March 14, 2009

 

Courtesy of Bates Athletics

RUMFORD, Maine -- Antje Maempel won her second individual NCAA Nordic skiing title in three days, propelling the University of Denver to its second straight NCAA Skiing Championship team title, and 20th overall, as the NCAA Skiing Championships, hosted by Bates College, came to a close on Saturday at Black Mountain.

Denver, which trailed the University of Vermont by two points going into the final day of the championships, surged with 74 points from its three Nordic skiing men and 103 points from its three Nordic women to win the team title with 659 points. For the second straight year, the Pioneers claimed the team title after not leading going into the final day, a feat that hadn't been accomplished in the 11 years prior to 2008.

The University of Colorado got a boost from sophomore Vegard Kjoelhamar, who won the men's 20K Freestyle race in dominating fashion, to vault from fifth place to second with 602.5 points, only half a point ahead of third-place New Mexico (602). It's the 13th time in the 56-year history of the NCAA Skiing Championships that DU and CU have claimed the top two places. The University of Alaska-Anchorage took second and third place in the men's 20K, moving from sixth place to fourth with 584 points, and Vermont finished fifth with 573.

"It was an improbable and unlikely win for the team this year," said DU Nordic skiing coach David Stewart. "We had a solid team, but I don't think anybody looked at us in the beginning of the year and said, 'They're the team to beat.' A couple other teams are really strong. But the team came here and just performed extremely well, to be honest.

"A lot of our athletes are taking their final exams right now, proctored here at the championship. This is a team that has the best GPA of any sports team at our university. It's just a great group of individuals, and they just could not have performed any better here."

Maempel, a sophomore from Stuelzerbach, Germany, overtook Colorado's Alexia Turzian in the final 50 meters to win the 15K Free Technique Mass Start race on Saturday, two days after claiming first in the 5K Classical Technique race. Maempel timed in at 38:35.0, just half a second ahead of Turzian.

"I was lucky because I wasn't sick or anything all season, so I could continue to practice and race all year, and it kind of worked out for a great season," Maempel said prior to the men's race. "We were motivated to win the team title. We want to win, for sure."

Maempel is the first athlete to win both women's Nordic races at the NCAA Championships since Colorado's Jana Rehemaa in 2006. Rehemaa also pulled off the feat in the same format: a 5K classical race and a 15K freestyle race.

"She's obviously an outstanding skier, and she just peaked at the right time for the championships," said Stewart. "We design our training to be at our best for the NCAA Championships, so it's not surprising that she's racing at her best here, and to have her win was just the icing on the cake."

While Maempel's victory was the closest of the entire championships, Kjoelhamar's in the men's 20K was the most dominant. The 6-foot-3 transfer from Oslo, Norway, led virtually from start to finish, timing in at 44:07.9, 19.5 seconds ahead of runner-up Lex Treinen, a freshman from Alaska-Anchorage.

"I felt OK after warmup, but not that good," said Kjoelhamar, who finished sixth in Thursday's 10K classical race. "But as soon as the race started I just felt awesome. The first time up the hill I got a little gap, but then the second time we had more, me and another dude. Then he couldn't follow me, so I was alone. It wasn't really a big attack from me. It was just my race pace, and the others couldn't follow. That was really nice."

Lex Treinen and his teammate Raphael Wunderle finished 2-3 in 44:27.4 and 44:27.9, respectively. A tightly packed top five was rounded out by Martin Kaas of New Mexico (44:28.4) and Max Treinen (44:29.9), Lex Treinen's sophomore brother.