RIPTON, Vt. - The University of Colorado ski team, led by an individual title in the classical race from sophomore Rune Oedegaard, moved into second place here Thursday at the midway point of the 60th Annual NCAA Skiing Championships.
Defending champion Vermont maintained its first day lead, extending it by five points as the Catamounts have 389 points through four of the eight events. The Buffaloes are next with 368.5 points, making up 31 points on UNM thanks to a 193-point day Thursday, the best by any school in the 21-team field. UVM's 20.5-point lead is the seventh smallest at the halfway mark in the last 21 national championship meets.
Utah is in third (350) and Denver fourth (328), but a 48-point gap exists between the top four and the rest of the field as some separation has started to take place.
Friday's slalom will play a major role in who could take charge among the top four leaders or if as many as three other schools could get back into contention. But Thursday was challenging enough as the weather conditions were changing constantly, playing some havoc as the coaches tried to "hit the wax" as best as they could to put their skiers in the best position to compete.
"A win is always wonderful, especially when the team didn't do as well as we are capable of," Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. "I share a lot of that responsibility. The conditions were tricky and were changing, it was a lot different from guys to girls, and we just didn't adjust to it. The girls race, just being a little slick, seconds were tight, there wasn't a lot out of extra time out there.
"Would've, could've, should've, we should be closer to the lead or have the lead, but that's ski racing and sports in general. It's not a disaster of a day, but certainly not what I was hoping for."
Oedegaard won the 10-kilometer men's classic race in a time of 26 minutes and 0.2 seconds; he was just a couple of seconds off the lead at the first split, then took over the pace at the second split by nearly seven seconds and was ahead as well at the third and fourth splits. New Mexico's Mats Resaland finished second in 26:05.4.
Oedegaard finished seventh in the classic as a freshman last year at Bozeman, disappointing after he had won the event three times leading up to nationals. Fast-forward to this winter, and he again had two wins and a runner-up in classic, but was looking for a higher result - and this time earned it.
"This is what I've been talking about all year; I just had to show myself I could do it," Oedegaard said. "The course was tougher than it looked, the downhills turn all the way so you have to work a lot to keep your speed up, and the hills, you get so tired. We had the best team support on the toughest hill, they were running up with me, you can't help but go as hard as you can.
"I've been thinking a lot about last year's NCAA's during training," he added. "I've been trying to hold back from peaking physically too soon, last year I was a lot stronger for Regionals than I was this year so the last two weeks I knew I'd have a lot more to give for NCAAs, and that was the plan all along."
Oedegard's win was the fourth-ever by a Buffalo skier in the NCAA classical race, but the third in the last four seasons. He joined Ove Erik Tronvoll (1999), Matt Gelso (2010) and Reid Pletcher (2011) as champions in the event.
Junior Andreas Hoye finished 18th in 27:12.3, while freshman Gustav Nordstrom was 21st in 27:32.5. Hoye was as high as eighth after the third split and Nordstrom third following the first and seventh after the second before falling back.
Alaska-Anchorage won the men's race as a team with 108 points, with the Buffs second (91); Utah (87) and Dartmouth (85) were right there in the mix for runner-up. It was a tight one, with 55 seconds separating 11th through 30th, about the same between winning and 10th.
In the women's 5k version, CU tied Dartmouth for the most team points in the women's classic (102), the seventh time the Buffaloes have won the race at the NCAA's, and for the first time since 2008. It was tight though, with Utah (98) and Vermont (95) right behind the Buffs and the Big Green. The women's race overall was even closer, with 51 seconds the difference between fifth and 30th.
Senior Joanne Reid led the way for CU, finishing fourth in a 15:44.2 time; Vermont's Anja Gruber had over a 10-second edge on the field in winning in 15:31.1. Dartmouth's Mary O'Connell, who hails from Steamboat Springs, was the last racer to cross the finish in the interval start format and wound up knocking Reid off the podium. It was still her third first-team All-America performance in the event and her fourth overall; she now has six total including two All-America nods. She matched her previous finish which she posted as a freshman.
"It was a little painful, the skis were a little slippery, but they were fast," Reid said. "If skis aren't fast and you want to pick slow and kicky, or fast and slippery, I'd pick fast. I made up a lot of time on the downhills and flats. As far as NCAA's go, I'll take it, but hopefully we'll do better Saturday. I know I'm stronger in distance, and I like freestyle and mass starts better. You always know where you are, you don't have to go as fast as you can, you just have to go faster than everybody else."
