Steamboat Springs The University of Denver ski team put its stamp Saturday as the most decorated and dominant collegiate team of the decade. That it took place at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs was somewhat symbolic.
The Pioneers won their third straight NCAA title, 21st overall and seventh since 2000. Although superb skiing in Nordic and Alpine were at the forefront, behind the scenes and at the core of the program are three coaches with deep ties to Steamboat.
Head Alpine coach Andy LeRoy, assistant Alpine coach Aaron Haffey and assistant Nordic coach Hennie Kashiwa are Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club veterans.
LeRoy is a 1993 Steamboat Springs High School graduate. He skied for the Winter Sports Club from 1984 to 1993 and coached for the Winter Sports Club from 2003 to 2006. In 2006, he was named the club’s Coach of the Year.
Haffey skied for the Winter Sports Club in 1997 and 1998 and then coached at the club from 2000 to 2004. He was Coach of the Year in 2001.
Kashiwa skied for the Winter Sports Club from 1997 to 2002.
“I didn’t grow up here, but when I come back, I feel like I did,” Haffey said. “It’s Howelsen at night and the energy it brings. It fuels my passion for ski racing. I was sitting up at the top in December and it made me remember how much I love the sport.”
It certainly showed in DU’s recent performances. The University of Colorado came into the 2010 NCAA Championships this week in Steamboat as the favorite. But DU took a commanding lead after Wednesday’s giant slalom and was able to maintain it through the week.
Although CU was the official host, it seemed as if it was DU’s meet.
Leroy, Haffey and Kashiwa were about as familiar with the courses as any other coach.
“It hasn’t changed much. They put plastic on the 50 (ski jump) and there are better lights,” said Kashiwa, who skied for DU and coached a
year at Western State College before joining DU.
“There are also a lot more flags in Olympian Hall,” he added, referring to the flags representing the Winter Olympics appearance of every athlete with Steamboat ties.
For LeRoy, Steamboat essentially is home.
During his last year as a Winter Sports Club coach in 2006, CU won the national championship in Steamboat. That season LeRoy had six athletes with Steamboat ties on that team. Months after that championship, he was offered the job at DU.
“It feels pretty good to be from the longest and most successful program in Colorado,” LeRoy said. “I’ve been through it and coached it.”
Although each coach downplayed his role in the Pioneers’ success, it’s not hard to see their influence. Each said a big part of that comes from being in the Winter Sports Club.
“It’s just any night of the week,” Kashiwa said about the club’s Howelsen Hill atmosphere. “You’ll see jumpers, kids doing slalom or cross-country. Everything is happening all at once.”
Beyond that, however, the thing the three took most from the Winter Sports Club was the enthusiasm and passion for ski racing. The trio certainly was happy with DU’s third consecutive national championship, but they were far from satisfied. After all, four in a row is better than three.
“It’s not by any means the highest paid job,” LeRoy said about coaching. “But you do it because you love it. You do it until you get the job done right. You do it for the passion and love.
“It’s true in the spirit of you love what you’re doing.”