PARK CITY, Utah — The slalom can be the great equalizer, or can serve to devastate. It was more of the latter here Saturday for the University of Colorado ski team, as the Buffaloes couldn’t rally to defend their title and finished fourth in the 61st annual NCAA Skiing Championships.
Denver came in to the day nursing a healthy 51½-point lead over host Utah and was never severely threatened. The Pioneers finished 556 team points, easily outdistancing Vermont (487½) for top honors. New Mexico finished third (458½), followed by the Buffaloes (402½) and then the host Utes (392).
Western schools have now claimed three of the top four spots in 29 of 32 championship meets since 1983, with this marking the 20th time four schools from the west occupied the top five. In addition, the leader at the midway point has now claimed seven of the last eight and 11 of the last 14 championships.
Due to poor conditions on Friday, the final four events were run simultaneously Saturday, with the Nordic freestyle races at the same time as the slalom first runs. The men’s cross country event was run first, and it would be the closest CU would come to defending its title, as the Buffs briefly took over second place and pulled to within 37½ points of Denver.
“We didn’t deliver and now we know what to do next year,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said. “Trophies don’t matter between second, third or fourth place, it’s all the same. We always aim for the best, we came here to defend our title. We didn’t shoot for second place.”
Freshman Mads Stroem broke from the lead pack in the final kilometer and had enough left in his tank to pull away for an estimated 250-meter victory in the men’s 20-kilometer freestyle, winning in a 43:49.0 time. It was his second win of the winter, as he also claimed the same event in CU’s Spencer Nelson Memorial meet in Steamboat Springs. It was his second first-team All-American honor here, as he earned similar status with a fourth place finish in the 10k classic.
“I was just trying to save as much energy as possible for the last lap,” Stroem said. “I know I’m really strong on the uphills, so I was waiting and waiting and then on the first uphill of the last lap, Rune and I opened a gap. I asked Rune if he wanted to be in front and he said he didn’t have any energy, so I knew I had to leave him.
“I was really relieved. I was so disappointed with my skis on Thursday, but it was a big relief to come out and ski the way I did today.”
Colorado’s NCAA-best 88th individual title, it marked the fifth time that a Buffalo was crowned the Nordic freestyle champion at the national meet. Stroem joined Per Kare Jakobsen (1989), Bjorn Svensson (1991), Kit Richmond (2006) and Vegard Kjoelhamar (2009) as CU freestyle titlists. Combined with the classic win by junior Rune Oedegaard on Thursday, it’s the first time that the CU men have claimed both events at the NCAA’s; the women have done it three times, all sweeps by the same skier.
It’s the 29th time that the Buffaloes have had two or more individual NCAA national champions in a single season, tied for the most nationally with Denver, which also had two individual titlists here.
“I’ve been strong in the big races this year, I was top 15 in nationals in Norway, SO I knew I’m capable of winning this,” Stroem said. “But in a mass start anything can happen. You have to be patient and avoid accidents but when you can be alone and coast in on the final sprint, that’s special and emotional.”
Oedegaard was with Stroem just ahead of the lead pack but ran out of gas with under two kilometers left in the race, eventually finishing 15th in 44:16.1. Alaska-Fairbanks’ Max Olex was second in 43:56.3, with New Mexico’s Mats Resaland third (44:00.3); the next eight skiers were separated by a total of 1.1 seconds, as most of that lead pack never separated.
Junior Arnaud Du Pasquier finished in a 47:33.8 time which placed him 36th, too far down the line to earn CU any team points in the new scoring format adopted this winter.
“It was great to see Mads win, he looked super strong,” CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. “I really thought with Rune, there wasn’t much left and he looked like he was struggling. He said he didn’t feel that well warming up. He fought hard, he had one of those days where he wasn’t feeling great but fought through and kept a positive attitude. It’s great to get a win, it obviously would’ve been great to be 1-2."
In the women’s 15k version run after the men, the Buffaloes had two performances just outside the top 10. Freshmen Camilla Brautaset finished 11th in a time of 41:58.5, with Maja Solbakken right behind her in 12th in 42:07.4. A third CU frosh, Lucy Newman, finished down the line in 36th in 47:11.6., and as with Du Pasquier, in the new format did not score any team points.
“I fell back in the downhills and caught up in the uphills so I was back and forth all the time,” Brautaset said. “If I can just improve my downhills, I’ll be a better skier in total. I started pretty slow so I wasn’t too stiff. In Vail, I was too stiff and fell twice on the flats. It was a nice day, fun to ski. The surface was a little difficult, so I tried not to use too much energy early.”
