ANCHORAGE, Alaska — One event came to a close while another passed the midway point here Friday, as the defending national champion University of Colorado ski team finished second in the Alaska Invitational and closed to within 13 points in the UAA Seawolf Invitational.
No. 1-ranked Utah won the Alaska Invitational, defeating No. 3 Colorado as the newest Pac-12 schools continue their competitive skiing rivalry in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association for the third time in as many events this winter. The Utes had 898 points to 831 for the Buffs; Utah edged CU in the Buffs’ own meet by 24 points and then captured the DU invite by 57 points; Alaska-Anchorage took third in the first two meets but placed fourth in its own event with 718 points, as a big alpine performance by Denver thrusted the Pioneers into third (775).
In the Seawolf Invitational, the Buffaloes tremendous day in cross country sliced 30 points of what had been a 43-point Utah advantage, with Colorado pulling to within 561-548 with three events to be scored; Alaska is in third (491) and Montana State a distant fourth (457).
Both meets ran concurrently to save some expense, combined with the fact that the western skiers only travel to Alaska every three years. Thus this format provides an element of fairness to the UAA program, which likely travels more miles than most other NCAA sport programs.
“Overall, today was a good day,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said. “The Nordic teams did well and closed the gap and we closed the gap on our side but didn’t quite do enough to win the first meet. We’ll give it our all tomorrow if conditions allow.”
Colorado had 10 top 10 efforts on Friday, including eight top six finishes and the third wins on the season by Nordic performers Eliska Hajkova, a senior, and freshman Rune Oedegaard.
The Buffaloes earned 130 points in the men’s 20K classical race on the strength of a 1-4-5 finish, and picked up another 105 in the women’s 15K version with two in the top 10. Both races featured a mass start.
CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer wasn’t sure if the distance or the event benefitted his team the most. “We know were a good classic team and every one was feeling good, and these were the longest races of the year. We had good skis, fast skis, and handled the uphills well. When you have that sort of confidence, it makes it easy to conserve energy.
“Eliska is almost in too good of shape right now, she’s skiing well and feels good,” Cranmer said. “This year, unlike past years, no one really has emerged who’s unbeatable and so she’s skiing with confidence. Rune really isn’t trying to do super great at present as he wants to peak for his first NCAA’s.”
Oedegaard won in 54:25.5, nearly 15 seconds ahead of Montana State’s David Norris. CU received career best efforts to bolster Oedegaard’s win, as sophomore Andreas Hoye captured fourth in 54:53.1 and junior Ian Mallams fifth in 55:26.1. Hoye’s previous best finish was seventh in the 2011 RMISA Championships, with Mallams’ fourth in that same race—though many top skiers skipped it or raced casually to prep for the NCAA’s two weeks later.
Senior Reid Pletcher was 16th in 57:49.7 and freshman Arnaud De Pasquier 18th in 58:07.2 to round out the CU men; Pletcher likely would have contended for a top 10 finish but wound up further back because of a broken binding. He had to ski for a while until he could replace a ski, but the damage had already been done.
Hajkova held off Alaska’s Jamie Bronga in racing the 15-kilometer course in 47:56.9, fourth-tenths of a second ahead of her closest pursuer. Junior Joanne Reid had a rough race but still managed a 10th place finish in 50:08.2, with junior Mary Rose once again CU’s third scorer, as she finished in 16th in 51:10.3. Freshman Marianne Madsen (21st, 52:16.8) and senior Katie Stege (26th, 56:52.7) completed the Buff women’s efforts in Alaska.
“Joanne had four or five crashes and was tangled up early, and that’s why she was a bit off the pace,” Cranmer said. “She did a great job of battling back into contention on a number of occasions, but mentioned that she felt her balance was off after the first crash and never really got it back.”
Poor racing conditions plagued the skiers for a second straight day; the women’s slalom runs were first with ruts developing quickly, and things worsened for the men with their runs that followed.
But unlike in Thursday’s giant slalom, when three Buffs did not finish, all six posted results including three in the top 10. Senior Carolina Nordh led the way with a fourth place effort in 1:43.14, just five one-hundredths out of second; Utah’s Tii-Maria Romar blew away the field in winning in a 1:40.36 time, nearly a 3-second win, a rout in the GS and most ski races.
Seniors Katie Hartman (sixth, 1:43.51) and Jennifer Allen (10th, 1:45.46) helped Colorado win the point battle with 108, topping Denver (98). Freshman Shane McLean was 18th (1:58.59), followed by senior Erika Ghent (19th, 2:02.47) and junior Khyla Burrows (22nd, 2:10.12).
Ghent had the run of the day, however. After having to hike on her first run, she was 30th heading into her second, in which she blitzed the Alyeska Mountain course in 51.23, some 2.3 seconds faster than Romar’s runner-up time.
“I’m a little disappointed that Erika popped off the course on her first run,” Rokos said. “She couldn’t catch up despite beating the field by a good margin on her second run. Katie made a mistake but stayed in the hunt and Jenny had a great race, starting 27th and finishing in the top 10.”
