TAOS, N.M. â€” The third time wasn’t the charm Saturday, as the third closest regular season race this decade in the NCAA West again went against the University of Colorado ski team, as the Buffaloes finished second in the New Mexico Invitational.
Denver used a dominant performance in the men’s slalom to overtake Colorado in the final standings, as the Pioneers won with 591 points, the seventh most since the current scoring format was adopted for the 2000 season. Colorado claimed runner-up honors with 587.5 points, the highest-ever by a runner-up team and the ninth most on the list.
The 3.5-point winning margin by the Pioneers was the third closest over the nine seasons with this format, with all three victories by Denver over Colorado; in the very first meet with the current formula, DU won by 1 in the 2000 Utah Invitational, and in the 2006 Montana State Invitational, Denver edged the Buffs by 1.5 points.
â€œIt’s still wide open,â€ CU head coach Richard Rokos said of the competition in the west. â€œUtah has won twice, CU once and DU once. We’re pretty close in the overall standings, so anything can happen at the RMISA Championships.â€ Colorado has 2,240 points this winter, followed closely by Denver (2,225.5) and Utah (2114.5).
CU senior Maria Grevsgaard saw her seven race winning streak come to an end, just one shy of the school record, as she finished second in the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle. Denver’s Annelise Bailly became the first woman other than Grevsgaard to reach the top of the podium, as she won in 15:28.0, just under 10 seconds ahead of Grevsgaard (15:37.7). The race featured an interval start, as the course is tight and there is no stadium area to stage a mass start and finish, so there was no sprint at the end to decide the winner.
â€œThe trails there aren’t conducive to doing a mass start,â€ CU Nordic coordinator Bruce Cranmer said. â€œI don’t know if Maria felt under any kind of pressure from the winning streak, but as I’ve said, I’d rather see her lose one or two now and win at the NCAA’s instead of trying hard to keep a streak alive. Look at the New England Patriots.â€
â€œShe hasn’t dominated the skate (freestyle) races like she has the classical ones, and the DU girl has been coming on, so it’s wasn’t really a total surprise,â€ he continued. â€œAnd at Red River, with the high part of the course at 10,000 feet, things are a little more volatile at that kind of altitude. The important thing is that she continues to ski well and is healthy.â€
The school record for the most consecutive wins, both overall and from the start of a season, remains eight by Nordic skier Line Selnes in 1998, her only year in the CU program. Grevsgaard’s seven are now the second longest in both categories.
CU junior Lenka Palanova finished fifth in 15:57.7, and teammate sophomore Kristin Ronnestrand 10th in 16:36.1, as CU was the only school with three in the top 10, winning the race with 76 points to edge Denver by five. Freshman Karoline Borgnes (13th, 16:57.9) and seniors Jenny Hamilton (14th, 17:01.2) and Mia Gaw (15th, 17:09.6) put all six CU skiers among the top 15.
The men’s also ran a 5K freestyle, the first time in six seasons the men and women raced at the same distance (last done in UNM’s 2002 meet). Buff senior Kit Richmond won in convincing fashion, posting a nearly 17-second win in completing the course in 13:33.3; Alaska’s Raphael Wunderle took runner-up honors in 13:57.0. It was his first win of the season and the fourth of his career, the third in freestyle.
The story of the day for Colorado on the Nordic side was junior Josh Smith, who finished fourth in 14:03.5. It was his first top 10 finish in his career, topping his previous best of 12th in the freestyle at last year’s Montana State meet. Freshman Jesper Ostensen was 10th in 31:28.4; both CU and DU placed three in the top 10 with the Buffs winning the point battle overall, 78-74.
Other finishers included sophomore Matt Gelso (13th. 14:20.6), junior Karl Nygren (17th, 14:32.8) and sophomore Joaquin Goodpaster (30th, 15:35.8).
â€œThat was very exciting to see Josh ski that well,â€ Cranmer said. â€œIt was a breakthrough race for him. I always thought he had the potential to bust one in there that high, so now hopefully he has the confidence that he can ski with the best there are. Kit’s first win this season is a nice sign that he’s moving in the right direction. He’s returning to full health, but still feels he has a little in the tank to improve on.
â€œOverall, we had a solid performance here and had plenty of good finishes in many areas,â€ Cranmer concluded. â€œWe’re fully qualified for the NCAA’s (three men, three women) and may have as many as 10 overall.â€
Source: University of Colorado Sports Information