Solbakken craves longer distances. “I just started feeling better and better, I wish we could ski 20K like the boys, I could’ve kept going,” she said. “It’s bad I lost that much on the start, but it’s great to gain that much ground on the final lap. I was in a sprint finish (with her small pack), and I wasn’t going to lose a sprint at the finish, so that was exciting.”
New Mexico’s Eva Severrus held off a couple of late charges from Northern Michigan’s Rosie Frankowski in winning the race in 40:15.1; Frankowski was timed in 40:16.9, with DU’s Sylvia Nordskar claiming third in 40:32.9.
“We know we’ve had some struggles this year, with a brand new women’s team,” Cranmer said of his three frosh women. It was a great race, I was hoping Camilla and Maja would get into the top 10, they got as close as you can without getting there. It was great to see Maja pass some girls on the last hill, she outsprinted a few at the finish, so it’s always good to see that kind of fight in someone. Two girls, especially freshmen, in the top 12 is solid.”
“Lucy has had some trouble with her calves this year, and she cramped up really bad today,” he added. “She fought through and hung in there but there’s only so much you can do.”
In the men’s slalom, the Buffaloes didn’t have the greatest collective starting positions going for them (12, 16, 23), and had just one skier, sophomore Kasper Hietanen in the top 25 after the first run (he was in 12th). But he missed a gate and had to hike on his afternoon run, eventually finishing last in a 2:49.08 time, the hike easily costing him well over 50 seconds as he was speeding down the mountain for what appeared to be a great second run time.
Senior Andreas Haug, skiing in his fourth and final NCAA championship, finished 21st in 2:04.19. He started 23rd and moved up five spots after landing in 26th after the morning run.
“We had a ways to catch up to Denver, so we really went out to try and put down some top results to catch them,” Haug said. “We took some risk and it didn’t end up like we wanted to, but we came here to fight strong as a team together, we did that, we did our best. We just have to work harder, the guys coming back, and I think we’ll be really strong last year.”
“It’s exceeded all my expectations, it’s been an incredible career,” Haug said of his time at CU, in which he has compiled better than a 3.9 grade point average in Business. “Just the tradition of the ski team, the camaraderie, it’s amazing, it builds character in everybody who is lucky enough to be a part of it.”
Sophomore Henrik Gunnarsson was 30th after his first run, but upon video review, was disqualified for straddling gate 40 down the hill.
Denver went 1-2 in the race, with Espen Lysdahl posting the fastest runs both times down the hill for a 1:53.34 total time, easily besting teammate Trevor Philp (1:54.11).
In the women’s slalom that closed the meet, Vermont pulled off just the ninth podium sweep in all disciplines dating back to 1983 and just the second in alpine as the Catamounts had the top three finishers, led by Kristina Riis-Johannessen and her winning time of 1:37.89. Wyoming also went 1-2-3 in the women’s slalom back in 1985; the last to do it were the Northern Michigan women in 2007 in the 15-kilometer classic.
CU sophomore Jessica Honkonen did her best to break up the group, as she finished fourth in a 1:40.32 clocking and earned first-team All-America honors. She was also fourth after her morning run and held her position despite course conditions deteriorating at the top of the hill. Honkonen was 16th in the slalom as a freshman in 2013.
“It was surprisingly good,” Honkonen said of the course on her afternoon. “When I finished my second run, I thought maybe I should’ve sent it more. Today I felt like I did the best I could. Fourth place is usually the bitter place to be, but it will taste better tomorrow or even later today.”
“I got second team All-America in GS, first-team sounds even better,” she continued. “I’m not into that culture, but it sounds good. I’m really happy finishing both disciplines in the top 10, especially after finishing 16th in both races (as a freshman). I figured out last year this is a little different race than other races, I learned that and now hopefully I can improve even more next year.”
Sophomore Thea Grosvold finished ninth in 1:41.80, improving from her 19th starting spot and the 13th position after her morning run. She garnered second-team All-America honors in her second NCAA’s after finishing 27th in the race a year ago.
CU’s other alpine woman, sophomore Brooke Wales, had to hike a bit in the morning and was next-to-last (30th) to start her second run, but did manage to inch up to a 27th place finish (1:58.82).
“It happens sometimes in slalom, it’s not the first time it’s happened in my career, and unfortunately it happened again on the wrong day,” Rokos lamented. “I’m deeply apologizing to our supporters. We expect to win and it hurts when we don’t. But congratulations to DU, to UVM for what it accomplished today, and to UNM, they beat us. And recognition is due Utah for putting on the championship and dealing with the course conditions.
“We have a very balanced team on the men’s side, and on the women’s Nordic, we need to do some recruiting most likely,” Rokos added. “We have a good team and we can work it into perfection for next season.”
