SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah - On the strength of an impressive victory for Vegard Kjoelhamar and two podium appearances on the women's side, the University of Colorado ski team pulled away from host Utah and won the 2011 Utah Invitational after briefly losing the lead earlier in the day.
The Buffs finished with 923 points, 25 ahead of host Utah (898) and nearly 100 ahead of third place New Mexico, who finished with 824.5 points after an impressive day of action. Defending NCAA Champion Denver finished another 100 points back with 710 while Alaska Anchorage (658.5), Montana State (640) and associate member Westminster College (254) round out the field.
Colorado has now won four straight western meets (regular season and RMISA Championships), the last two a year ago and the first two of the 2011 season. It's the most consecutive meets the Buffs have won since the 2006 and '07 seasons, when they won four straight western meets and the 2006 NCAA Championship, as well.
"All in all, it was a great day," CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. "To win by 20 points without Joanne Reid here, I'll take that for sure. I think a lot of people had waxing issue. Soldier Hollow is a tricky place to wax, there are a lot of outside factors that affect it. It's tricky. If you didn't have the right stuff on your skis, it makes it a lot harder. I don't think anybody had perfect skis the whole race."
First on tap was the women's 15K classical race, and the Buffs were able to put both Eliska Hajkova and Alexa Turzian on the podium, finishing second and third behind Utah's Maria Graefnings, who has now won all four women's Nordic races on the season. Hajkova has finished all four races in second place, this time in 55:37.0, or 59 seconds behind Graefnings. She now has 11 podium appearances in just over one season on the team and eight of those 11 have been runner-up appearances.
Turzian, meanwhile, took third in a time of 56:59.2, and Utah's Marta Larsen took fourth in a time of 57:20.5, essentially meaning in terms of team scoring, those four cancelled each other out, each duo gaining 91 points for their respective teams. For Turzian, it is her second best classical finish at CU behind her only victory, which came in her first classic race as a Buff at the Alaska Invitational in 2009. She also won a classic race and finished third in another while a freshman at Middlebury, meaning this is her fourth podium appearance in classical races, her second at Colorado.
Utah's Zoe Roy finished sixth, 10 spots ahead of CU's third scorer, sophomore Mary Rose, who finished with a time of 1:00:44.0 and earned 26 points for the Buffs. Utah won the race by 11 points meaning the Utes had a one-point lead in the overall standings heading into the men's race. For Rose, it was her best classic finish, topping an 18th place at last year's RMISA Championships.
"That was one of Alexa's best classic races," Cranmer said. "Skating is a different story, but she hasn't made it to the podium a whole lot in classic races. Mary had her best result so far. Everybody for the most part had a good day."
CU's Katie Stege did not finish the race battling an illness while Reid, who has a pair of top 10 performances to her credit this season, is in Europe ahead of the Junior Cross Country World Championships.
The men's team took the one point deficit and turned it into a 25 point victory, but did not win the race as a team. That honor went to New Mexico, who racked up 128 points, two more than the Buffs (126) while the Utes scored 100 as a team.
For Kjoelhamar, it's his second win of the season in four races and his other two finishes are runner-up performances. He won impressively, beating the field by more than a minute-and-a-half in a time of 1:03:11.5. After the first lap, the lead gap included six skiers but by the mid-point of the race, he had opened up a minute lead on the pack and he added another 30 seconds to that lead after the third lap.
"He had a big day," Cranmer said. "He just he got the lead at the beginning and skied away from everybody. He didn't have a big plan, he got a little bit of a gap on the first lap into the stadium, and kept skiing like he wanted to with a smooth rhythm and skied away from everybody. He kept building his lead throughout the race, each lap he improved."
Jesper Ostensen took fourth place in a time of 1:05:50.0 and Reid Pletcher took home seventh place in a time of 1:05:44.3. CU and New Mexico had seven of the top eight finishers as the Buffs locked up the team title. Ian Mallams was 10th in a time of 1:07:20.1, while Patrick Neel finished 16th in a time of 1:08:46.7. Spencer Lacy finished in 20th place in a time of 1:09:36.0 and freshman Andreas Hoye did not finish.
The Buffs hope to duplicate this effort in just about a month as Utah will serve host to the 2011 RMISA Championships on these same courses.
"It's a really good course," Cranmer said. "It's an Olympic-quality course. There are good up and downs, it skis well and is super challenging. I'm happy to come back to it later this season; it's one of the best around. I also like it because from the stadium, you can see the race unfold. You can see most of the race just the way it's laid out."
Next up for the Buffaloes will be a trip to Red River, N.M., for the 2011 New Mexico Invitational. The event will be unique for a variety of reasons. First, seven of CU's 14 alpine skiers, including five of the eight women, will be participating in the World University Games in Turkey. In Nordic action, it's unique in that it's both the highest race and the flattest race of the year.
"It's just different," Cranmer said. "The altitude is over 10,000 feet, so you can't prepare the same way you would other races. It's not to say we don't want to go there and compete and win, but we don't put the same focus on it. For that meet, I want to maintain, get good training in, get the kids focused on school again and then get ready for the second half of the season after New Mexico when we go to Apsen, back here for RMISA Championships and then of course NCAA Championships."
Utah Invitational Team Scores (final)-1. Colorado, 923; 2. Utah, 898; 3. New Mexico 824.5; 4. Denver 710; 5. Alaska Anchorage 658.5; 6. Montana State 640; 7. Westminster College 254.
Women's Classical (30 finishers)-1. Maria Grafnings, UU, 54:38.0; 2. Eliska Hajkova, CU, 55:37.0; 3. Alexa Turzian, CU, 56:59.2; 4. Marta Larsen, UU, 57:20.5; 5. Stephanie Hiemer, UAA, 57:25.9; 6. Zoe Roy, UU, 57:38.4; 7. Mareine Weng, UNM, 57:46.4; 8. Terese Andersson, UNM, 57:55.4; 9. Kate Dolan, DU, 58:13.3; 10. Sarah MacCarthy, UU, 58:44.2. Other CU Finishers: 16. Mary Rose, 1:00:44.0. Did Not Finish: Katie Stege.
Men's Classical (28 finishers)-1. Vegard Kjoelhamar, CU, 1:03:11.5; 2. Tor-Hakon Hellebostad, UNM, 1:04:42.5; 3. Martin Kaas, UNM, 1:04:44.9; 4. Jesper Ostensen, CU, 1:04:50.0; 5. Miles Havlick, UU, 1:05:10.0; 6. Christian Otto, UNM, 1:05:44.3; 7. Reid Pletcher, CU, 1:06:37.4; 8. Pierre Niess, UNM, 1:06:58.4; 9. Bernhard Roenning, MSU, 1:07:14.9; 10. Ian Mallams, CU, 1:07:20.1. Other CU Finishers: 16. Patrick Neel, 1:08:46.7; 20. Spencer Lacy, 1:09:36.0. Did Not Finish: Andreas Hoye.