HANCOCK, Vt. - The University of Colorado ski team remained in second place here Friday but dropped further back of the lead with just two events remaining in the 60th Annual NCAA Skiing Championships.
Defending champion Vermont has now led after all three days, and owns a 54-point edge over the Buffaloes. After Friday's always-risky slalom races, the Catamounts ended the day with 564 points, followed by Colorado (510), Denver (484) and Utah (481). Those four schools remain in the hunt for the title, as fifth place New Mexico (449) and sixth place Dartmouth (405) are likely too far back of UVM to make up that much ground.
Vermont has recent history on its side, as the leader at the midway point has won six straight and 10 of the last 12 times, and schools leading after three days (six events) have won 16 of the last 18. Two of the last three champions, Denver (2010) and Colorado (2011) both led wire-to-wire.
UVM's 54-point lead is the smallest heading into the final two events since 2009, when it led DU by two points, but the Pioneers overhauled them and won by 56.5 points. The only other school to rally on the final day in the last 20 years was Vermont in 1994, as the Catamounts started in third place and down by 49 points before rallying for a 21-point win.
"It was a tough day, as tough as slalom can be," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "There are two approaches, go out and give everything like Utah and Denver did, or ski conservatively and hope that everybody else will have bad luck or ski the same way. UVM knows this place well and they took advantage. With us being just behind them, our kids finished six runs diligently, it's part of the deal. Unfortunately we didn't catch enough points to catch up or even maintain with Vermont, so they're still ahead of us."
Denver won the women's slalom with 101 points, followed by Dartmouth (90), Utah (86), Vermont (84), New Mexico (78), New Hampshire (67) and then Colorado (seventh, 59). In the men's slalom, Middlebury won the day with 103, ahead of New Hampshire (95), New Mexico and Vermont (91) and the Buffs (82).
"I have a fundamental problem with the format, we used to throw out three results and use 21 of 24 scores, and that would allow kids to risk a little more in slalom," he continued. "Now every single point goes in your pocket and you can't hike and everything counts. And before that, you skied four and counted three. You could survive a crash, a hike, a bad run, etc., and the deeper teams had a little comfort zone."
Denver freshman Kristine Haugen made it a sweep here, as she claimed the women's slalom Friday to add to her win in the giant slalom on Wednesday; she is the first to win both since CU's Lucie Zikova in 2008, and the fifth to do it since 1983 when the NCAA first sponsored women in the sport.
All of CU's women are freshmen as well, with Jessica Honkonen posting CU's best finish, her 1:40.78 time placing her 16th, but well behind Haugen's time of 1:37.97. Brooke Wales finished 18th (1:41.16) and Thea Grosvold 27th (1:42.20). It marked just the second time in the last 14 national slaloms that CU didn't have at least one finisher in the top 10, the other year coming in 2009.
"We were on the defensive today, we came in without a huge deficit to UVM, we wanted to maintain that difference, but I think we probably held back a little bit too much today," Wales said. "Hopefully (CU) just finishing with decent runs will pay off and the 'Nordies' will get it done. Some other teams hurt themselves by not finishing some racers. But know that tomorrow we will be the No. 1 fans out there tomorrow getting them through the finish line."
"I told them to make sure to finish, the girls maybe took it a little too much to heart," Rokos pondered. "They skied fast and clean, it's hard to compromise. On one hand, you ask them to ski fast, on the other if they don't finish, it hurts the team. It's a very hard compromise, and contradictory to what ski racers do."
The men were led by freshman Kasper Hietanen, who earned second-team All-America honors in tying for eighth place with a 1:40.28 time; New Mexico's Joonas Rasanen won the top spot on the podium with a two-run clocking of 1:38.96.
"I had a little trouble on the second run, but I was able to make it in the top 10, the top eight, so it was good," Hietanen said. "It was a little different than the first run, the sun came up, it was softer and slicker, I had a great run until a mistake right before the last flat. That probably cost me a few spots, but all in all it was a decent run. I was going for it, but also I was careful to save points. Even taking it carefully, I had a little mistake, but I kept it in there."
"Kasper's had one mistake that cost him probably being in third or even second, but it was still to finish eighth, especially in your first NCAA slalom," Rokos said. "If you look at the podium, there were no favorites, they were all hiking."
Freshman Henrik Gunnarsson finished 13th (1:40.76), while junior Andreas Haug tied for 16th (1:41.62).
The mass start freestyle races will finish off the NCAA meet on Saturday, with the women's 15-kilometer at 8:00 a.m. MST, and the men's 20k race following at 10:00 a.m.
"The Nordic races are a little more predictable, which is obvious after today here," Rokos said. "We'll see how we do tomorrow, we're not out of it but need to have a great day. We'll do everything to get every kid through the finish line in the fastest possible way, and we'll be there cheering them on as much as we possibly can."
NCAA Championship Team Scores (6 of 8 events)--1. Vermont 564; 2. Colorado 510; 3. Denver 484; 4. Utah 481; 5. New Mexico 449; 6. Dartmouth 405; 7. New Hampshire 390.5; 8. Alaska-Anchorage 367.5; 9. Middlebury 302; 10. Montana State 300; 11. Colby 132; 12. Northern Michigan 111; 13. Williams 93; 14. St. Lawrence 86; 15. Alaska-Fairbanks 52; 16. Bates 47.5; 17. Harvard 39; 18. St. Michael's 24; 19. Maine-Presque Isle 15; 20. St. Scholastica 2; 21. Bowdoin 0.5.
Women's Slalom (33 finishers)--1. Kristine Haugen, DU, 1:37.97; 2. Kristina Riis-Johannessen, UVM, 1:38.02; 3. Tianda Carroll, DU, 1:38.27; 4. Lizzie Kistler, Dart., 1:38.35; 5. Ana Kobal, Utah, 1:38.42; 6. Kate Ryley, UVM, 1:38.91; 7. Sara Kikut, Dart., 1:39.05; 8. Geordie Lonza, Will., 1:39.08; 9. Mateja Robnik, UNM, 1:39.21; 10. Randa Teschner, UNH, 1:39.29. CU Finishers: 16. Jessica Honkonen, 1:40.78; 18. Brooke Wales, 1:41.16; 27. Thea Grosvold, CU, 1:42.20.
Men's Slalom (33 finishers)--1. Joonas Rasanen, UNM, 1:38.96; 2. David Donaldson, Midd., 1:39.24; 3. Sam Coffey, UNH, 1:39.75; 4. Jonathon Nordbotten, UVM, 1:39.83; 5. Taylor Vest-Burton, UNH, 1:39.89; 6. Hig Roberts, Midd., 1:40.13; 7. Andy Trow, Utah, 1:40.18; 8 (tie). Kasper Hietanen, CU, and Christopher Acosta, UNM, 1:40.28; 10. Max Marno, DU, 1:40.41. Other CU Finishers: 13. Henrik Gunnarsson, 1:40.76; 16. Andreas Haug, 1:41.62.
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)