ELDORA - The defending national champion University of Colorado ski team is in first place after two events here in its own CU Invitational/Spencer Nelson Memorial, as the Buffaloes hold a slim three-point edge over Utah following Saturday's giant slalom races.
Colorado accumulated 239 team points to Utah's 236, as the two were nose-to-nose for the second straight day; in Friday's "prelim," the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Athletic Association Alpine qualifier, had team scoring taken place, Utah held a 242-230 edge. New Mexico is in third (190), followed by Denver (182) and Alaska-Anchorage (175) to round out the top five.
Colorado's annual invitational has been renamed the Spencer Nelson Memorial, honoring the Buff sophomore who was killed in a hiking accident near Aspen in August 2010. The previous two decades the meet honored Laura Sharpe Flood, who was killed in a training run here at Eldora in April 1990.
CU senior Erika Ghent captured the women's giant slalom in a 1:55.38 time, posting the fastest runs in both the morning (54.82) and afternoon (1:00.56) to easily win the race by nearly a full second on Eldora's La Belle Dame course. That followed up her third place finish in Friday's RMISA Qualifier No. 1, to give her a pair of podium finishes to open the year. Another CU senior, Katie Hartman, won Friday's race and switched positions with Ghent Saturday, as she was third in 1:56.55 for two podium effort as well. Sandwiched in-between in second both days was a Utah skier, this time Tii-Maria Romar in 1:56.24.
Ghent was humble in victory, her second collegiate win to go with an RMISA Alpine qualifier in the giant slalom last year in Big Sky, Mont. "It's really fun, it's pretty cool that any of our girls could win any day," she said. "We push each other a lot, it's good to do that and makes for great competition. It leaves room for us to go for it and try to win."
"I felt confident in the GS in the early races and it's just a matter of me testing that and knowing I can do it," Ghent continued. "I got a course report from my teammates and got the green light to go for it, so I did. I think about the same things for slalom with my tactics. Mentally just trying to be consistent with my skiing but also being consistent, I know I can finish fast."
"Erika skied out of her mind today," Hartman said. "Our team skied really strong, four in the top 10 and Carolina was right there. Our team is really strong this year, it's going to be a lot of fun.
"The first run wasn't that great, but I came back the second run needing to find the next level, I think I hit it today and finally found it in my skiing," she continued. "I've been looking for it for a while coming back from injury. The second run felt really good."
In looking ahead to Sunday's slalom, she feels she is ready. "I've been training a lot of slalom because my slalom at the beginning of the year wasn't really good. This is the event that hurts my knee the most. I've been training and trying to figure it out, it's getting a lot better. We'll see what kind of slalom I can throw down tomorrow."
For the second straight race, the CU women placed four finishers in the top 10 and including the men's race, had six overall. Freshman Shane McLean finished ninth, matching her effort on Friday, gliding down the course in a two-run clocking of 1:58.45. Senior Jennifer Allen rebounded from a 28th placing one day earlier to finish 10th in 1:58.60.
"Today both runs were really fun, I felt like I could have skied a little cleaner and I know I can still improve," said McLean, who is CU's latest product from Steamboat Springs. "This is the best snow we've had all year, everybody is really excited about it. It's fun to see that we have so many skiers doing so well. It inspires us to keep improving for each other to keep it that way."
Senior Carolina Nordh, seventh on Friday, took 13th in 1:59.34, while junior Khyla Burrows placed 24th in 2:02.42, five spots down from her Friday effort.
In the men's GS, the Buffaloes placed two in the top five, with its third finisher/scorer in 17th. Utah's Nick Cohee won in a 1:55.96 time, but CU freshman Adam Zika was on his heels in a 1:56.14 time while sophomore Andreas Haug took fourth in 1:57.03, rebounding from a DNF (did not finish) in his second run Friday. Both secured their top five efforts by posting the top two times in the second run, Haug clocked at 1:00.79 and Zika at 1:00.95.
"On the second run, I just got some advice from Richie (head coach Rokos) that I had to be close to the gate and not be too low, "Zika said. "I tried to do that and it worked pretty well. I wanted to crush the second run because I was in fourth after the first run and I wanted to be in the top three and get into the podium."
"I'm excited for this race. Skiing for the CU ski team is amazing. My sister (Lucie Zikova) was announcing the race and when I finished I could tell that she was excited so that make me excited."
"For slalom, that will be my first slalom for CU so I will probably start in the back a little bit. Hopefully I ski well and I'd like to get in the top 15. I think it will be better when I'm in the top seven and top 15 with my start bib, then it will be even more interesting. That's the goal early this season, to get some results so I can get a better start position."
"I've been struggling a little bit to get the timing right and get my head in the race," Haug said of his season's start, which included several FIS races in December. "On the first run, I was a little bit careful and didn't go for it. The second run, I set my mind on it and went for it more and did it more like I have in training. I feel the second run is how I'm skiing right now. I kind of broke through a little bit and finally got that feeling in a race.
"Adam is a solid skier so when the conditions get rough, the going gets rough, he just powers through and skis solid," Haug continued. "That second run was a really good run and blew the rest of the field away. The first run it was sunny and the visibility was good. The second run, it started snowing and the clouds came in and you couldn't really see anything. You have to trust it (the course) and trust yourself and just go for it."
"The team has been good in slalom, tomorrow will be a good day. I think we can get a lot of points."
Junior Max Lamb was 17th in 1:58.37, doing his best to make up for the absence of senior Eric Davis, who is day-to-day after suffering a hip injury on Friday. Rounding out the CU men was senior Taggart Spenst (21st, 1:58.80) and sophomore Fletcher McDonald (31st, 2:04.33).
