BOZEMAN, Mont. - The University of Colorado ski team gave its all in the slalom but in the end couldn't defend its title, as Vermont left here as the new national champion with the Buffaloes taking third in the 59th Annual NCAA Ski Championships which came to a close here Saturday.
Vermont cruised to its first NCAA title since 1994 and sixth overall, finishing things up with five top five performances in the slalom and with an 832 point total. Utah held on to second, but just barely, amassing 671 points, edging the defending national champion Buffaloes (670) by a single digit.
The Buffaloes were in fourth heading into the day, but did blow by Dartmouth (fourth, 590). Alaska-Anchorage finished fifth (519), with Denver sixth (505.5), host Montana State seventh (502.5) and New Mexico eighth (487.5). The first five schools fielded full 12-skier teams; Denver had just 10 performers, logging the third highest finish by a team two skiers short of the maximum.
The school in the lead heading into the final day (or last two events) has now won the title in 16 of the last 18 years. Since the scoring format was altered beginning in 2009, Vermont's 161-point win was easily the highest, besting CU's margin of 80.5 when it won the 2011 championship. There have been no less than eight scoring changes since the first NCAA's in 1954, but on a prorated basis, Colorado (1975) and Utah (2003) appear to have the only more dominant wins than the Catamounts' performance here this week.
UVM's 832 points top the 831 the Buffaloes recorded a year ago, also a best in four years of the current scoring system. And with Dartmouth finishing fourth, it ends a 19-year run where western schools had claimed at least three of the top four spots in the standings and placed two eastern schools in the top four for just the second time since the sport went coed in 1983.
"It was a four days, and we came full circle," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "There were ups and downs, we went back and forth, we dealt with illness and not being at full strength. But everyone put in an honest amount of work and pushed hard.
"Vermont invested a lot into this, and did what it took to win. Congratulations to them, they didn't have weaknesses here. Our Nordics always peak at the right, but for the first time a long time, it just didn't happen. But the NCAA's are unpredictable as I have said, and always will be. But that's the beauty of it."
Erika Ghent again led a solid showing by the CU women in the alpine events, garnering first-team All-America honors with a third place finish in the slalom. Her two-run time of 1:35.61 trailed only two UVM skiers, including the winner, Kate Ryley, who won in 1:35.16. Ghent, a senior, was fourth in Thursday's giant slalom, also earning first-team honors, and thus concludes her Colorado career as a five-time All-American, including three first-team performances.
"I guess I didn't know what to expect going into the slalom, but I'm so happy it ended the way it did," Ghent said. "Coming into today, we had the attitude that we didn't have anything to lose. Unfortunately that's how it was, it's a little bittersweet. I'm happy with my individual result, but it's tough having the team end up third.
"It's such an amazing experience, you ask anybody, we're so proud to be part of this team," she added. "We ended up third, but the experience, I'd never change anything."
Senior Carolina Nordh was in a rare three-way tie with Alaska's Alex Parker and Harvard's Rebecca Nadler for seventh, all posting two-run times of 1:36.22.
"It feels great to go out like I did," Nordh said. "This was my best NCAA's individually, so it's great. I wasn't expecting the result I got in the giant slalom (sixth), but I'm so happy that I finally figured it out, and in the slalom I just tried to go out, have fun, ski fast and get one."
"The course wasn't that bad actually (due to the warm temperatures), the second run was very turny; it gets bigger ruts when it's like that. But it was the same for almost everybody."
"I'm super emotional," Nordh added. "This has been my life for a long time. It feels good to finish strong, but I'm also sad that it's over. Last year, when I was standing up there about to take my last run, I knew we already won so I didn't have any pressure at all. Now I know for sure it's over, the three of us seniors we've been here together for a long time, now we're all done."
Senior Katie Hartman concluded her career and comeback from ACL surgery 14 months ago with an 11th place effort in 1:36.34, the seventh of eight skiers who were spaced just .37 of a second apart between fifth and 12th.
