BOZEMAN, Mont. - The defending national champion University of Colorado ski team stands in second place at the midway point of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association Championships, as the first four events were completed here Friday. The competition also doubles as the NCAA West Regional.
Utah, ranked No. 1 in the nation, holds the lead at the midway point with 484 points, followed by the fourth-ranked Buffaloes with 422.5. Host Montana State is a distant third with 375, followed by New Mexico (368.5) and Denver (336) to round out the top five.
Utah is bidding to become the first team to win all five western meets since 2005, when Denver accomplished the feat on its way to the NCAA title. Since skiing went coed in 1983, the only other western sweeps were accomplished in 1989 (Utah) and in 1995 (Colorado).
The Buffaloes and Utes have dueled all winter, as CU owns three runner-up finishes and a third place. Individually, of the 41 races to date, Utah skiers have won 16 and Colorado skiers 12, with Denver third with just four.
Friday, Utah had nine top 10 finishes to eight by CU and Montana State (seven of which came in Nordic action); but the main reason the Utes hold a 61-plus point lead was the fact that all nine of those top 10 efforts were actually top five ones, including three wins. Four of CU's eight were in the top five, and only two of MSU's.
"Things go in waves and hopefully we'll merge it together at NCAAs," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "The Nordics led the way again and kept us in it. Being 60 points back is a lot and Utah had a fabulous day. You don't put a top three (women's giant slalom) and top two (men's GS) in one day together very often, but that's what happened.
In the men's 10-kilometer freestyle race, freshman Rune Oedegaard cruised to a 16-plus second win in the interval start competition in a 25:30.6 time. It was his second straight win and fourth on the year in nine races which include eight podium finishes.
"I tried not going out too hard, but I saw that I was catching up to Miles (Havlick, one placement and :30 ahead of him)," Oedegaard said. "He was maybe 15 seconds ahead of me, I felt like what the heck, let's try to catch him. I sprinted very hard from about 3-4.5K, I got up behind him and I tried just to follow him. That's hard, he's really fast going uphill.
"I heard from the split times that he (Havlick) was probably about second, so I knew if I followed him I would win," he continued. "It was so hard, I forgot how it is to ski at elevation. At sea level you can go really hard for a few kilometers, ease up and then you're able to catch back up. At elevation, it's hard to get going again like that, it hurts a lot more. Tomorrow's a mass start, I have a lot more confidence in mass starts, it's all about staying in the lead group and then trying to outsprint somebody at the end."
Senior Vegard Kjoelhamar returned from an illness that prevented him from competing in four races earlier this month in Alaska and finished seventh in a 25:59.0 time. Sophomore Andreas Hoye was CU's third scorer, placing 11th in 26:25.0, with senior Reid Pletcher (14th, 26:53.8), freshman Arnaud De Pasquier (16th, 27:10.2) and junior Ian Mallams (20th, 27:38.7) rounding out the men's contingent here.
In the women's 5k version, Utah's Maria Graefnings blew away the field in a 13:57.4 time, over 30 seconds ahead of CU senior Eliska Hajkova, who finished the course in 14:29.5. Junior Joanne Reid was third in 14:33.0, marking this second time this winter and sixth time overall that she and Hajkova both earned podium finishes.
"After Alaska, I felt like I was going, but going nowhere," Hajkova said. "We always have good skis. I tried to chill the first half of the race, it's the easier part of the loop, just a few casual uphill areas, and then go all out the second half and my legs were really sore. The elevation just makes so much difference.
"My goal for tomorrow is not to feel like a pregnant fish, as my African Dance teacher says," she joked.
Reid, who recorded her 15th top five finish in 24 career collegiate races, said, "It was painful. I felt like I had really fast skis today and it kind of felt like they were skiing along for me. Hopefully not too fast out of the start.
"Tomorrow, hopefully we can work together," she continued. "The big uphill is tricky because it's in the sun and the kick is hard to figure out. It's too long to run the herringbone (a classic motion technique) but if you just walk herringbone, you feel like a slacker so there's a middle ground in there that's hard to hit sometimes."
