Steamboat Springs' Mary O'Connell nears the finish at the Middlebury Carnival earlier season. O'Connell won her second and third collegiate races of her career during the weekend skiing for Dartmouth. She enters the NCAA Championships as one of the top-ranked skiers from the Eastern division.

Gretchen Powers / Courtesy

Steamboat Springs' Mary O'Connell nears the finish at the Middlebury Carnival earlier season. O'Connell won her second and third collegiate races of her career during the weekend skiing for Dartmouth. She enters the NCAA Championships as one of the top-ranked skiers from the Eastern division.

Steamboat skier O'Connell wins 2 more NCAA races

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— Mary O’Connell’s concern now lies in a pesky midterm exam Monday morning in psychology.

The Dartmouth freshman and Steamboat Springs Nordic skier is learning about learning and said that Sunday will be devoted to studying.

“I hope it goes well,” she said.

Hopefully, though, O’Connell takes a brief reprieve from her books and realizes just what she has done.

O’Connell has burst onto the NCAA skiing circuit by winning three of the last four Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association Nordic races, including a pair this weekend.

She won the women’s 5-kilometer classic event Friday by 1.7 seconds. She followed it up Saturday with a win in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle mass start event.

Saturday was a photo finish with the University of Vermont’s Anja Gruber. O’Connell won by 1/10th of second.

“I will say (we're) pleasantly surprised,” said Josh Smullin, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s cross country head ability coach. “We knew she was capable of skiing like this. But to actually do it is a big deal.”

With her recent results, O’Connell will enter the 2013 NCAA Skiing Championships as the second seed out of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association.

The championships take place March 6 to 9 at Middlebury College.

O’Connell won her first collegiate race on the same course as the NCAA championships, winning Feb. 15 in a women’s 15-kilometer freestyle mass start.

Currently, she is ranked first in the EISA freestyle and fourth in the classic. She also raised expectations by finishing seventh at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Soldier Hollow earlier this year.

“I was hoping this year of getting top 10s,” O’Connell said about her maiden voyage into the NCAA season. “Maybe a few top 10s and consistently in the top 20s. I guess (I’m surprised). It hasn’t sunk in. Being out there with everyone, it hasn’t really hit me. It’s just been a lot of fun.”

But it’s pretty unprecedented for a freshman to burst onto the scene. For O’Connell, it has been a whirlwind.

In addition to managing her course load at Dartmouth, she spends a good majority of her time training.

She goes to class, goes to practice, studies and sleeps.

“I maximize the sleep time I have,” she said. “I try to focus on one thing at a time and then focus on the other. I focus on what I’m doing at the moment.”

O’Connell said she had no grand ambitions at the NCAA tournament, admitting before the season her goal was just to make it.

But with the NCAA championships on a course she already has won on, the bull’s-eye suddenly has swung toward the freshman at Dartmouth.

So have her goals changed?

“Definitely,” she said. “Part of me thinks (I can get on the podium). I don’t want to jinx myself or anything.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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