Freshman Maria Nordstroem claimed sixth in 16:03.3, with senior Eliska Hajkova affected the most by the conditions with a 16th place effort in 16:24.5; she won the classic title two years ago not far from here in Stowe. Hajkova was second and Nordstroem third at the split (Reid was sixth), but both couldn't hold those early positions.
"It was hard because it's tricky, if you run out of the track, you have better grips, but snow sticks to your skis, so you can't always go as hard as you want," Nordstroem said. "I can't complain about the skis, they weren't perfect, but that's how it goes."
"Joanne missed the podium or even second place by two seconds," Cranmer said. "They all could've used a little more kick on their skis. There's no question they fought hard and skied their hearts out."
"The guys did a great job, Rune winning a championship is awesome and Andreas and Gustav did about their standard," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "The girls had a little misfortune with the wax, they missed it by a hair, it happens, that's a part of the sport. Joanne still finishing fourth and Maria sixth, both did a great job of fighting through it."
The slalom races are set for Friday, with the women's first run at 7 a.m. MST, followed by the men's first run at 7:45 a.m.; the second runs will follow at 9:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., respectively. The freestyle races will finish off the NCAA meet on Saturday (women's 15-kilometer mass start at 8:00 a.m., men's 20k race following at 10:00 a.m.).
"Saturday on this course, the goal will be to stay up front the whole way," Oedegaard said in looking ahead to the freestyle races. "It's turning the whole way, a lot of things can happen, there's lots of turns, lots of ice, and much you can't control, but being in front would help."
"Waxing is way easier in freestyle, there aren't 15, 20 or 100 different wax combinations you can use," Cranmer noted. "Skis and wax are important, but nothing like it is for classical. We will be okay. The girls are equally as good in freestyle, the guys are maybe a little better in classical, but they should be fine. We'll be ready."
Overall, it appears anywhere from four to seven schools will have say in what happens. "It opens room for all kinds of speculation," Rokos said. "For us, it is the fact that we're coming up on our strong events, slalom and skating. It's encouraging. We'll come prepared and fight for the best. Slalom is usually the great equalizer, but the guys are ready, the girls are prepared as well. Unless there's a disaster with the hill, it looks like it will be warm and soft, so everyone will have to deal with that."
NCAA Championship Team Scores (4 of 8 events)- 1. Vermont 389; 2. Colorado 368.5; 3. Utah 350; 4. Denver 328; 5. New Mexico 280; 6. Alaska-Anchorage 274.5; 7. Dartmouth 263.5; 8. New Hampshire 228.5; 9. Montana State 200; 10. Middlebury 178; 11. Northern Michigan 111; 12. Williams 60; 13. St. Lawrence 53; 14. Alaska-Fairbanks 52; 15. Colby 43; 16. Bates 23.5; 17. Harvard 22; 18. Maine-Presque Isle 15; 19. St. Michael's 11; 20. St. Scholastica 2; 21. Bowdoin 0.5.
Men's 10K Classical (40 finishers)- 1. Rune Oedegaard, CU, 26:00.2; 2. Mats Resaland, UNM, 26:05.4; 3. Viktor Brannmark, UAA, 26:28.5; 4. Ben Lustgarten, Midd., 26:32,6; 5. Silas Talbot, Dart., 26:37.7.; 6. Miles Havlick, Utah, 26:46.2; 7. Scott Patterson, UVM, 26:46.2; 8. Lasse Molgaard-Nielsen, UAA, 26:50.6; 9. Lukas Ebner, UAA, 26:51.3; 10. Erik Soderman, NMU, 26:56.5. Other CU Finishers: 18. Andreas Hoye, 27:12.3; 21. Gustav Nordstrom, 27:32.5.
Women's 5K Classical (40 finishers)- 1. Anja Gruber, UVM, 15:31.0; 2. Mary O'Connell, Dart., 15:42.2; 3. Marine Dusser, UAA, 15:43.0; 4. Joanne Reid, CU, 15:44.2; 5. Sloane Storey, Utah, 16:02.1; 6. Maria Nordstroem, CU, 16:03.3; 7. Annie Hart, Dart., 16:04.1; 8. Linda Davind-Malm, UVM, 16:05.7; 9. Silje Benum, DU, 16:10.0; 10. Anna Svendsen, Utah, 16:17.1. Other CU Finisher: 16. Eliska Hajkova, 16:24.5.
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)