"It's an amazing group of people, I wouldn't change this for the world," Hartman said. "All the people I've been able to be around and grow with and go through the program with have been amazing. Richard Rokos and (assistant coach) Drew Roberts and our team were awesome this year. Finishing third, it can't be shown for what we actually were with our team and how much we care for and love each other."
"Women's alpine definitely shined," Rokos said of the unit that had five top 10 finishes here with the other being an 11th. "The three most experienced girls put together a well-rounded performance and did exactly what a 'dream team' in the NCAA championships can do. They were organized, disciplined, taking only calculated risks. They deserve a lot of credit for their hard work."
Freshman Adam Zika was blazing down the Bridger Bowl hill on his first run until he skidded a bit off course, costing him anywhere from three-to-five seconds; but he rebounded with the fourth fastest time for the second run, moving from 24th into 10th place in a two-run time of 1:52.03, earning second-team All-America honors. He was the giant slalom champion with an impressive race on Thursday, where his margin of victory was the largest in an NCAA GS race in 32 years.
"I had a really good (first) run until a mistake right before the finish," Zika said. "I slowed down a lot. The whole team kept fighting, and we all improved a lot in the second run. It was good. The experience, it's a great atmosphere skiing for a school, with my teammates, I love it."
Sophomore Andreas Haug started in 32nd and was in 25th after the first run, but he battled back with the field's second-fastest time (54.48) in the second run to vault up into a 13th place finish in 1:52.45. Junior Max Lamb, who's main strength is the slalom and entered as the seventh seed, struggled on his first run as was in 32nd, but because of two DQ's he was the first one down the hill in the second run. Regardless, by that point on a warm day and numerous ruts had formed and he managed to muster a 28th place finish in 1:59.65.
"Adam's winning the GS by such a margin was superior to all the others skiing in it, and even though he lost a few seconds on the hill on his first run today, he still regained his composure and earned All-America," Rokos said.
"Andreas had a great second run, especially considering where he was starting from. Max is really a slalom specialist and had his issues today, but he proved that he could do some damage in the GS here."
The Buffaloes will return eight skiers who participated here for the 2013 season, and things as always look up for one of the perennial powers in collegiate skiers.
"We are losing those three alpine girls who have given their all to this program, and Vegard on the Nordic side," Rokos said. "But we're grooming replacements as we speak right in our backyard. So the hope is that they can step right in and try to fill the holes created by graduation."
NCAA Championship Team Scores (Final, 8 events)- 1. Vermont 832; 2. Utah 671; 3. Colorado 670; 4. Dartmouth 590; 5. Alaska-Anchorage 519; 6. Denver 505.5; 7. Montana State 502.5; 8. New Mexico 487.5; 9. Middlebury 359; 10. New Hampshire 296; 11. Northern Michigan 227; 12. Williams 146; 13. Bates 139.5; 14. St. Lawrence 121; 15. Harvard 101; 16. Colby 86; 17. Alaska-Fairbanks 81; 18. St. Scholastica 75; 19. St. Michael's 33; 20. Colby-Sawyer 32; 21. Michigan Tech 22.
Women's Slalom (34 collegiate finishers)- 1. Kate Ryley, UVM, 1:35.17; 2. Kristina Riis-Johannessen, UVM, 1:35.34; 3. Erika Ghent, CU, 1:35.62; 4. Sterling Grant, DU, 1:35.75; 5. Elli Terweil, UVM, 1:35.99; 6. Stefanie Demetz, UNM, 1:36.00; 7 (tie). Carolina Nordh, CU, Alexandra Parker, UAA and Rebecca Nadler, Harvard, 1:36.22; 10. Anna Kocken, Utah, 1:36.30. Other CU Finisher: 11. Katie Hartman, 1:36.34.