Rounding out the CU women were junior Mary Rose (18th, 15:51.3), senior Katie Stege (27th, 16:29.5) and freshman Marianne Madsen (28th, 16:41.0).
"It was a solid day, we're very happy with a win and three podiums," CU Nordic Coach Bruce Cranmer said. "Everybody feels like they're right where they want to be. Team wise it was solid. It would've been great to see Ian and Reid up a little higher.
"When you race at altitude, it's always a reawakening (the course here is at about 6,100 feet)," he continued. "We trained and did some interval stuff at Eldora, which is higher than it is here. I was hoping if we hurt enough up there this wouldn't seem quite as bad, but there's no substitute for full on racing at altitude. We should be more comfortable with it by NCAAs. It's like breathing hard at altitude, you just have to get used to it. I don't know how much easier it's going to get, especially with championships.
"We're usually a little better at classic," Cranmer said of Saturday's races. "Just ski hard. Rune and Andreas feel better in classic, Reid is happy with classic. Vegard is 50-50, he's good with both races, but he's still a little off just coming back from being sick. He raced a little last week, but this was his first race back, it doesn't just all come back to you."
The women skied first in the giant slalom, with Utah hogging the podium with the top three finishers and four in the top five; Tii-Maria Romar won the GS for the second straight day, as she was clocked in a two-run time of 1:41.14. She was victorious in the RMISA Alpine Qualifier No. 3, also a GS, on Thursday.
The CU coaches played a bit with the lineup, placing the stronger skiers down the start list in trying to improve the seeding of the others. Senior Carolina Nordh had CU's best effort, tying for 10th in 1:42.82. Senior Jennifer Allen was next for the Buffs, placing 13th in 1:43.05, with freshman Shane McLean in 19th in 1:44.32.
Rounding out the Colorado women were junior Khyla Burrows (20th, 1:44.46) and senior Erika Ghent (25th, 1:45.57). Senior Katie Hartman, in eighth after the morning run, did not finish her second time down the Bridger Bowl course.
The men had their best giant slalom race of the winter, placing three in the top nine. Leading the way was sophomore Andreas Haug with a third place finish in a two-run time of 1:33.43, just .07 out of second; Utah's Ryan Wilson won in 1:32.98. It was Haug's best result of the winter and tied for the second best of his career.
"I'm just starting to get my head back on, that's the main factor," Haug said. "Not thinking too much, just skiing. I got it there. I skied fast in training, so it's good to get a good one in a race. Our slalom team is the strongest on the circuit, so tomorrow the sky is the limit, we can do anything."
Freshman Adam Zika followed up his GS win Thursday with a sixth place effort in 1:33.61, while senior Taggart Spenst was ninth in 1:33.92, as just half a second separated second through ninth place. Spenst, 28th after the morning run, zipped down the course in the fastest clocking (44.98) in the second run to move up 19 spots in the standings. It was his second best GS finish in his career, bested only by an eighth place effort his sophomore year on the same mountain.
Junior Max Lamb (12th, 1:34.32) and sophomore Fletcher McDonald (26th, 1:35.08) completed the CU efforts on the day.
"The guys had a great race," Rokos said. "Today was tough from a coaching perspective. On one hand, you need to qualify your skiers or improve their seeding for NCAA Championships and on the other hand, you want to win a regional championship. Those two things don't go well together.
"On the women's side, our faster skiers started lower down and we did that on purpose, but we paid the price," he added. "Carolina skied well, our only top 10 result. It's tough to go from way back and move forward.
"The guys were more fortunate, it was a great result for Andreas, third place, that's what we were hoping for. That's why he was in the first group. All the guys, fighting from behind, Adam started 34th and finished sixth. That's a long way to go, to plow through 30 guys is not easy. Taggart had a spectacular second run, he won it. All the guys did a great job today compared to yesterday."
