BOZEMAN, Mont. - The defending national champion Colorado ski team had a spectacular and record-setting day in the giant slalom here Thursday and in the process, moved into third place and back into contention at the midway point of the 59th Annual NCAA Ski Championships.
No. 3 Vermont assumed the lead, as the Catamounts used five top 10 finishes in the giant slalom, including all three of its men in the top seven, to jump from second into first with 396 points. No. 1-ranked Utah also moved up a notch, lagging just 24 points behind with 372, while No. 2 Colorado improved from a fifth-place tie into third with 359 points. The Buffaloes, who were actually in second place after the women's GS, were 60 points back after Wednesday's Nordic freestyle races but pulled to within 37 of first in pursuit of its 19th national title in skiing.
"Today's results were almost a surprise," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "I wasn't expecting this good of a day in GS. The girls were awesome, and I think we regained our composure after yesterday and got back in the hunt. I'm really happy about today. The girls did a fantastic job, all three in the top 10, and boys coming from behind.
"For the guys, it was good to see them skiing fast, because this group will be here again next year and the year after that. For the girls, it's a sad story that this is their farewell party (all are seniors), but good skiing today.
Freshman Adam Zika cruised to victory in the men's giant slalom, his 1.07-second win the largest in an NCAA giant slalom since 1980, when Vermont's John Teague defeated teammate Tor Melander by 1.83 seconds. No other margin reached one full second until this year, though on a few occasions the difference was around 9/10s of a second.
How massive is a 1.07-second win? The difference between second and 16th place (or 15 skiers) Thursday was just 1.06 seconds.
"That's an incredible statistic, especially here," Rokos exclaimed. "It's a relative easy hill, everybody can charge on it and ski fast and there's very few mistakes. Everyone can go for it with limited risk."
In becoming CU's first national champion in the GS since the late Bryan Sax won in 1995, Zika also became the fourth Buffalo male alpine skier in the school's illustrious history to win his first NCAA race.
The Czech Republic native and younger brother of former Buffalo great Lucie Zikova joins Ian Witter (1989), Toni Standteiner (1991) and Sean Ramsden (1993) as first-race, first-time champions, all four claiming the giant slalom. Overall, he's the eighth Buffalo to win the first time out at the NCAA's and the ninth to be victorious in the GS.
Bozeman in particular has been good to his family; Zikova was both the NCAA women's GS and slalom champion on the very same hill her senior year in 2008; thus he won his first NCAA title on the same hill his sister finished her career on with a win. They are the first relatives, not to mention siblings, to win NCAA ski titles at Colorado.
(Rokos, also a Czech, explained why their last names are different: "It's a Slavic anomaly. In their family, the man is Zika, for woman, they add "ova." So Zika, Zikova. Some Russians have a similar tradition. My wife cut out her "ova" as soon as she got to the United States. Lucie is keeping her "ova" and everybody over there does it that way.)
Zika's win was the NCAA-leading 84th by a Colorado skier; Denver is second (79) followed by Utah (66).
Zika had a comfortable lead after his first run time of 45.77 was nearly a half-second up on Utah's Nick Cohee (46.24). What did he do for an encore? He came back with the swiftest time the second run down the Bridger Bowl course (46.03) and won in a combined time of 1:31.80. It was his second win of the winter and the fourth and fifth times he logged the fastest runs.
"The race, it was awesome, I really liked the course and the snow," Zika said. "I wanted to win, I knew I could do it. I was very nervous, especially on the second run; I really need to thank my teammates and coaches, Richard and Drew (Roberts, assistant coach), I couldn't have done it without them. They (coaches) told me to ski fast and 'do what you know to do.' I know how to ski fast. For the second run, there was a lot of pressure - it's (the) NCAA finals, I just wanted to go for it, and it happened.
"It helped me a little bit, having two races here before this week," he continued, referring the NCAA West Regional held on the same hill just 12 days ago. "But still so many things can happen in GS, I'm glad my first one is behind me. We did so well as a team today, the girls did an awesome job, I know they were nervous too, but they handled it well.
In reference to joining his sister as a national champion, Zika said: "The last time NCAAs were here, she won on this hill. That's awesome. It means a little more that way."
"Adam showed to be in a class by himself, he's following the footsteps of his sister," Rokos said. "It's great to see him be right there in his freshman year. For a coach, it's great to see him run, it's nothing too exciting. He's running as fast as he can, but still in full of his destiny and that's ideal.
"It helped that he ran two races on this hill before today and that he won another one," Rokos added. "On this hill, you can only set a certain number of configurations of a race course. Whatever we skied today, we skied before at some point. What I set in the second run, we practiced for a while. It was a carbon copy of what I was setting all week."