In the men’s slalom, junior Max Lamb took a page out of Ghent’s book; after standing in 21st place after the morning run, he zoomed down in his second try in 50.30 for the fastest afternoon time and finished as CU’s top male in fifth place with a 1:38.48 time; sophomore Fletcher McDonald was right behind him in sixth in 1:38.59. Denver’s Espen Lysdahl won in 1:36.73, four-tenths of a second ahead of Westminster’s Petter Brenna.
Senior Taggart Spenst and sophomore Andreas Haug tied for 16th in 1:39.89 (Taggart was 24th after the first run but rallied with the ninth-fastest second one), and freshman Adam Zika placed 29th in 1:53.63.
“Max won the second run by a solid margin and moved up 15 or 16 spots in that run alone,” Rokos said. “His fifth place is even more impressive because he made about a two second mistake on the first run, he could’ve been in the mix to win the race. Adam had a great first run but fell hard in the second run and finished despite tweaking his knee. We’ll keep an eye on it, but he may not race tomorrow.”
The Seawolf meet concludes Saturday with the slalom races; because of Thursday’s wild weather creating dangerous conditions which forced the cancellation of the men’s giant slalom, the team points in the men's slalom will be doubled to account for the men's GS team points. Forecasts in the area call for up to 16 inches of snow and blizzard conditions. The priority Saturday will be the men since it was their race that was completely cancelled on Thursday.
“It’s harder to forecast in this part of Alaska, but if the conditions force us to compromise, we’ll do everything we can to get the men’s race in,” Rokos said. “We’ll see what it’s like about 9 a.m. and make a decision.”
UAA Seawolf Invitational (5 of 8 events)— 1. Utah 561; 2. Colorado 548; 3. Alaska 491; 4. Montana State 457; 5. New Mexico 453; 6. Denver 434; 7. Westminster 71.
Men’s 20K Classical (27 collegiate finishers)— 1. Rune Oedegaard, CU, 54:25.5; 2. David Norris, MSU, 54:40.0; 3. Miles Havlick, Utah, 54:46.8; 4. Andreas Hoye, CU, 54:53.1; 5. Ian Mallams, CU, 55:26.1; 6. Andrew Dougherty, DU, 55:52.0; 7. Christian Otto, UNM, 55:59.8; 8. Siur Prestsaeter, UNM, 56:03.3; 9. Lukas Ebner, UAA, 56:14.5; 10. Joergen Brevik, DU, 56:17.4. Other CU Finishers: 16. Reid Pletcher, 57:49.7; 18. Arnaud De Pasquier, 58:07.2.
Women’s 15K Classical (26 collegiate finishers)— 1. Eliska Hajkova, CU, 47:56.9; 2. Jaime Bronga, UAA, 47:57.3; 3. Maria Graefnings, Utah, 48:14.2; 4. Laura Rombach, UAA, 48:22.4; 5. Linn Klaesson, UNM, 48:25.8; 6. Silje Wilsgaard, DU, 49:29.0; 7. Kate Dolan, DU, 49:32.9; 8. Parker Tyler, Utah, 49:43.7; 9. Anni Nord, UNM, 49:52.9; 10. Joanne Reid, CU, 50:08.2. Other CU Finishers: 16. Mary Rose, 51:10.3; 21. Marianne Madsen, 52:16.8; 26. Katie Stege, 56:52.7.
Alaska Invitational (Final, 8 events)— 1. Utah 898; 2. Colorado 831; 3. Denver 775; 4. Alaska 718; 5. Montana State 688; 6. New Mexico 686; 7. Westminster 353; 8. Colorado Mountain College 51.
Women’s Slalom (25 collegiate finishers)— 1. Tii-Maria Romar, Utah, 1:40.36; 2. Kate Williams, 1:43.09; 3. Sterling Grant, DU, 1:43.11; 4. Carolina Nordh, CU, 1:43.14; 5. Maria Fraschini, WC, 1:43.50; 6. Katie Hartman, CU, 1:43.51; 7. Stephanie Irwin, MSU, 1:43.82; 8. Alex Parker, UAA, 1:44.32; 9. Maria Rizzieri, DU, 1:44.72; 10. Jennifer Allen, CU, 1:45.46. Other CU Finishers: 18. Shane McLean, 1:58.59; 19. Erika Ghent, 2:02.47; 22. Khyla Burrows, 2:10.12.
Men’s Slalom (29 collegiate finishers)— 1. Espen Lysdahl, DU, 1:36.73; 2. Petter Brenna, WC, 1:37.13; 3. Torjus Krogdahl, Utah, 1:38.06; 4. Trevor Philp, DU, 1:38.21; 5. Max Lamb, CU, 1:38.48; 6. Fletcher McDonald, CU, 1:38.59; 7. Max Marno, DU, 1:38.79; 8 (tie). Nick Cohee, Utah and Joonas Rasanen, UNM, 1:38.95; 10. Ryan Wilson, Utah, 1:38.98. Other CU Finishers: 16 (tie). Andreas Haug and Taggart Spenst, 1:39.89; 29. Adam Zika, 1:53.63.
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)