ASPEN — The University of Colorado ski team used another strong Nordic performance here Sunday to rally and win the Denver Invitational, the Buffaloes’ third win in four meets this winter.
Colorado, ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Vermont, was in fourth after the two giant slalom races on Friday, moved into a tie for second after the slalom and classical races, and then took over the top spot after a placing six finishers in the top nine in Sunday’s freestyle competition, which included a 2-3-4 finish by the Buffalo women.
The Buffs once again edged Utah, as CU amassed 879 points to the Utes’ 869; all three of Colorado’s wins have been close encounters over future Pac-12 Conference colleague Utah, as the trio of victories has come by a combined 44 points (9, 25 and 10). Host Denver held on to third place with 808 points, just edging New Mexico (806) after the Lobos held the lead following each of the first two days of competition. Just six points had separated the teams prior to the final two events.
Sunday’s 21-kilometer race for both the men and women was the longest race for both genders this winter, and participants skied among the 546 finishers in the annual Owl Creek Chase, as the nearly 13-mile course covers terrain between Snowmass Village and Aspen.
Junior Eliska Hajkova led the way for the Buffaloes, finishing second in 1 hour, 6 minutes and six-tenths of a second, trailing only Utah’s Maria Graefnings, who won in 1:05:44.3. It was Hajkova’s eighth top four finish in as many races this winter (seven in the top three), with Sunday being her fifth runner-up effort. Sophomore Joanne Reid, fresh off her first collegiate win on Saturday in the 5K classic, took third in 1:08:39.3, with senior Alexa Turzian right behind her in 1:08:40.6; Turzian rebounded from a 30th place finish the previous day. Sophomore Mary Rose had her career best collegiate finish, as she was 14th (1:12:31.3), with junior Katie Stege matching her season best with a 20th place timing in 1:14:32.1.
Junior Reid Pletcher, also coming off his first win, again led the Buff men with a sixth place finish in 1:00:05.3. Senior Patrick Neel had his season best finish in the freestyle, crossing the line right behind Pletcher in 1:00:09.3. Senior Jesper Ostensen rounded out the three CU scorers with a ninth place time of 1:00:58.0.
Junior Ian Mallams (19th, 1:02:33.1), freshman Spencer Lacy (22nd, 1:03:01.8, his second best effort this winter) and freshman Andreas Hoye (26th, 1:04:53.9) completed CU’s performances this weekend. The Buffs were again without the services of one of its top performers Sunday, as senior Vegard Kjoelhamar has been battling illness the better part of the last month and missed his second straight race.
“It was a perfect day, beautiful weather, and we just set out to just try and take care of the details, not worry about things and let the points fall where they may,” CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. “It was challenging because with so many skiers, you weren’t always following a collegian and that made it hard to figure out during the race exactly where we might be.”
“It was great for the girls to go 2-3-4 for the second time and the guys were solid, placing three in the top nine,” he added. “I think we had a solid day, team-wise it was a better performance than Saturday though we didn’t have any individual winners, but we were happy with it for sure. They raced their hearts out. Eliska said it was the longest race of her career, she had done 15K’s before, but she was there fighting until the end. The lead pack was together until there was about 2K to go before there was any real separation. But it was still pretty close until the end.”
Cranmer referred to CU’s 2-3-4 finish in the freestyle by the women in the New Mexico meet last weekend, and the Buff ladies also had a 2-3-5 showing in the Montana State meet to start the year, again in the freestyle.
“It was close from the beginning, but the Nordics came back to make up the margin and help us to the win,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said. “And for them to do it without Vegard for both races was quite an accomplishment and that says a lot about the depth of the team and others stepping up. We were running out of juice on the alpine side a bit, coming back from Turkey and with everyone looking forward to a break. The (alpine) kids skied well but not to their potential, but we’ll be ready for regionals. ”
The RMISA Championship/NCAA West Regional is next up on the schedule, set for February 25-26 in Park City and Soldier Hollow, Utah.
Men’s 21k Freestyle (35 finishers)— 1. Miles Havlick, Utah, 59:23.8; 2. Tyler Reinking, MSU, 59:27.7; 3. Michael Schallinger, MSU, 59:55.8; 4. Andrew Dougherty, DU, 59:57.0; 5. Tom Smith, Utah, 59:58.8; 6. Reid Pletcher, CU, 1:00:05.3; 7. Patrick Neel, CU, 1:00:09.3; 8. Lukes Ebner, UAA, 1:00:20.1; 9. Jesper Ostensen, CU, 1:00:58.0; 10. Martin Kaas, UNM, 1:01:02.0. Other CU Finishers: 19. Ian Mallams, 1:02:33.1; 22. Spencer Lacy, 1:03:01.8; 26. Andreas Hoye, 1:04:53.9.
Women’s 21k Freestyle (37 finishers)— 1. Maria Graefnings, Utah, 1:05:44.3; 2. Eliska Hajkova, CU, 1:06:00.6; 3. Joanne Reid, CU, 1:08:39.3; 4. Alexa Turzian, CU, 1:08:40.6; 5. Jamie Brogna, UAA, 1:08:42.2; 6. Kate Dolan, DU, 1:08.55.8; 7. Mari Elden, 1:10:40.5; 8. Sarah MacCarthy, Utah, 1:10:59.0; 9. Maerta Larsen, Utah, 1:11:22.1; 10. Melina Park, MSU, 1:11.46.1. Other CU Finishers: 14. Mary Rose, 1:12:31.3; 20. Katie Stege, 1:14:32.1.