"Today was an outstanding day in many ways," head coach Richard Rokos said. "The ladies decided to rotate their placement from yesterday. The entire women's team pretty much landed in the top 10 and skied well. On the guys' side, I was a little disappointed in the first run, but on the second run Andreas and Adam stepped up and had the two fastest times, and the course wasn't in the best condition when they raced, so they did a great job.
"We had the fastest two skiers in the second run. I don't think it was a huge home course advantage or anything, I think it was the skiers deciding to get down the hill faster. Especially on the men's side, Andreas and Adam have had very little time on this hill, they are as novice here as anybody else.
"We are in a tight race with Utah, and any point is a good point," Rokos continued. "You only have to win a championship by a half-point and that has happened, so any lead is a good thing. We have had great slalom results the last few years, both the guys and girls have been better in slalom than GS, so I expect that to continue - although on the women's side I don't know how it can be better than it's been the first two races. The guys need to step up a little bit, and I expect them to."
Rokos would love to regain the services of Davis, but won't press him to compete. "With Eric, we will go day-by-day. It's not the best scenario, we'd love to have him on the hill, but we have to go with how he feels. We're hoping that tomorrow he will feel better, but today he could hardly walk. He didn't anticipate that happening, it just happened overnight."
The slalom races are set for Sunday, with the men's two runs commencing at 8:30 a.m. and the women at 11:30. The Nordic portion of the meet to take place next weekend in Steamboat Springs.
CU Invitational/Spencer Nelson Memorial Team Scores (2 events)-1. Colorado 239; 2. Utah 236; 3. New Mexico 190; 4. Denver 182; 5. Alaska-Anchorage 175; 6. Westminster 149; 7. Montana State 131; 8. Colorado Mountain College 51.
Women's Giant Slalom (34 collegiate finishers)- 1. Erika Ghent, CU, 1:55.38; 2. Tii-Maria Romar, UU, 1:56.24; 3. Katie Hartman, CU, 1:56.55; 4. Kate Williams, UNM, 1:57.69; 5. Julie Bordeau, UU, 1:57.73; 6. Jamie DuPratt, UU, 1:57.91; 7. Alexandra Parker, UAA, 1:58.96; 8. Anna Kocken, UU, 1:58.16; 9. Shane McLean, CU, 1:58.45; 10. Jennifer Allen, CU, 1:58.60; 11. Maria Fraschini, WC, 1:59.98; 12. Sterling Grant, DU, 1:59.06; 13. Carolina Nordh, CU, 1:59.34; 14. Devin Delaney, DU, 1:59.41; 15. Mary Hostetter, UNM, 1:59.66; 16. Stefanie Demetz, UNM, 2:00.28; 17. Maria Rizzieri, DU, 2:00.66; 18. Kendall Brown, WC, 2:01.07; 19. Erica Holmberg, WC, 2:01.32; 20. Vanessa Berther, UAA, 2:01.38; 21. Anais Urbain, UAA, 2:01.44; 22. Terra Moran, MSU, 2:01.52; 23. Anna Berecz, UAA, 2:02.06; 24. Khyla Burrows, CU, 2:02.42; 25. Sandra McDonald, UAA, 2:02.56; 26. Stephanie Irwin, MSU, 2:02.74; 27. Kelly McBroom, MSU, 2:03.54; 28. Emily Danza, MSU, 2:03.67; 29. Taylor Guetschow, UAA, 2:05.15; 30. Marissa Riopelle, MSU, 2:05.98; 31. Jacqueline Lebel, MSU, 2:06.85; 32. Karen Bell, MSU, 2:07.21; 33. Ida Bjerka, UAA, 2:08.31; 34. Kayla Fry, UAA, 2:29.87.
Men's Giant Slalom (35 collegiate finishers)-1. Nick Cohee, UU, 1:55.96; 2. Adam Zika, CU, 1:56.14; 3. Espen Lysdahl, DU, 1:56.88; 4. Andreas Haug, CU, 1:57:03; 5. Armin Triendl, UNM, 1:57:07; 6. Niko Harmanen, UAA, 1:57:32; 7. Andreas Adde, UAA, 1:57:47; 8. Timotej Hribar, UU, 1:57:58; 9. Michael Radford, MSU, 1:57:68; 10. Torjus Krogdahl, UU, 1:57.80; 10. Ryan Wilson, UU, 1:57.80; 12. Joonas Rasanen, UNM, 1:57.90; 13. Max Marno, DU, 1:57.93; 14. Petter Brenna, WC, 1:58.05; 15. Christopher Acosta, UNM, 1:58.15; 16. Kitt Flowers, DU, 1:58.34; 17. Max Lamb, CU, 1:58.37; 18. Halfdan Falkum-Hansen, UAA, 1:58.53; 19. Christopher Kollenborg, UAA, 1:58.54; 20. Benoit Jagot, WC, 1:58.66; 21. Taggart Spenst, CU, 1:58.80; 22. Sean Horner, UNM, 1:58.83; 23. David Owsley, MSU, 1:58.94; 24. Michael Bansmer, UNM, 1:59.03; 25. Maxence Rolland, WC, 1:59.45; 26. Michael Mackie, MSU, 2:00.86; 27. Chriss Salbu, UNM, 2:00.92; 28. *Mark Miller, UNM, 2:00.96; 29. Cam Brewington, UAA, 2:01.67; 30. Arnaud Favre, WC, 2:03.24; 31. Fletcher McDonald, CU, 2:04.33; 32. Ryan McConnell, MSU, 2:07.23; 33. Nathan Kowalczyk, CMC, 2:13.19; 34. Johnathon Zilverberg, CMC, 2:19.12; 35. Eric Hicks, CMC, 2:19.55.