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)
NCAA Championship Team Scores (Final, 8 events)—1. Denver 556; 2. Vermont 487.5; 3. New Mexico 458.5; 4. Colorado 402.5; 5. Utah 392; 6. Dartmouth 261.5; 7. Northern Michigan 239; 8. Alaska-Anchorage 235; 9. Montana State 224.5; 10. Alaska-Fairbanks 144; 11. New Hampshire 140; 12. Middlebury 125.5; 13. Colby 77; 14. Harvard 61; 15. Williams 47; 16. St. Olaf 41; 17. St. Scholastica 29; 18. Michigan Tech 21; 19. St. Michael’s 16; 20. Bowdoin 15; 21. Plymouth State 10; 22. Bates 7; 23. St. Lawrence 0.
Men’s 20K Freestyle (40 finishers) — 1. Mads Stroem, CU, 43:49.0; 2. Max Olex, UAF, 43:56.3; 3. Mats Resaland, UNM, 44:00.3; 4. Pierre Guedon, DU, 44:01.2; 5. Patrick Caldwell, Dart., 44:01.3; 6. Fredrik Schwenke, NMU, 44:01.4; 7. Aljaz Praznik, UNM, 44:01.5; 8. Paul Schommer, CSS, 44:01.6; 9. Sawyer Kesselheim, MSU, 44:01.7; 10. Lukas Ebner, UAA, 44:01.9. Other CU Finishers: 15. Rune Oedegaard, 44:16.1; 36. Arnaud Du Pasquier, 47:33.8.
Women’s 15K Freestyle (36 finishers)— 1. Eva Severrus, UNM, 40:15.1; 2. Rosie Frankowski, NMU, 40:16.9; 3. Sylvia Nordskar, DU, 40:32.9; 4. Linda Danvind-Malm, UVM, 40:40.7; 5. Anja Gruber, UVM, 41:05.4; 6. Sloan Storey, UU, 41:15.1; 7. Paige Schember, St. Olaf, 41:23.1; 8. Anne Hart, Dart., 41:28.7; 9. Marine Dusser, UAA, 41:34.6; 10. Alice Flanders, MTU, 41:40.2. CU Finishers: 11. Camilla Brautaset, 41:58.5; 12. Maja Solbakken, 42:07.4; 36. Lucy Newman, 47:11.6.
Men’s Slalom (32 finishers)— 1. Espen Lysdahl, DU, 1:53.34; 2. Trevor Philp, DU, 1:54.11; 3. Jonathon Nordbotten, UVM, 1:54.89; 4. Niko Harmanen, UAA, 1:55.35; 5. Sean Horner, UNM, 1:56.15; 6. Travis Dawson, UVM, 1:56.21; 7. Andy Trow, Utah, 1:56.45; 8. Coley Oliver, UNH, 1:56.47; 9. Sebastian Brigovic, DU, 1:56.55; 10. Kevin Drury, UVM, 1:56.62. CU Skiers: 21. Andreas Haug, 2:04.19; 32. Kasper Hietanen, 2:49.08. Disqualified (1st run): Henrik Gunnarsson.
Women’s Slalom (29 finishers)— 1. Kristina Riis-Johannessen, UVM, 1:37.89; 2. Kate Ryley, UVM, 1:38.24; 3. Elise-woien Tefre, UVM, 1:40.32; 4. Jessica Honkonen, CU, 1:40.32; 5. Kristine Haugen, DU, 1:40.66; 6. Randa Teschner, UNH, 1:41.47; 7. Tianda Carroll, DU, 1:41.67: 8. Devin Delaney, DU, 1:41.71; 9. Thea Grosvold, CU, 1:41.80; 10. Mateja Robnik, UNM, 1:41.95. Other CU Finisher: 27. Brooke Wales, 1:58.82.
CU / 2014 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES
IN-THE-END: Listed below is how the 2014 championship broke down:
MEN’S TEAM SCORING: Denver 292, New Mexico 252, Colorado 216½, Vermont 201½, Utah 189, Alaska-Anchorage 170.
WOMEN’S TEAM SCORING: Vermont 286, Denver 264, New Mexico 206½, Utah 203, Colorado 186, Montana State 129½.
ALPINE POINT LEADERS: Denver 306, Vermont 294, New Mexico 240, Utah 227, Colorado 194.5, Alaska-Anchorage 145
Men’s Leader: Denver 168 (2nd—Vermont 144). Women’s Leader: Vermont 140 (2nd—Denver 138).
NORDIC POINT LEADERS: Denver 250, Northern Michigan 239, New Mexico 219, Colorado 208, Vermont 193½, Utah 165
Men’s Leader: Colorado 139 (2nd—Denver 124). Women’s Leader: Vermont 136 (2nd—Denver 126).
