Feb. 9, 2009

 

Courtesy of Colorado Athletics

WINTER PARK, Colo. — The University of Colorado ski team captured its third straight meet here Saturday, as the Buffaloes used a strong all-around performance with 10 top 10 finishes in rallying to win the Denver Invitational.

CU was in second place at the midway point after Friday’s four events, 16 points behind then-leader Utah.  But an improved showing on the alpine side helped the Buffs finish with 540 points, well ahead of host Denver (498) and the Utes (489).  New Mexico (472) and Alaska-Anchorage (453) rounded out the top five. 

The 48-point win by the Buffs more than doubled the previous margin of victory this year in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA), which had been CU’s 23½-point win in its own invitational last month, as well as the biggest since 2007.  It was also the first time only one school scored over 500 points and the first time since the current scoring format was adopted in 2000 that seven teams scored 400 points. 

“Today was good, we rebounded a little bit after the kind of day we struggled through yesterday,” head coach Richard Rokos said.  “After everything that happened yesterday, between the spills and kids being sick, I thought we really could finish second or even third up here, so with the mix of everything, we end up winning and that's an awesome feeling. 

“The Nordic teams are as solid as they can be and it looks like we can continue to count on them being great all the time,” Rokos added.  “With the men's race today, it's a unique situation having the three guys who have dominated the region either not race or not healthy and still see the result we're seeing.” 

Senior Maria Grevsgaard captured her fourth straight race and fifth in the last six as she blitzed the field in winning the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle race in a 32:10.1 time.  That bested DU’s Antje Maempel by 48 seconds and was her 24th win of her career, the 15th in freestyle competition.  It was the 13th win by a Colorado skier this winter in 36 races, tops in the west.

Sophomore Alex Turzian claimed third in 33:02.1 to bolster Grevsgaard’s effort, with freshman Katie Stege 25th in 38:09.5 and senior Megan Wilder 32nd in 42:57.2.  Despite CU skiing this winter with just four active members on the women’s cross country side, the Buffs tied for the second most team points (67) in the women’s freestyle Saturday; Denver led with 77.

“It was a good, solid race,” Turzian said. “The weather was good, the course was fast, and it was a good field of skiers, about all you can ask for.  Now we just need to rest up, settle down, get caught up on life a little, get to class and then at the same time we leave for regionals soon, so we need to at the same time stay focused and get prepped for that.”

In the men’s 15k version, CU placed three in the top six despite resting two of its top performers, junior Matt Gelso and sophomore Jesper Ostensen.  Sophomore Patrick Neel posted his career best finish in snaring third in 44:16.6, with freshman Reid Pletcher following up his runner-up finish in the classical race Friday with a fourth place showing in 44:17.1.  New Mexico’s Simon Reissman won in 44:00.4.

“There was a group of about seven skiers that broke away at the midpoint, with Smith was among them.  Neel pulled the second group of four skiers including Pletcher back with the first group.   

“I was just trying to bridge the gap between the group I was in and the lead pack, I just wanted to make contact with them,” Neel said.  “I’ve never pulled back that big of a gap before, it’s a first for me.”  

“This is probably the best example of just how deep we are as a team,” Pletcher said.  “Two of our top guys were out and we still got on the podium and had three in the top six.  This is a good chance for the other guys to show what we have.  Usually it’s the Norwegians leading us, but today it was the U.S. in third, fourth and sixth.

“About half way through the race, seven or eight guys broke away, about 150 meters or 20 seconds,” he added.  “Usually you don’t come back from that.  But over the middle three kilometers, Pat put the hammer down and pull use up with the lead group, we were able to catch those guys and pick them off.”

Senior Josh Smith, who had two career top 10 finishes entering the season, posted his fourth in a row in finishing sixth in 44:21.1.  It was his best result of the winter and his second highest finish in the freestyle for his career.  Freshman Vegard Kjoelhamar rounded out the CU performers, claiming 13th in 44:57.5.  

“That was cool to see the other guys step up,” head Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said.  “It’s hard for a Nordic skier to be up all the time.  Your body can fail on you at certain points.