Zika will be shooting to become the seventh skier in school history to record two podium finishes in the first two NCAA career races in the slalom this Saturday.
CU / VICTORIES IN FIRST CAREER NCAA EVENT
1st Kristen Petty, 1985 (Soph., Nordic)
1st Per Kare Jakobsen, 1988 (Soph., Nordic)
1st Ian Witter, 1989 (Fr., Alpine, giant slalom)
1st Toni Standteiner, 1991 (Fr, Alpine, giant slalom)
1st Sean Ramsden, 1993 (Soph, Alpine, giant slalom)
1st Line Selnes, 1998 (Sr., Nordic, classical)
1st Katka Hanusova, 2000 (Fr., Nordic, freestyle)
1st Adam Zika, 2012 (Fr., Alpine, giant slalom)
COLORADO MEN’S GIANT SLALOM CHAMPIONS
1977 Stephan Hienzsch
1982 Seth Bayer
1987 John Skajem
1989 Ian Witter
1991 Toni Standteiner
1992 Eric Archer
1993 Sean Ramsden
1995 Bryan Sax
2012 Adam Zika
The Colorado women, all seniors, had one of the best combined efforts overall in the NCAA's in school history with all three placing in the top nine. The Buffs outpointed UVM, 108-104, to win the event as a team.
Erika Ghent led the way with a fourth place time of 1:42.68, earning first-team All-America honors, while Carolina Nordh tied for sixth (1:42.91) and Katie Hartman ninth (1:43.36), both earning second-team mention; the first-through-fifth performers are named to the first-team, the sixth-to-10th are on the second.
It was just the eighth time that all three CU lady skiers earned All-America honors in either the giant slalom (five times) or slalom (three), and only the third time with current structure with a three-skier maximum. They also became the first trio to do it twice.
In the 2010 event at Steamboat Springs, the same three finished 5-6-7 in the slalom (Nordh-Ghent-Hartman). The only other time in the current format was in the GS at Stowe in 1997, when Kate Davenport (second), Jessica Ochs (third) and Caroline Gedde-Dahl (seventh) accomplished the rarity.
Hartman was sixth, Nordh 10th (after starting in 24th) and Ghent 11th after the first run; the women's GS led off the day's events as both races were run to completion.
It was Ghent's second time earning first-team honors and fourth overall, along with it being her best finish since a runner-up effort in the slalom in Denver's meet at Winter Park in late January, some nine races ago. With the third fastest second run, she was able to move up seven notched into her fourth place standing.
"It was a good race. It was inspired racing by my teammates today," Ghent said. "Katie was so, so sick last night, it's not what she wanted, but she's still an All-American despite being sick. Carolina, that's the best GS race she's had in three years. I had a good move up from the first run, I was a little fired up about my first run."
"That first run, it was a little bit unfortunate, being the second one on the course, the snow was a little bit crumbly, there wasn't that much to push off of," Ghent continued. "The first couple of girls had to deal with that. The second run, we were further back and there was more to work with. It was good, I'm really proud of all of us."
"Erika's first run was a little tactical, not taking so many chances, that's what it takes," Rokos said. "They have that instruction, we were talking that we need to take a few more chances, but they still kept it under control and safe in their runs."
"We trained here two days ago," Nordh said. "I changed just a little bit of my technique and suddenly I was skiing so much better. I had a great feeling heading into the race and knew if I skied how I did at training, I would be really fast, and it turns out that I was."
She was rewarded with the fifth best finish in the GS in her career, and her top placing since her freshman year.
"We have not given up at all," she added. "As a team, we know that we can all ski fast and that if we just do what we do at training, we can absolutely take home the whole thing again, we just need to keep fighting."
"Carolina has a great ability to sustain under pressure - today she proved it," Rokos said. "She's got a cool hand, came from behind, skied so well, it's chilling. I was hoping to have her in top 10, but she went above and beyond that."
Hartman, fighting the stomach flu since Wednesday, barely slept overnight but wasn't going to let the illness stand in her way, as she has battled all the way back from a torn ACL she suffered at the World University Games in Turkey in January 2011.
"I did okay given the circumstances, (but on) the second run I made some mistakes," Hartman said. "You can't make any mistakes on this hill. I'm really proud of my teammates, Erika and Carolina both stepped it up and did awesome."
"My slalom has been pretty strong too," she added. "I think the three of us will go in with the same mentality, we've all been really strong in slalom, and we're psyched and ready to put it down."
"Katie put a lot of expectations on herself," Rokos said. "Rightfully, she's capable of doing it and winning, I think for her being down with her stomach, suffering all night and all morning, it was a tough deal because she lost strength very quickly. We're hoping that she will either recover or at least maintain what she has now through slalom."
