PARK CITY, Utah – Colorado first rallied and then cruised to victory Saturday in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association Championships, which also served as the annual NCAA West Regional.
Colorado, ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Vermont, entered the day 2.5 points behind third-ranked Utah (down from 12.5 after an overnight scoring correction), took a slim 1.5-point lead after the Nordic classical races and then pulled away after three Buffs finished in the top eight in the men’s slalom. The Buffs won with 865.5 points, with Utah grabbing runner-up honors with 790. The Utes were gunning for their first RMISA title since 2003. New Mexico (777.5), Denver (759) and Alaska-Anchorage (747) rounded out the top five in the seven-team event.
Colorado captured its 11th RMISA title under coach Richard Rokos, the second consecutive and fourth in the last six years. The Buffs added to their lead and now have 23 RMISA championships overall, also having won four of the five meets in the west this winter.
More importantly, Colorado, along with Denver, New Mexico and Utah, all qualified full 12-skier teams for the next month’s NCAA Championships, which are set for March 9-12 in Stowe, Vt.
The women’s giant slalom was cancelled due to the weather conditions, a combination of continuous heavy snowfall and poor visibility on the intended course. RMISA rules dictate that if a race is cancelled, then its companion, in this case the slalom, is scored double. That helped Colorado, which had outpointed Utah 103-78 in the GS, helping the Buffs picked up another 25 points on the Utes. It also helped Denver beat Alaska for fourth place.
“The coaches were concerned about the skiers’ safety,” Rokos said of the cancellation. “There was way too much snow overnight. To handle that much snow with a small start field, it would’ve been impossible to run the race. We took a longer period of time to run the men’s slalom, but that was a quality event for all racers from top to bottom. If we would have done quick work with both, we would’ve split the volunteers on both hills and neither race would have been of any real quality.”
As far as the win was concerned, CU’s 54th in 128 meets since he took over as coach in 1991, Rokos said, “It is a big deal. In the first place, it’s a good confidence builder and everybody put a great deal of effort. It’s honorable to win the regional championship, especially knowing the competition will be close to what it will be at the NCAAs.”
“We had a very consistent season,” he added. “We won every race except New Mexico, at that’s when we were extremely short handed. It was a consistent performance for both the alpine and Nordic teams.”
Junior Eliska Hajkova became the first skier since CU’s Maria Grevsgaard in 2008 to pull off a sweep in the Nordic races at the RMISA Championships. In picking up her third career win overall, she completed the 15-kilometer course in 56:11.2. She was third after the first 5km split, moved into second through 10km, and then used the fastest third leg by some 21-plus seconds to cruise to the win against Utah’s Maria Graefnings (56:31.6), whom she trailed by seven-tenths of a second heading into the last 5km.
CU’s two other scorers in the women’s race were sophomore Joanne Reid (10th in 58:40.4) and senior Alexa Turzian (11th in 58:43.0). Sophomore Mary Rose was 24th in 1:02:52.5 and junior Katie Stege 25th in the 1:03:47.9.
The men’s 20km classic proved to be one of the most bizarre races in years, with four disqualifications in the race and the top 10 containing several skiers who finished that high for the first time in 10 races this winter.
Alaska-Anchorage’s Lukas Ebner won in a time of 1:05:11.4, almost a full minute ahead of teammate Lasse Moelgard Nielsen. CU junior Ian Mallams posted his career-best finish in taking fourth place in 1:06:52.0. He was in the fifth position after all four 5km splits and moved up a notch after UNM’s Otto Christian was DQ’d out of third. It was Mallams’ fifth career top 10 finish, topping his previous best effort of seventh place in the freestyle at last year’s RMISA meet.
Freshman Andreas Hoye took seventh in 1:08:11.2, moving up two spots after the disqualifications. He was in 20th after the first split and 15th after the second, but finished strong with the sixth and fourth fastest times, respectively, over the last two 5km in posting his collegiate best finish; his previous top effort was 15th in the classic in DU’s invitational.
Senior Patrick Neel (14th, 1:10:01.5), freshman Spencer Lacy (20th, 1:11:48.8) and senior Vegard Kjoelhamar (20th, 1:12:27.6) rounded out the Buff finishers. Junior Reid Pletcher did not finish, dropping out after the third split. Senior Jesper Ostensen did not race for a second straight day due to illness.
In the men’s slalom, New Mexico’s Petter Brenna easily won in a two-run time of 1:50.67. CU senior Gabriel Rivas finished third for the second consecutive day, as he was clocked in a 1:52.26 time. Sophomore Max Lamb matched his best finish as a Buff, taking fifth in 1:53.38; he was fifth in the GS in Montana State’s meet in mid-January.
Freshman Andreas Haug, who Friday was selected as the RMISA Alpine Men’s MVP skier, posted his ninth top 10 finish this winter with an eighth place effort in 1:53.81. Junior Taggart Spenst (20th, 1:54.94) and freshman Fletcher McDonald (21st, 1:55.18) rounded out the CU men Saturday.
Rokos and Cranmer now have to select the 12 skiers who will represent the Buffaloes. The Buffs qualified 10 alpine performers (five men and five women), and four Nordic men. Only three from each discipline can advance to nationals.