Men's Slalom (32 collegiate finishers)-1. Espen Lysdahl, DU, 1:48.28; 2. Tim Kelley, UVM, 1:48.52; 3. Christopher Acosta, UNM, 1:49.95; 4. Torjus Krogdahl, Utah, 1:50.77; 5. Hig Roberts, Midd., 1:50.82; 6. Andrew McNealus, Midd., 1:50.88; 7. Jonathon Nordbotten, UVM, 1:51.25; 8. Sean Alexander, UAA, 1:51.30; 9. Andreas Adde, UAA, 1:51.60; 10. Adam Zika, CU, 1:52.03. Other CU Finishers: 13. Andreas Haug, 1:52.45; 28. Max Lamb, 1:59.65.
CU SKIING / 2012 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES
IN-THE-END: Listed below is how the 2012 championship broke down; the Buffs were second in several categories but weren't first in at least one discipline for the first time since 2005:
MEN'S TEAM SCORING: Utah 380, Vermont 338, Colorado 327, Denver 301, Montana State 280, Middlebury 276.
WOMEN'S TEAM SCORING: Vermont 494, Colorado 343, Dartmouth 318, Utah 291, Alaska-Anchorage 283, New Mexico 276.5
ALPINE POINT LEADERS: Vermont 431, Colorado 380, Utah 342, Alaska-Anchorage 318, New Mexico 299.5, Middlebury 268
Men's Leader: Vermont 191 (2nd-Utah 179). Women's Leader: Vermont 240 (2nd-Colorado 214).
NORDIC POINT LEADERS: Dartmouth 427, Vermont 401, Utah 329, Montana State 317, Colorado 290, Denver 264
Men's Leader: Utah 201 (2nd-Montana State 200). Women's Leader: Vermont 254 (2nd-Dartmouth 235).
CRACKING THE TOP: NCAA West schools have still won 16 of the last 18 championships, as the skiing elite fraternity remains hard to crack; only seven different schools have claimed the title since the sport went coed in 1983: Utah (9 titles), Denver (7), Colorado (6), Vermont (5), Dartmouth (1), New Mexico (1) and Wyoming (1). But since the '67 title meet, Colorado (21 first or second place finishes, including 15 wins), Utah (21; 10, 11), Vermont (20; 6, 14) and Denver (16; 11, 5) have dominated college skiing over these 46 seasons. Only three other schools, Wyoming (two wins and four seconds), Dartmouth (two wins, two seconds) and New Mexico (one title and two seconds) have been able to crack the top two in this span (note: adds to 46 titles since CU and Dartmouth shared '76 crown).
CU ALL-TIME: The Buffaloes have won 18 national championships in skiing: 11 men's (1959-60-72-73-74-75-76-77-78-79-82), six coed (1991-95-98-99-2006-10) and one women's (1982, AIAW). The 17 NCAA titles by Colorado trail Denver by five, as the Pioneers caught and passed CU by winning three straight to open the 21st century and extended their lead with three more from 2008-10. After DU and CU (38 combined), Utah has won 10, Vermont 6, Dartmouth 3, Wyoming 2 and New Mexico 1 (CU and Dartmouth tied for the '76 crown).
INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONS: The Buffs had one individual NCAA champion this winter (Adam Zika, GS), and posted four top five efforts and 12 top 10 overall. Colorado leads all-time with 84 individual NCAA titles, topping Denver (80), Utah (67), Vermont (58), Dartmouth (35), Wyoming (19), New Mexico (12) and Middlebury (10); other individual winners in 2011 came from Utah and UVM (two), with one each also from Denver, Harvard and Northern Michigan. The Buffs have had two or more individual champions 27 times (three or more 13 times), including four occasions when CU skiers topped the podium four times: 1960, John Dendahl (skimeister, nordic, cross country) and Dave Butts (downhill); in 1963, Buddy Werner (alpine combined, downhill), Bill Marolt (downhill) and Jimmie Heuga (slalom); in 2006, Jana Rehemaa (classical, freestyle), Kit Richmond (freestyle) and Lucie Zikova (downhill); and in 2008, Maria Grevsgaard (freestyle, classical) and Lucie Zikova (giant slalom, slalom). CU has had at least one individual champion 24 of the last 31 years.
