Feb. 28, 2010

Courtesy of Colorado Athletics

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- The University of Colorado ski team once again used a balance attack, as 12 top 10 finishes including seven in the top five and another victory from senior Matt Gelso in cross country propelled the Buffaloes to Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) and NCAA West Regional titles.


The No. 2-ranked Buffaloes amassed 902 points, scoring at least 100 in seven of the eight disciplines, easily outdistancing second place Alaska-Anchorage; the Seawolves had 764 points, scoring 100-plus in four events. The 138-point win by the Buffaloes is the most CU has ever won an RMISA Championship by, though the new scoring format accounted for about a third of the margin. Still, CU's old largest margin was 70.5 points in the 1994 meet in Gunnison. Top-ranked New Mexico (725), Utah (704) and No. 4 Denver (700.5) rounded out the top five.


Colorado has now won 24 RMISA championships, 10 under current head coach Richard Rokos; the breakdown includes 11 men's, 11 coed and two women's championships under the RMISA banner. But just as if not more important, the Buffaloes qualified a full 12-skier team for next month's NCAA Championships.


The meet also doubled as the NCAA West Regional as we well as the CU Invitational/Laura Sharpe Flood Memorial, honoring the Colorado sophomore who died in a training run at Eldora on April 3, 1990.


"Mission accomplished," Rokos said. "We qualified a full team and are looking forward to competition right back here in two weeks on the same courses. Today's slalom was one of the most turbulent races, when our solid standing after the first run turned into some chaos in the second run. Credit again should go to our Nordic team for a very solid performance, and an outstanding one in particular on the men's side."


Colorado finished first in Nordic points (482), men's points (463) and women's points (439), while taking second in alpine points (420), but just three behind New Mexico.


The Buffs continued their overall Nordic dominance with a season best 482 points, the third time they reached 480 in five meets and the fourth time that Colorado was the Nordic team champion in a meet.


Gelso continued his recent roll in the men's 20-kilometer freestyle race, as his time of 54:07.4 was good for 26-plus second win over Alaska's Michael Schallinger (54:33.9). Combined with Friday's win in the classic, it was Gelso's fourth straight victory, second straight sweep (having also done so at Nevada last weekend) and the sixth win of his career, four coming in freestyle competitions and all 20k in length. He is now tied for the top Nordic skier in the west with New Mexico's Martin Kaas, but he loses the tiebreaker.


Gelso's four consecutive wins are the most by a CU male, alpine or Nordic, since Ove Erik Tronvoll opened the 1999 season with five straight wins in cross country to set the school record for the four current disciplines (slalom, GS, classic, freestyle); Vidar Nilsgard won seven straight in 1973 in jumping (now defunct) for the all-time men's mark, while Line Selnes holds the women's and overall mark of eight straight wins in Nordic competition, which she accomplished in 1998.


"Today went well, I definitely made it through my training right," Gelso said. "I've been working up to a peak and I'm getting there so I should be ready to go in two weekends for NCAA's. I think we'll have a strong team, we put four guys in the top 10 again today. When you can have four guys in the top seven it's pretty impressive and proves what kind of depth we have. Ian (Mallams) really stepped it up the last two skate races.


Colorado in fact had four of the top seven finishers, three of whom were in a pack between third and 10th separated by just eight seconds. Junior Jesper Ostensen took third in 54:48.0, his third podium finish in his last four races, while sophomore Reid Pletcher posted his season best finish in crossing the line fourth in 54:48.8. Freshman Ian Mallams, who had a career best eighth place in the freestyle last Saturday in Nevada, improved that mark by one spot, as he snared seventh in 54:50.9.


It marked the sixth time in 10 races this winter that the Buffaloes had four of the top 10 finishers in a race. Junior Patrick Neel (14th, 56:09.4) and Vegard Kjoelhamar (22nd, 57:04.6) completed the CU men's efforts.


"It was nice to have a solid result from the guys ... keeps our momentum rolling forward entering the NCAA's," CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. "The men had a great race. We've had four in the top a number of times this year, and I think this is the second time we've had four in the top seven (it was). In the four 20k races, we've done extremely well and we'll get another 20k right here in the NCAA's. I'm not really sure what happened with Vegard, he might have been a little tired after yesterday, may not have found a rhythm, just a little off of the pace. It's nothing to be overly concerned about; he had a 16th and DNS (did not start) at last year's regional and went on to be the NCAA champ in the freestyle and take sixth in the classic. So maybe we're going for a repeat in similar fashion."


In the women's 15k freestyle, if what happened Saturday wasn't a first, there's no documentation of it happening in the last 30 years. Nevada's Maria Graefnings and Denver's Antje Maempel were in a dead sprint at the end, and even after a video review, it could not be determined if one edged out the other; they thus tied for first with 45:35.1 times. Ties happen all the time in alpine and interval cross country starts, but it's as rare as they come in Nordic freestyle, which almost always features a mass start.