“The guys that stepped up certainly made a statement, but right now health is a bigger issue to me.  Today’s race was at altitude, regionals coming up are a little lower and then for NCAA’s were near sea level, so I will put a lot more on the next races to decide for NCAA’s than today, but that doesn’t diminish what Pat, Reid and Josh accomplished here, it was great to see it.”

“Maria is in such a good place right now, fitness wise, mentally, she’s having fun and that’s the most important thing with her,” Cranmer added.  “Alexa had a good day.  I was hoping she would hold onto second place but (Antje Maempel) is such a good skier, it was a great effort on her part.”

In the men’s slalom, junior Gabriel Rivas finished second in 1:27.90, three-tenths of a second behind Denver’s John Buchar, who won in 1:27.60.  It was Rivas’ sixth podium (top three) finish this winter, his third in a row.  Junior Stefan Hughes was sixth in 1:29.21, his second best result of the season.

“I am very confident with how the season has gone so far, Rivas said.  “I started well and kept going like that and it feels good to keep skiing well and maintain the ranking.  In the first run, I lost speed at the bottom but I was pretty confident skiing in the ruts in the second run and gave it all I had. 

“As a team, I think we have a good dynamic,” he added.  ”We need to be more confident throughout our bibs and need to stay in our rank.  Everybody learns from their mistakes and I think that will pay off for us in the end.”

“I’m really excited and happy about my result today,” Hughes said.  “It will really help out because my previous best result was an eight, it was a good day.  I’m also excited and confident for us as a team.  We’re doing well and I’m glad to have a week off to train before regionals.  We’ll be ready.”

The rest of the CU males were 18th or lower in the standings, with freshman Taggart Spenst winding up as CU’s third scorer in 18th in a 1:32.38 time.  He was followed by junior Patrick Duran (21st, 1:34.42), senior Tony Cesolini (23rd, 1:36.46), freshman Eric Davis (26th, 1:39.86 and juniors  Drew Roberts (31st, 1:50.72) and Arman Serebrakian (34th, 1:54.12). 

In the women’s slalom, sophomore Katie Hartman rebounded from a nasty fall a day earlier to finish sixth in 1:31.68; New Mexico’s Malin Hemmingsson won in 1:29.19.  Senior Lisa Perricone finished eighth in 1:32.69 and sophomore Carolina Nordh 10th in 1:32.77 to lead CU as a team to a second place finish in the slalom as a team with 70 points, trailing only UNM (83).

“Skiing after a fall definitely impacts you because you're hurting and it becomes a huge part of the mental game,” Hartman said in reference to crashing on her second run in Friday’s giant slalom.  “You have to overcome a huge fall that's still fresh in your head, but you have to move on to the next day and get over what happened and try to ski as solid as you know you can.”

“I'm definitely going to use the break (two weeks before regionals) to focus on getting healthy and revitalize both my mental and physical stamina so that I can come into regionals stronger and qualify better for NCAA's.”

“Katie went out there and pushed herself and her teammates,” Rokos said.  “She was in pain after yesterday and her confidence could have taken a hit, but after the other girls saw what she was doing, I think it made them focus harder, as well.  She rebounded very well and everybody else skied solidly.

“Gabriel put everything he could into today,” he continued.  “We pulled him from scoring for NCAA qualification purposes but he really helped the team today.  Stefan was solid as well and Drew skied well enough to maintain his slalom ranking and that's a positive.  “We had a little different plan up here this week which was trying a lot harder in the GS events to solidify qualification points and seeding.  I haven't seen them yet but, I don't think we accomplished what we wanted to there.”

Rounding out the CU women were sophomore Ashley Babcock (22nd, 1:36.34), freshman Jennifer Allen (25th, 1:40.47) and junior Heidi Hillenbrand (38th, 3:16.70).  Freshmen Joelle Chevalier was held out a second straight day after suffering a knee injury on Thursday.

The regular season is now complete, as in two weeks, the RMISA Championships, which also serve as the NCAA West Regional, will be held February 20-21 in the Lake Tahoe area.