MINTURN & BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- Trailing by three points entering Saturday’s races at the 65th RMISA championships, Utah made a valiant comeback in the day's final competition, the men’s slalom race, to earn the championship, which doubles as the NCAA Western Regional.
Colorado was up 327-324 entering the day and pushed the lead up to 29 after the men’s 20K freestyle race in which the Buffaloes earned the top two spots as Rune Oedegaard earned a sweep of the RMISA Individual races on the weekend despite not starting the race on time and his teammate Mads Stroem took second place. The Buffs scored 93 points in the race to Utah’s 67 pushing its lead up to 430-401.
Colorado then added one more point to its lead after outscoring the Utes 67-66 in the women’s 15K freestyle race. Utah finished 4-14-17 to Colorado’s 5-8-18, making it 496-467 entering the alpine races, where the Utes had kept themselves in contention on Friday outscoring CU in the two giant slalom races.
The women’s slalom racers were up first and both teams placed three skiers in the top nine and Utah’s Kristiina Rove won the race while Colorado’s Brooke Wales also hit the podium in third. Utah added a sixth and seven place finish and Colorado a fifth and ninth and the Utes outscored Colorado by six in the race, 91-85, bringing the meet total to 581-558 and it looked like the Buffs may hold on for the win.
But the slalom races are known as the great equalizer and that’s exactly what happened as Utah’s Mark Engel won the race and Utah’s Joergen Brath took sixth while the Buffs struggled, finishing 15-16-17 among its three skiers. Behind by 23 points, the Utes outscored the Buffaloes by 29 points in the final race of the day to earn the conference and regional championship 640-636 when it was all said and done.
New Mexico (617.5) held off host Denver (578.5) for third place as all four of those teams have to think they have a shot at winning a National Championship in two weeks. Montana State (445), Alaska Anchorage (425) and associate member Colorado Mountain College (71) rounded out the team scoring.
It was the closest meet result of the season and closest in fact since the 2008 New Mexico Invitational when the host Lobos held off Colorado by just 3.5 points. Since skiing went coed in 1983, it’s tied for the second-closest RMISA Championships with the 1999 version where CU bested Denver 517-513 and behind only 1985 when the Utes beat Wyoming by just 1.5 points to win the championship.
Oedegaard’s winning time of 45:06.8 was even more impressive given the fact that when the starting gun sounded, he was trying to fix his uniform, skis off and boots unbuckled. He started the race about 30 seconds behind the field but had caught up to the front of the pack by the end of the first lap, eventually taking the victory. He won both men’s Nordic races this year and has won five of the last six races at the RMISA Championships the past three seasons.
Stroem, who noticed his teammate was not there at the start and purposefully tried to slow the pace of the race so he could catch up, finished second in 45:16.0. New Mexico’s Aljaz Praznik rounded out the podium in 45:16.3 while Denver’s Pierre Guedon (45:18.6) and Alaska Anchorage’s Lukas Ebner (45:27.0) rounded out the top five.
New Mexico’s Eva Severrus broke away from Alaska Anchorage’s Marine Dusser on the second to final lap and ended up winning the race by 37.5 seconds, 39:53.0 to 40:30.5. Those two had broken away in the first lap of the race and never looked back. Denver’s Makayla Cappel took the final podium spot in a time of 41:19.5 with Utah’s Sloan Storey (41:26.5) and Colorado’s Maja Solbakken (41:48.9) rounding out the top five.
The Utes won both alpine races on the day and Rove’s winning time of 1:19.54 was over a second ahead of second place New Mexico’s Karoline Myklebust (1:20.89) while Colorado’s Brooke Wales took third in 1:21.05. Close behind were Denver’s Kristine Haugen (1:21.09) and the Buffs’ Jessica Honkonen (1:21.34) to round out the top five.
Engel also had a solid victory margin in the men’s slalom race, over a half second ahead of New Mexico’s Joonas Rasanen (1:14.75 to 1:15.32) while Denver’s trio of Espen Lysdahl (1:15.64), Charlie Reynolds (1:16.06) and Taylor Shiffrin (1:16.31) rounded out the top five and gave the Pioneers the race victory.
Next up for RMISA coaches will be the NCAA qualification process. All six NCAA teams out of the RMISA will qualify a full 12-skier squad. Lists are due to the NCAA Monday and the 72 skiers from the RMISA will be announced on Tuesday.