In the early stages of training for the 2019 skiing season, Colorado head Nordic coach Jana Weinberger wasn't sure what to make of freshman Erik Dengerud.
"When he came, he's kind of a quiet guy and doesn't talk a lot," Weinberger said. "He got sick and was kind of behind everybody and then slowly started coming back. He came back and everybody was a little skeptical, looking at him, 'Is he ever going to perform to his potential?'"
Then the season began, and the Buffaloes quickly discovered Dengerud was going to be just fine.
"He showed that calm and steady pays off," Weinberger said.
Although just a freshman, Dengerud has been one of CU's top skiers this season and one reason why the Buffaloes take some confidence in the NCAA Championships, which run Wednesday through Saturday in Stowe, Vt.
The championships begin with the Nordic freestyle races on Wednesday and continue with the giant slalom on Thursday, the Nordic classical races on Friday and the slalom on Saturday.
CU is seeking its 21st national championship in skiing and qualified a full 12-person team — three men's and three women's skiers in both alpine and Nordic — for the event. There are 24 schools represented, but only six with a full squad. Only two teams — CU in 2006 and Denver in 2008 — have won the national title without a full roster.
Dengerud, from Oslo, Norway, enters his first NCAA championship meet after a season in which he posted eight top-10 finishes in 10 races. He won the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) championship in the 10K freestyle on Feb. 20 in Alaska, while adding a third-place finish in the 20K classical race two days later.
"I felt pretty good," he said of his performance at the RMISA championships. "I got better and better throughout the season and it was good coming down (near) sea level and go even faster. I felt good, so it was real fun."
Dengerud has finished top-eight in each of his last seven races, putting together the most consistent season among the men's Nordic skiers.
Dengerud, 23, has significant international experience, with 14 total starts in the Norwegian National Championships and more than 80 starts in FIS-sanctioned races, with eight top-10 finishes. He said competing for CU has been a different yet exciting change.
"I think the biggest difference is training with the team every day," he said. "I really like it. It makes it easier to go out and train. I think it's just kind of the continuity in the training, and it's been real fun to train with the team. It's a really good group of guys training together."
As the season has gone along, Dengerud has turned that training into progressively better results.
"It's very good to see," Weinberger said. "He knows what he's doing and works toward his goal. He's in shape for the right time."
Dengerud is hoping he's peaking at the right time to help the Buffs make a run at the national title.
"I'm pretty excited," he said. "I think it could be pretty tight, especially with Utah. I think we have a shot; we'll do our best. Hopefully my shape will be even better than it's been so far. That's the plan at least. I think the rest of the guys are in good shape. We should be able to get some points for the team."
Weinberger, in her first season as the head Nordic coach after the retirement of long-time coach Bruce Cranmer, likes the Buffs' chances of success in the Nordic races.
Senior Alvar Alev earned first-team All-American honors at the 2018 championships and has 16 top-10 finishes in his two-year career, including eight this year.
Sophomore Sondre Bollum is making his second appearance at nationals, as well. He earned two second-team All-American honors last year and has 14 top-10 finishes in his career.
On the women's side, the Buffs will bring senior Christina Rolandsen, junior Anne Siri Lervik and sophomore Hedda Baangman to nationals.
Baangman has had a sensational season and won RMISA women's Nordic MVP honors last week. She has eight top-10 finishes this season, including one victory.
Lervik was first-team All-American in the classical race last season, and was third in the RMISA MVP standings this year. She has seven top 10 finishes, including a win, this year.
Rolandsen is the most experienced Nordic skier of the group, going to nationals for the third time. She's a three-time All-American and has 32 top-10 finishes in her career, including nine this year.
"We're feeling good," Weinberger said. "If everybody performs like they have performed the whole season, I think I'll be happy with that. I think pretty much everybody has been in the top five at least once. If we have our best races, that will be awesome."