It was the eighth time in 14 races this winter that the CU women had three or more finishers in the top 10, with the women's alpine unit's 39 as a group the most on the team (out of 108 total) .
Harvard sophomore Rebecca Nadler made history with her GS win in a two-run time of 1:41.82, becoming the first Crimson skier, male, or female, to win an individual NCAA ski title. In addition, she's just the fourth woman to win the GS at a western host site in 15 tries. She had the second fastest first run and fourth fastest second run in winning by four-tenths of a second over UVM's Kate Ryley.
Zika's performance in the men's GS was complemented by junior Max Lamb, who finished 13th in a 1:33.77 time; he started in the30th position, and moved into 17th after his first run. Lamb, who is stronger in the slalom (four top seven finishes this winter), then recorded the fourth fastest second run in the field to inch up four more notches. Only New Mexico's Chris Acosta improved more over his starting position, as he started 28th and would finish 10th.
"The conditions made it so we were able to move up, the best conditions we've had all year," Lamb said. "I'm glad Adam was able to capitalize. He was the man to beat - everybody knew that, he's pretty dang good at this stuff.
I'm excited for the slalom personally, because it's more my event," he added. "It was good for me to get a 13th here in GS, but the slalom is where I'll score my points."
Sophomore Andreas Haug started in 12th but couldn't overcome his first run placing (19th), and even with the second run's 15th best time, he finished 20th overall in 1:34.30.
Next up are the classical cross country races on Friday, with the men's 20-kilometer up first at 9 a.m. MST, and the women's 15k to follow at 11 a.m.
"The 'Nordies' were a little down yesterday, but tomorrow I think they'll come back and be strong again," Rokos said. "They'll challenge themselves."
CU's cross country skiers have an incredible run of 14 straight meets with 400-plus points (the equivalent of a football team scoring 50 points) and has been the dominant program in the west if not the country over the past four seasons. Thus, the team goal Friday is to redeem itself in the classic and to put the Buffs in position to repeat as champions.
"You never know what is weaker or strong," Rokos said going into the last two days. "On paper, we look stronger in slalom. But in slalom there are a few more sticks in your way on the way down the hill. The expectations are that we will be better in the slalom, and hopefully we'll prove it."
"It's good to have a sizeable lead ahead of those behind you, that they're not breathing down your back," he concluded. "At the same time with Utah and Vermont ahead of us, it should give us some good motivation."
The slalom races will finish off the NCAA meet on Saturday: the women's first run is at 9:30 a.m., followed by the men's first run at 10:30; second runs follow at 11:45 (women) and 1:00 (men).
NCAA Championship Team Scores (4 of 8 events) - 1. Vermont 396; 2. Utah 372; 3. Colorado 359; 4. Dartmouth 297; 5. Alaska-Anchorage 271; 6. Montana State 264.5; 7. Denver 232.5; 8. New Mexico 213.5; 9. Northern Michigan 154; 10. New Hampshire 136.5; 11. Middlebury 118; 12. Bates 74.5; 13. Williams 71; 14. St. Lawrence 65; 15. Harvard 63; 16. Colby 49.5; 17. St. Scholastica 49; 18. Alaska-Fairbanks 34; 19. St. Michael's 14; 20. Michigan Tech 13; 21. Colby-Sawyer 11.
Women's Giant Slalom (34 collegiate finishers) - 1.Rebecca Nadler, Harvard, 1:41.83; 2. Kate Tyley, UVM, 1:42.21; 3. Geordie Lonza, Williams, 1:42.49; 4. Erika Ghent, CU, 1:42.68; 5. Elli Terwiel, UVM, 1:42.89; 6. Carolina Nordh, CU and Julie Bordeau, Utah, 1:42.91; 8. Vanessa Berther, UAA, 1:43.17; 9. Katie Hartman, CU, 1:43.36; 10. Anna Kocken, Utah, 1:43.44.
Men's Giant Slalom (34 collegiate finishers) - 1. Adam Zika, CU, 1:31.80; 2. Ryan Wilson, Utah, 1:32.87; 3. Nick Cohee, Utah, 1:32.99; 4. Tim Kelley, UVM, 1:33.04; 5. Armin Triendl, UNM, 1:33.30; 6. Andreas Adde, UAA, 1:33.40; 7. Bobby Farrell, UVM and Jonathon Nordbotten, UVM, 1:33.49; 9. Michael Radford, MSU, 1:33.50; 10. Christopher Acosta, UNM, 1:33.51. Other CU Results: 13. Max Lamb, 1:33.77; 20. Andreas Haug, 1:34.30.