CRACKING THE TOP: NCAA West schools have won 18 of the last 20 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 (8), Colorado (7), Vermont (5), Dartmouth (1), New Mexico (1) and Wyoming (1). But since the ’67 title meet, Colorado (22 first or second place finishes, including 16 wins), Utah (22; 10, 12), Vermont (21; 6, 15) and Denver (17; 12, 5) have dominated college skiing over these 48 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 47 titles since CU and Dartmouth shared ’76 crown).
CU ALL-TIME: The Buffaloes have won 19 national championships in skiing: 11 men's (1959-60-72-73-74-75-76-77-78-79-82), seven coed (1991-95-98-99-2006-11-13) and one women's (1982, AIAW). The 18 NCAA titles by Colorado trail Denver by four, 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 and added their 22nd this weekend. After DU and CU (40 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 two individual NCAA champions this winter (Rune Oedegard, CL and Mads Stroem, FS), and posted five top five efforts and seven top 10 overall, but uncharacteristically low for CU. Colorado leads all-time with 88 individual NCAA titles, topping Denver (84), Utah (69), Vermont (62), Dartmouth (35), Wyoming (19), New Mexico (15) and Middlebury (10); other individual winners in 2014 came from Denver and UVM (two apiece), with one each from New Mexico and Utah (the exact same as in 2013). The Buffs have had two or more individual champions 29 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 26 of the last 33 years.
LEARFIELD DIRECTORS’ CUP: Colorado picked up 80 points in the Learfield Director’s Cup Standings, jumping from 10th place into third in the standings with 366.0 total points as skiing was the first NCAA winter championship completed (Denver also made a significant jump, from 113th into 38th, earning 100 points for its win), and New Mexico jumped from 17th to ninth). Stanford leads with 461.25 points, with Michigan State second (382.5), Colorado third (366.0), Florida State fourth (351.5) and North Carolina fifth (333). The skiing, indoor track (which are next weekend) and rifle championships will be included in the next official release of the standings on March 27.
HEAD COACH RICHARD ROKOS: Rokos wrapped up his 24th 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, 2011 and 2013, to five second place finishes and five third place efforts. Under Rokos, Colorado has won 61 of 147 ski meets, including 54 of 123 in the west (with 12 RMISA Championships/NCAA West Regionals titles). In his tenure, CU has had 119 first-team All-Americans and 183 first- or second-team selections (Alpine and Nordic), all adding to 274 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 15 individual Nordic NCAA titles, and his Buffalo teams have been the Nordic point champions six times at the NCAA meet (2004-06-08-10-11-13).
ALL-AMERICANS: Five Buffaloes earned All-America honors in the meet, four gaining first-team status: Jessica Honkonen (slalom), Rune Oedegaard (classical), Mads Stroem (classical, freestyle) and Brooke Wales (giant slalom). In addition, Thea Grosvold (slalom) garnered second-team honors (as did Honkonen in the giant slalom). Top five finishes earn skiers the first-team accolade, while finishing sixth through 10th nets a second-team honor.
NCAA SKIING ALL-ACADEMIC TEAM: Colorado placed 11 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 cumulative grade point average and participation in the NCAA regionals (unless injured). Roger Carry, Thea Grosvold, Henrik Gunnarsson, Andreas Haug, Jessica Honkonen, Andreas Hoye, Rune Oedegaard, Maja Solbakken, Brooke Wales, Clair Wise and Adam Zika all made the prestigious team; Solbakken did so with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Haug has made the squad four times, with Hoye and Oedegard doing so thrice and Grosvold, Wales, Wise and Zika twice. As for their majors, none of the 11 can set it on cruise control: four are in various Business sequences with three in Economics and one each in engineering, integrative physiology and sociology (with one undecided).
LOOKING AHEAD: Eleven of the 12 student-athletes who competed for Colorado in the 2014 championships are scheduled to return for the 2015 season. CU will graduate just three seniors, only one of whom competed here, Andreas Haug (Alpine); also graduating are Fletcher McDonald (Alpine) and Andreas Hoye (Nordic).
FUTURE SITES: The NCAA has selected the next three championship sites: In 2015, St. Lawrence will host the 62nd annual event at Lake Placid, N.Y. (March 11-14); Lake Placid has hosted twice (alpine only in 1980 and all events in 1982, when CU captured that title, the last men’s solo one before the sport went coed the following year). Colorado will host the 2016 meet at Steamboat Springs (March 9-12), the seventh time the revered ski area will host (last in 2010); and in 2017, New Hampshire will host in Franconia, N.H.