The Colorado women placed three in the top nine, led by junior Alexa Turzian, who skied into a third place finish in 46:05.2. Sophomore Eliska Hajkova was sixth (46:48.3) and freshman Joanne Reid ninth (47:32.7). Turzian matched her season-best finish, which she had previously accomplished also in freestyle races in the Utah and Nevada meets, while Hajkova finished the regular season with 10 top nine efforts while Reid finished in the top nine for the fifth time in six races this winter.


"I have been doing pretty well all season," Turzian said. "I've been pushing through it and I'm just starting to feel my legs again these last couple of races. At this point I'm feeling really strong, I feel like I need to play it out a little better strategically so I can stay in the lead until the very end."


"Typically you don't want to stay in the lead because you waste a little more energy than those who stay behind and draft," she added. "But I was feeling pretty good, but when it comes to fast sprinting I'm not the best at that, and that's when some of the other girls can take me. I just need to get out in front a little more early on."


Sophomore Katie Stege (22nd, 51:34.6) and freshman Mary Rose (24th, 51:52.7) rounded out the CU women.


"Finishing 3-6-9 is pretty solid," Cranmer said of the women. "I don't feel like they were on top of the game completely but Joanne had something not going great for her today. But we still had three in the top 10 so it was still good. Alexa had a good race, she's wasn't able to hold off the sprint at the end but she led a lot of it so we can take advantage of that.


"You always hope to peak in March, but you never know," he added. "Matt is on a high spot, I've just got to keep him up for another 10 days or so and hopefully with a little rest and some more training the rest will be there too."


Survival is often the mantra for the slalom, regardless of weather, which was pristine though cold, 24 degrees. And these were special because they were held at Steamboat's famed Howelsen Hill under the nighttime sky, which the schools will do again in nationals in two weeks. The Buffaloes had the best first runs as a team: four men in the top eight, while no other had more than two in the top 12; the women placed four in the top 10, with New Mexico placing three and no else with more than one in the top 10.


In the men's slalom, New Mexico's Petter Brenna won in slightly controversial fashion in a two-run time of 1:14.74. Official observers were split one whether or not he straddled a gate on his second run, with video being inconclusive and Brenna not knowing himself if he had or not. In the end, he was agreed by the coaches that he should keep the regional title. CU junior Gabriel Rivas claimed second in 1:14.95, while sophomore Taggart Spenst grabbed 10th in 1:20.43.


"Skiing at night is awesome, it's a great atmosphere," Rivas said. "You have all the Nordics coming over and cheering for us. The Nordics from every team were there so it was a change from the usual. You feel pressure racing at night, it makes everything more intense and having everyone come over and watch you ski, so you want to give it your best.


"It definitely helps [going into NCAAs], there were a lot of guys on the second run who were in front of me that didn't make it down so I'm confident I can make it down on two straight runs solid," he added. "The course was sweet. It was pretty fast on the first run and pretty short. The second one you just throw it hard with no regrets and just go for it. It was a lot of fun, I loved it."


Senior Drew Roberts (16th, 1:25.87), freshman Spencer Nelson (17th, 1:30.13) and seniors Arman Serebrakian (20th, 1:36.54) and Stefan Hughes (29th, 2:53.12) completed the CU men. Serebrakian and Hughes closed out their Buff careers Saturday as they will not ski in nationals. CU was without the services of sophomore Eric Davis, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in Friday's giant slalom. He is out for the season.


In the women's slalom, Utah's Anna Kocken claimed the regional crown in a 1:20.32 clocking, but Colorado skiers took the third and fourth spots: sophomore Carolina Nordh (1:21.16) and Sara Hjertman (1:21.26). Hjertman started in the 26th position, but thanks to the second fastest first run, she was able to zoom up 22 spots in the standings. Also impressive was sophomore Joelle Chevalier, who started 32nd and improved to 21st after the first run; she was able to leap into ninth after sizzling down Howelsen in the second fastest second run time.


"This was fun, this hill is super challenging because stuff goes on all the time," Nordh said. "The snow is kind of funky so you have to stay on your outside ski all the time, but the courses were fine. I'm from Sweden and back home it's always dark when we ski so I don't mind skiing at night. This morning I didn't know what to do because I knew we were racing in the evening so I couldn't think of anything else. It's fun but you have to focus on your race the whole day so it takes a lot of energy.


"It absolutely gives me confidence for the NCAAs," she said. "I didn't start the season that well but I've been getting better and better, this is my best result so far this year and I'm hoping to peak two weeks from now at NCAAs."


Freshman Khyla Burrows was 26th in 1:27.37, but the rest of the CU women had some troubles, with two having to hike, Erika Ghent (28th, 1:39.96) and Katie Hartman (31st, 1:44.75). Ghent was 10th after the first run, and sophomore Jennifer Allen, who was ninth, skied off the course during her second run and did not finish.


"The fact that we had so much trouble on the second run and yet still had three ladies in the top nine is a testimony to how hard they have trained, how focused they are and how deep this team is," Rokos said. "It's quite a comfort."


Next up are the 57th NCAA Ski Championships, which are set for March 10-13 on the same exact courses the western schools competed on this weekend. They will be joined by teams from the east and central regions.