LEARFIELD DIRECTORS' CUP: Colorado picked up 85 points for the Learfield Director's Cup, jumping from 33rd place into ninth with 227 total points as skiing was the first NCAA winter championship completed.
HEAD COACH RICHARD ROKOS: Rokos wrapped up his 22nd season as head coach of the Buffaloes (he is just the ninth person to coach 20 or more seasons in any sport at Colorado). He has guided CU to national championships in 1991 (his first season), 1995, 1998, 1999, 2006 and 2010, to five second place finishes and five third place efforts. Under Rokos, Colorado has won 55 of 135 ski meets, including 49 of 113 in the west (with 11 RMISA Championships/NCAA West Regionals titles). In his tenure, CU has had 111 first-team All-Americans and 175 first- or second-team selections (Alpine and Nordic), all adding to 259 top 10 finishes in NCAA championship competition.
NORDIC COACH BRUCE CRANMER: Cranmer has done an equally excellent job with the Nordics. He has coached CU skiers to 11 individual Nordic NCAA titles, and his Buffalo teams have been the Nordic point champions five times at the NCAA meet (all in the last nine years). He guided CU to a school record 14 straight meets scoring 400 or more points until that streak ended here in the NCAA's.
ALL-AMERICANS: Seven Buffaloes earned All-America honors in the meet, three gaining first-team status: Erika Ghent (giant slalom and slalom), Rune Oedegaard (freestyle) and Adam Zika (giant slalom). In addition, Zika earned second-team All-America honors in the slalom and Oedegaard in the classic, and were joined by Eliska Hajkova (classical), Katie Hartman (giant slalom), Carolina Nordh (giant slalom and slalom) and Joanne Reid (freestyle). Top five finishes earn skiers the first-team accolade, while finishing sixth through 10th nets a second-team honor.
NCAA SKIING ALL-ACADEMIC TEAM: CU placed nine team members on the NCAA Skiing All-Academic Team (its version of Academic All-America), as the qualifications included owning a 3.50 or better grade point average for the fall semester and participation in the NCAA regionals (unless injured). Eric Davis, Katie Hartman, Andreas Haug, Ian Mallams, Carolina Nordh, Rune Oedegaard, Reid Pletcher, Taggart Spenst and Katie Stege all made the prestigious team; Nordh and Stege have made the squad four times times, with Davis and Mallams doing so thrice and Hartman and Haug twice. Davis, Haug, Mallams, Nordh, Oedegaard and Stege all posted perfect 4.0 grade point averages for the fall 2011 semester. Haug was also be honored with the NCAA's Elite 89 Award, which is given to the student-athlete at each of the NCAA's 89 championships (across all three divisions) with the highest cumulative grade point average. The sophomore has a perfect 4.0 GPA (43 credit hours of A in his first three semesters at CU).
LOOKING AHEAD: Eight of the 12 student-athletes who competed for Colorado in Bozeman are scheduled to return in 2013, as CU graduates just seven seniors, four of whom competed here, Erika Ghent, Katie Hartman and Carolina Nordh (Alpine) and Vegard Kjoelhamar (Nordic). Also graduating are Jennifer Allen (Alpine), Reid Pletcher (Nordic) and Katie Stege (Nordic). Eric Davis was a senior, but CU will petition for an extra year for him due to injuries he suffered in the first week of the season. Seven other underclassmen return with the eight who participated this week.
FUTURE SITES: Middlebury will host the 2013 NCAA Championships in New Hampshire next March 6-9. The 2014 site in the west will be selected later this spring, and CU will bid once again to host the event in Steamboat Springs, site of the 2006 and 2010 championships.
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)