ELDORA—The University of Colorado opened the 2013 season with a strong alpine performance here Monday, as freshman Brooke Wales took runner-up honors in the giant slalom to pace four top 12 women’s finishers in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) Giant Slalom Qualifier No. 1.
No team scores were kept, as this was the first of two qualifiers for the alpine races, the other coming later this week ahead of the Denver Invitational in Winter Park. Monday’s races were part of CU’s annual invitational, the Spencer James Nelson Memorial, but it’s Tuesday’s giant slalom races that will count toward team scoring for that meet followed by slalom races on Wednesday.
“The women did great today,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said. “Both Shane (McLean) and Brooke put two good runs together and most of them had great second runs. The men were a little intimidated by the hill. We just need to make a few adjustments and we’ll be fine.”
Wales performance was impressive, as she clocked the second-fastest time in both the first and second run to clock a time of 1:55.65, just 12-hundredths of a second behind Denver’s Kristine Haugen.
“It was really good, the snow conditions were awesome and I was really just really excited to get out there” Wales said. “It was a lot more fun and relaxed than I’m used to, and that really helped me put two good runs together. Tomorrow I’d like to clean it up a little more and get up on that top step (of the podium).”
McLean, a sophomore, led the field after the first run, the fourth run she has won in her career, and finished the race in fourth after finishing fourth in the second run. She was just one-hundredth of a second off the podium, getting edged out by Westminster College’s Tonje Sekse, 1:55.97 to 1:55.98.
“I’ve been looking forward to the start of the college season for a while,” McLean said. “I felt good about my first run, it felt solid. My second run, I was trying to go for it, I had some mistakes, it could’ve gone a little better, but I’m happy overall with how I skied.”
Freshman Jessica Honkonen started the first run in 19th place and improved a few spots by finishing 16th after the first run. She then had the fifth-best second run to improve nine spots and finish seventh in her first collegiate action in a time of 1:58.06.
Redshirt freshman Thea Grosvold had similar results. She started in 14th, moved back to 24th after the first run, but clocked the eighth-fastest time to improve 12 spots to finish 12th in her first collegiate race with a time of 1:59.00 after sitting out last season with a knee injury.
Freshman Clare Wise improved from her starting position of 39th to finish 18th amongst college skiers with a time of 2:02.30. Senior Khyla Burrows rounded out the women’s skiers in 23rd in a time of 2:05.81.
CU’s men didn’t fare as well to open the season, although two newcomers did improve upon their start numbers, always a good goal early in one’s first season. Freshman Kasper Hietanen started the race in 35th and moved up to 15th with a two-run time of 1:56.03 while freshman Henrik Gunnarson finished two spots back and six-hundredths of a second back in a time of 1:56.09.
Spots 15 to 25 were all within a second and three more Buffs landed in that frame with junior Andreas Haug taking 22nd in a time of 1:56.32 followed by senior Max Lamb in 24th with a time of 1:56.81 and freshman Cameron Smith 25th with a time of 1:56.97. Junior Fletcher McDonald rounded out the Buffs scorers in a time of 1:57.79, good for 28th place.
“It was good to get started,” Haug said. “The girls are putting us to shame, we need to pick it up a little bit. We all decided before today that we needed to start skiing as a team, especially with two new guys and a lot of new girls. We want to go out and win meets. I think the guys skied a little too safe today.”
CU was without the defending NCAA Champion in the giant slalom, sophomore Adam Zika, who will miss the first half of the college season rehabbing a knee injury.
“Obviously on the men’s side, I’m looking for a better performance tomorrow,” Rokos said. “Both new guys started pretty far back in the field, and I strongly believe they will move up quickly. And we’re still missing Adam, who is our best GS skier, so we will get better as the season goes on.”
Action gets underway Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. with the first run for the women’s GS. The men’s first run will follow with second runs starting shortly after noon.
The annual invitation was renamed for Spencer Nelson last season, honoring the CU sophomore who was killed in a hiking accident near Aspen in August 2010. Nelson would have been a senior on this year’s team. The CU meet will conclude with Nordic action this weekend in Steamboat Springs while the alpine racers will turn their attention to the Denver Invitational in Winter Park.