PARK CITY, Utah — On the strength of a race victory by senior Gabriel Rivas in the slalom and two top-four performances on the women’s side, Colorado won both races Sunday to move from third into the lead after the conclusion of the alpine events at the Utah Invitational.
The Buffs won both races, racking up 116 points in the men’s race and 115 in the women’s race to sit atop the leader board with 444 points. Host Utah is in second just nine points back with 425 while New Mexico is third with 421.5 and Denver fourth with 412.5. Alaska Anchorage sits in fifth with 318.5 while Montana State (281) and Westminster College (254) round out the team scoring.
“Slalom has been our better event for some reason for the last few years,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said. “We had all-around good performances from both our men and women today. This is especially good because this is a hard hill and it’s hard to ski consistently on it, so it gives us a lot of confidence to ski well. This is also the hill where we will ski for the RMISA Championships in six weeks or so, so doing well gives us a lot of confidence when we return here, as well.”
Rivas won his fifth race skiing for Colorado, his fourth slalom race, and it was his first slalom win since he won the individual NCAA Championships in the race two seasons ago. He had a two-run combined time of 1:39.25 after skiing the second-fastest time in both the first and second runs. The Buffs placed five of their six skiers in the top 13, as juniors Eric Davis (seventh, 1:41.58) and Taggart Spenst (ninth, 1:42.24) finished in the top 10 while freshmen Andreas Haug (11th, 1:42.35) and Fletcher McDonald (13th, 1:42.76) also had solid finish times.
“Rivas showed us why he’s one of the superior skiers on the hill,” Rokos said. “He put two solid runs together. I had him ski a little conservatively on the first run so he would get a second run, and he went after it and got a win. To have five guys in the top 13 on a hill like this means we skied very solidly and consistently all day.”
For Davis, it is his career best finish in a collegiate race and overall, it’s his third top-10 performance, all coming in slalom races. It bettered his eighth-place finish in the slalom race at the Nevada Invitational last season. For Spenst, it marked his fourth collegiate top-10 finish, matching his career-best slalom finish of ninth he took last year in Utah and one off his career-best finish of eighth he posted in the giant slalom race at Montana State last season.
“Eric, Taggart and Andreas all had a good days today,” Rokos said. “Eric especially after yesterday when he bruised his shin a little bit, so he was coming back to get back confidence. I have high hopes that he will start putting things together, because I’ve seen him do it in our training runs.”
Sophomore transfer Max Lamb was also in the mix after the first run as he had the 15th-fastest time but he had to hike and ended up finishing 24th in a time of 1:57.71.
“Max has been skiing and pushing Gabriel in practice, so I know he will show that this season,” Rokos said. “This is his home hill after training on it all last season. When we have people who haven’t skied this hill, we tell them to finish so they can gain confidence on it. He won’t lose any confidence after this weekend, but I think it will motivate him even more when we come back for (RMISA Championships) next month.”
On the women’s side, CU’s Sara Hjertman took second in a time of 1:28.55, moving up from seventh after the first run on the strength of the second fastest time in the second run. She also took second place in Saturday’s giant slalom race, her first two podium appearances as a CU skier. She was followed closely by Carolina Nordh, who finished fourth in a time of 1:28.77 as the top six finishers were within seven-tenths of a second in the 1:28 range.
Junior Jenny Allen finished 13th and was able to move up three spots after running in 16th after the first run. Sophomore Erika Ghent was in eighth place after the first run but after some confusion, she had to rush to the starting gate and ended up straddling her first gate. She recovered and finished 31st in a time of 2:06.02. Senior Ashley Babcock improved her second run by 10 spots and finished 21st in a time of 1:34.77 while freshman Kirsten Cooper took home 24th in a time of 1:36.13.
“Sara put to great runs together,” Rokos said. “All of the women skied very well today. Erika had a great first run and then there was some confusion and she had to rush to the start of her race and straddled the first gate and essentially put herself out of the race. It’s a shame because she was in position to make a run at it.”
Freshman Khyla Burrows did not finish the first run and senior Katie Hartman did not race Sunday after injuring her shoulder in Saturday’s giant slalom race. Rokos feels there’s a good chance she will race next weekend in the Montana State Invitational.
“Katie will have some more rehab early this week and we will get her on skies as soon as we can,” Rokos said. “Fortunately, there’s no permanent damage, so she is optimistic about skiing next weekend in Montana.”
The Utah Invitational will now conclude Jan. 21-22 with the Nordic races at Soldier Hollow. The Nordic portion of the meet was moved so skiers could participate in the U.S. National Championships this past week in Rumford, Maine. In the meantime, both alpine and Nordic squads will head to Bozeman for the Montana State Invitational set for Jan. 14-16.
There will be a RMISA Giant Slalom Qualifier race on Friday ahead of the Invitational, where the giant slalom races will take place on Saturday and the slalom races on Sunday. On the Nordic side, the collegiate season will kick off with the 5K women’s and 10K men’s freestyle interval starts on Saturday followed by the 15K women’s and 20K men’s classic races, both with a mass start, on Sunday. The alpine races will take place at Big Sky and Nordic at Bohart Ranch.