March 13, 2010

By Lynn DeBruin
Special to the

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - With fireworks exploding behind her and cowbells ringing at her side, the University of New Mexico's Malin Hemmingsson welled up with tears as she soaked in the scene of her final collegiate race.

She already had two NCAA slalom titles to her name, but this one was different. And she
wanted it badly.

"It was special," Hemmingsson said after winning the 2010 title at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs Friday night under the lights.

She led after the first run with a time of 38.13 seconds, and held on for the win, her combined time of 1:19.91 edging University of Denver's Lindsay Cone by 77 hundredths of a second.

Utah's Anna Kocken was third at 1:21.00.

Asked where she would keep this gold, to go along with the ones she captured in 2007 and 2009, Hemmingsson patted her chest and said, "right here."

Also, this was the first slalom title Hemmingsson won with the NCAA Championships held in the west.

She fell in 2008 in her second run at the NCAA championships in Montana.

"I'm happy for Malin," Cone said. "She was able to put together two great runs. It was huge to do it on this day."

For Cone, it was her second silver medal this week, after she finished second in the giant slalom.

"It's huge for the team," Denver coach Andy LeRoy said of Cone's effort. "She's been our most consistent skier all year. She's the strongest skier on the circuit."

Cone, who transferred to DU this season, overall was pleased.

"It means a lot. It shows I'm right in there with the best skiers in the country," Cone said.

The tricky Howelsen Hill course caused problems for many skiers, who found themselves losing control and having to hike back around gates.

Cone said the toughest part was near the finish.

"It was tight at the end of it. So you had to be on (even though you were) already thinking about the finish line," Cone said.

Even the top of the hill posed problems, and champions struggled. Utah's Eva Huckova, who won giant slalom on Wednesday, missed a gate near the top of the course and took more than 74 seconds to get down.

She went on to finish 33rd.

Though the University of Colorado fell from second to third overall in the team standings, it placed three racers in the top 10 Friday, with Carolina Nordt taking fifth, teammate Erika Ghent, a freshman, taking sixth, and Katie Hartman finishing seventh. But DU continued to win the rivalry on the snow, adding to its point tally with Ida Dillingoen taking 10th and Jennie VanWagner taking 18th.

Denver, the two-time defending champions, are in first place with 589.5 points. New Mexico is second with 535 and CU is in third with 504.

The championship concludes Saturday with the Nordic events, the women's 15K freestyle and men's 20k freestyle, also at Howelsen Hill.