The regional has morphed into more about improving seeds and qualifying skiers for the NCAA Championships than winning the title. The Buffs likely won't qualify a full 12-skier team this winter; CU will have three representatives in men's and women's alpine and in men's Nordic, but appear it will come up one athlete shy on the women's Nordic side. Rose is fighting with two other skiers for the last qualification spot, but she'll need a top eight or so finish Saturday to have a chance at nabbing it.
The competition concludes Saturday with the slalom races (the men's runs are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and the women's at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) and the Nordic classical events (men's 20K at 9 a.m., women's 15K at 11 a.m.).
RMISA Championships/NCAA West Regional (4 of 8 events): 1. Utah 484; 2. Colorado 422.5; 3. Montana State 375; 4. New Mexico 368.5; 5. Denver 346; 6. Alaska 336; 7. Westminster 133; 8. Colorado Mountain College 51.
Men's 10K Freestyle (31 collegiate finishers)- 1. Rune Oedegaard, CU, 25:30.6; 2. Miles Havlick, Utah, 25:47.0; 3. Tyler Reinking, MSU, 25:48.5; 4. David Norris, MSU, 25:52.6; 5. Didrik Smith, Utah, 25:54.6; 6. Andrew Daugherty, DU, 25:54.9; 7. Vegard Kjoelhamar, CU, 25:59.0; 8. Michael Schallinger, MSU, 26:09.2; 9. Trygve Markset, DU, 26:27.2; 10. Pat Madden, MSU, 26:33.1. Other CU Finishers: 11. Andreas Hoye, 26:25.0; 14. Reid Pletcher, 26:53.8; 16. Arnaud De Pasquier, 27:10.2; 20. Ian Mallams, 27:38.7.
Women's 5K Freestyle (33 collegiate finishers)- 1. Maria Graefnings, Utah, 13:57.4; 2. Eliska Hajkova, CU, 14:29.5; 3. Joanne Reid, CU, 14:33.0; 4. Linn Klaesson, UNM, 14:49.2; 5. Kate Dolan, DU, 14:49.3; 6. Ase Carlson, MSU, 14:58.4; 7. Clara Chauvet, UNM, 15:09.5; 8. Casey Kutz, MSU, 15:12.4; 9. Katie Gill, DU, 15:18.6; 10. Jessica Yeaton, MSU, 15:21.9. Other CU Finishers: 18. Mary Rose, 15:51.3; 27. Katie Stege, 16:29.5; 28. Marianne Madsen, 16:41.0.
Men's Giant Slalom (37 collegiate finishers)- 1. Ryan Wilson, Utah, 1:32.98; 2. Nick Cohee, Utah, 1:33.36; 3. Andreas Haug, CU, 1:33.43; 4. Armin Triendl, UNM, 1:33.59; 5. Niko Harmanen, UAA, 1:33.60; 6. Adam Zika, CU, 1:33.61; 7. Espen Lysdahl, DU, 1:33.82; 8. Andreas Adde, UAA, 1:33.87; 9. Taggart Spenst, CU, 1:33.92; 10. Michael Bansmer, UNM, 1:34.03. Other CU Results: 12. Max Lamb, 1:34.32; 26. Fletcher McDonald, 1:35.08.
Women's Giant Slalom (31 collegiate finishers)- 1. Tii-Maria Romar, Utah, 1:41.14; 2. Anna Kocken, Utah, 1:41.40; 3. Julie Bordeau, Utah, 1:41.42; 4. Alexandra Parker, UAA, 1:42.01; 5. Jaime DuPratt, Utah, 1:42.17; 6. Maria Rizzieri, DU, 1:42.18; 7. Devin Delaney, DU, 1:42.22; 8. Kate Williams, UNM, 1:42.54; 9. Kelly McBroom, MSU, 1:42.69; 10 (tie). Carolina Nordh, CU, and Stefanie Demetz, UNM, 1:42.82. Other CU Results: 13. Jennifer Allen, 1:43.05; 19. Shane McLean, 1:44.32; 20. Khyla Burrows, 1:44.46; 25. Erika Ghent, 1:45.57. Did Not Finish (2nd Run): Katie Hartman.
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)