct Glacier Creek Academy in Girdwood where Olympic champion Tommy Moe attended high school.
"As he skied down, I could spot him a mile away," Woods said. "I've had some former athletes -- Debbie Armstrong, Cindy Nelson, Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, Tamara McKinney -- like that, where I can still see their technique and know it's them. I haven't seen Kevin much in the last year or two, but he came to me last year and wanted to do some speed work before nationals. He's a compact, powerful, precise skier. Tommy (Moe) had a similar build as Kevin, except Tommy's about 200 pounds and Kevin's only about 180."
Stell may be a rookie on the college circuit, but he's not a rookie skier by any stretch of the imagination.
When he was younger, Stell twice represented the United States at the World Junior Ski Championships. In 1995 in Voss, Norway, Stell took 22nd place in the slalom and was 33rd in the giant slalom. The next year, in Schwyz/Ybrig, Switzerland, Stell placed 19th in the super giant slalom, 20th in the GS and 32nd in the downhill while competing with a broken thumb.
Stell, who was home-schooled and graduated from Alyeska Central School, has also competed in the U.S. Ski Association's national championships seven times since he turned 16 and also spent a year in Europe as an unofficial member of the U.S. Ski Team's C Team and was part of the U.S. Ski Team's developmental program.
Last year, at the national championships in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Stell finished 26th in the super-G, 27th in the GS and 30th in the downhill despite taking much of the season off from training. Stell finished ninth and 12th in two downhill runs at the 1999 national championships in Ogden, Utah, plus he took 19th in the super-G.
"He's a great four-event skier, except in college they only care about two events (slalom and GS)," Woods said. "He's got a tremendous amount of talent in all four events, which is becoming rare these days. When I first had him he needed to make a few equipment changes, and the next year he went to Europe with the U.S. team."
Stell planned to ski for Colorado last year, but ran into an eligibility problem when the NCAA didn't allow one of his Alyeska Central School classes to transfer. Roberta Stell, Kevin's mother, said the family specifically asked about the courses when Kevin was taking them and was told the classes were OK by the NCAA. Just as the 1999-2000 college ski season was getting ready to start, the NCAA told Colorado that Stell was ineligible for competition as a freshman and, before he could compete as a sophomore, Stell had to pass 24 credits of college level classes.
"I'd trained with the team and done a few races (as a club skier), but when the NCAA said I wasn't eligible I kind of decided to take some time off and went free skiing," Stell said. "I was able to get the love of the sport back. It was kind of a blessing in disguise because I got to take a step back. I'd never had to miss part of a season before because of an injury, so it was a nice break, especially getting back to college."
Because of the ineligibility, and Stell's age (he turns 24 on April 4), this may be his only year as a college skier. Stell and his Colorado coaches expect to apply for a waiver so Stell can ski next year, but even if it's granted Stell won't be able to ski as a senior because he'll be older than the NCAA's 25-year-old age limit for Division I sports.
"I believe a big injustice was done on Kevin by the NCAA criteria," Rokos said. "The whole purpose of the rule is grades. Kevin's not a super student, but he's a good student and he's sailing through school with flying colors. His academic status is not an issue. I'd prefer he stay and fight for his eligibility. He seems committed to CU and we have hopes he gets another year out of it."
Stell said he'd like to ski for Colorado again next year, especially since he's had a lot of fun competing against other Alaskans like Colorado's Scott Montalbo and Utah's Scott Woodland who he's been racing against since they were all 6 years old. Stell hasn't declared a major, but is thinking of history or political science. He said he'd like to complete school and maybe take another shot at the national team.
"The college circuit is more laid back, but it's still very competitive," Stell said. "I've seen guys do well on the Europa Cup after skiing in college. It's really a team atmosphere in college, you're really racing as a team instead of as an individual."
University of Colorado graduate student Matt Beedle (Juneau-Douglas High School/Montana State-Bozeman) is a member of the U.S. Telemark Ski Association national team. Beedle took 20th in the classic sprint race and was 12th in a giant slalom event during Telemark World Cup races Feb. 7-9 at Sugarloaf, Maine.
Whitman College junior snowboarder Lindsay Bloom (Juneau-Douglas) was the winner of a women's boardercross event held Jan. 20 at the Anthony Lakes Nordic Center near North Powder, Ore. Whitman's snowboarding team had its next series of events cancelled due to lack of snow, and no other results have been posted from other races. Bloom is coached by Tom Olson, who used to coach skiing at the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau.
Juneau resident Sarah Fischer, who graduated from Utah's Rowmark Academy last year and expects to attend Colorado next season, is currently training with the Park City Ski Team in Utah. Fischer won a silver medal in the downhill event during the Dan Bean Memorial Speed series races Feb. 8-11 at Aspen, Colo. Fischer also took fourth place in a downhill and a super giant slalom during the series, which is also known as the Federation Internationale de Ski-Rocky Mountain/West Elite race series.
Louisiana Tech sophomore Nicole Beraldi (Ketchikan) will defend her national powerlifting title March 10-11 during the U.S.A. National Collegiate Championships in Alexandria, La. As a freshman last year, Beraldi won the individual title in the 114-pound division with a combined 716.25 pounds lifted -- with a 270-pound squat, 143.25 bench and 303 deadlift.
Long Beach State sophomore lefthanded pitcher Chad Bentz (Juneau-Douglas) has been receiving national recognition in college baseball previews. Bentz was tabbed by Collegiate Baseball magazine as a "player to watch," while Baseball America magazine ranked Bentz 80th in its list of top-100 college prospects for the 2001 amateur draft. Bentz was drafted in the 34th round of the 1999 draft by the New York Yankees, but will return to the draft in June. Baseball America also said this about Bentz and Long Beach State, "While (Matt) Paz and (Jason) Berni have more experience, Bentz has the best arm on the staff. The Alaskan has drawn inevitable comparisons to Jim Abbott because he was born without a right hand. Like Abbott, he can also pitch a little. Pitching year-round for the firsttime, the former linebacker has added stamina and velocity, reaching the low 90s with his fastball." So far this season, Bentz has an 0-1 record and a 9.64 ERA with two no-decisions. Bentz was supposed to pitch against California on Saturday, but the game was rained out and will be made up today.
Iowa State senior third baseman Rob Conway (Juneau-Douglas) drove in two runs with a double in Friday's 6-4 loss by the Cyclones to Arkansas State. Conway, who led Iowa State in home runs and RBIs last season, was hitting .286 through last Sunday with nine runs scored, six RBIs, a double, triple and home run in 35 at bats.
Arizona State freshman catcher Garrett Schoenberger (Juneau-Douglas) was the only walk-on player out of more than 30 who tried out to make the Sun Devils this year. According to ASU sports information director Jeff Evans, "Garrett is doing well and living up to his role better than ever as a walk-on. He is a very hard worker and well-respected by the coach and his team. And, with our starting catcher graduating, he has a good shot to play next year."
Linfield College freshman Jon Blasco (Juneau-Douglas) has made the Wildcats' preseason roster as an outfielder. Blasco is also playing junior varsity basketball at Linfield, which opens its baseball season March 2-4 in Lewiston, Idaho.
Grinnell College senior Joel Cladouhos (Juneau-Douglas) will pitch and play first base for the Pioneers this spring. Cladouhos, who now lives in Anchorage, helped Grinnell win the Midwest Conference-Southern Division championship last year and was also the league's player of the week once during the season.
Mendocino Community College of Ukiah, Calif., has three baseball players from Southeast Alaska on its roster this year -- sophomore third baseman Wade Walter (Juneau-Douglas), freshman outfielder Robert Ridgeway (Juneau-Douglas) and freshman lefthanded pitcher Paul Claasen (Ketchikan).
Biola College sophomore infielder Kara Lindley (Juneau-Douglas) is hitting .227 with four runs scored and four RBIs in 22 at bats for the Eagles. Lindley, who also plays outfield and pinch runs a lot, transferred to Biola this year from Oregon Institute of Technology. "Kara is going to be a valuable player for us," Biola coach Mike Smith said. "She is going to be back-up at second, third and in the outfield for us this year. Kara has above average speed, with great athletic ability, which makes her an easy candidate to be your typical utility player."
Oregon Institute of Technology senior catcher-first baseman Heidi Brown (Juneau-Douglas) was listed on the preseason roster for OIT, but her name has since disappeared from the roster. Brown is an honors student who has been with the team three seasons and also played basketball one year at OIT.
Columbia University senior Thea Stoll (Juneau-Douglas) is listed as a utility player on the Lions' roster this year.
Rhodes College junior Scott Findley (Juneau-Douglas) is vice president of the school's rugby club team and will be a team captain next year. Findley plays right flank, but can also slide into the second row or out to the wing for the team from Memphis, Tenn.
Air Force Academy freshman Josh Dean and sophomore Christian Kolden (both Juneau-Douglas) are playing for the Falcons' B team this season. Rugby is a club sport at Air Force, and the B team posted a 6-2 overall (6-0 collegiate) record this fall. The team opens its spring schedule with a trip to Chicago in March.
University of Idaho freshman Erin Mesdag (Juneau-Douglas) and sophomore Cassie Tyler (Sitka) are among the four Alaskans playing for the Vandals' women's rugby club team. Mesdag played outside center this fall and will switch to a winger in the spring. Tyler is the team's starting scrum-half, but broke a wrist in the fall when she reached into a ruck to dig a loose ball out of the pile.
Freshman Robb Travis (Juneau-Douglas) has made the golf team at Shasta Community College (Redding, Calif.).
University of Nevada junior David Lowell (Juneau-Douglas) is competing for the Wolfpack's varsity rifle team. Lowell was part of a four-person men's team (college riflery is coed) that beat the University of San Francisco 1,462 to 1,346 in November, with Lowell shooting a 361. The rifle season holds its national championships in March.
The Juneau Empire's College Corner feature is compiled by sports editor Charles Bingham from college Web sites and tips from local coaches and readers. College Corner runs about once or twice a month. If you know of a college athlete from Southeast Alaska who should be included in a future College Corner feature, please fax the information to 1-907-586-3028 (attention sports) or you can e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org (please do not send any text attachments).