The NCAA skiing championships get under way in Bozeman, Montana. The first Nordic race is the 5/10km freestyle individual start, which takes place today at Bohart Ranch. The giant slalom will be held Thursday, the 15/20km classic mass start on Friday, and the slalom wraps up the championships on Saturday.
The overall team score is combination of both genders in all four races. Each school is allowed a maximum of three men and three women in Alpine and Nordic. Only three schools, the lowest in history, qualified the maximum of 12 athletes – defending champion Dartmouth as well as Middlebury and the University of Utah. Denver University and the University of Colorado each qualified 11. Being one skier down is certainly a disadvantage, but does not take the two Colorado schools out of the running. CU won the 2006 National Title with 11 skiers – the only time that feat has been accomplished.
“Like we say every year, our goal never changes, it’s always the same, we’re going after the trophy,â€ CU head coach Richard Rokos said. â€œWe don’t ever go into this thinking second place would be a great finish. The goal is to win, everybody knows it, and everyone will pursue it. Nordic is solid and predictable. We have no limit on that side, but with alpine, it’s a matter of coming down to falling and in some cases the starting positions. The strategy is to get into top 15 after the first run to start early in the second run.”
Defending champion Dartmouth fields a strong contingent, but will not be bringing their top Nordic skier. Freshman Ida Sargent, finished first or second in all eight of the races she started this season. But after competing in the World Junior Championships in Malles, Italy, Sargent opted out of the NCAAs. An important piece from last year's championship team, Ben True, will also be absent. True is taking the year off from school to focus on both ski racing and track. Nonetheless, Dartmouth brings a full, and experienced team to Montana, and is in a strong position to defend the title. The Big Green lost only one regular season meet this year – that loss was to Middlebury, a potential dark horse contender.
Freshmen Rosie Brennan leads the women's Nordic team. Brennan, a member of the US B-team, joined Sargent in Italy for the World Junior Championships, and is looking to add to an impressive resume at her first NCAA championships. On the men's side, a balanced attack includes three skiers who finished on the podium during the 2008 season – led by junior Glen Randall
Of the western schools, University of Utah has the edge by qualifying the full complement of skiers. But both CU and DU finished the regular season ranked ahead of the Utes. CU boasts the top western seeds in men's and women's Nordic as well as women's Alpine. Maria Grevsgaard dominated the cross-country circuit, winning all but one race and Kit Richmond leads the men's squad.
DU is led by Rene Reisshauer. The native of Germany has won three individual National Championships in his career, winning the Freestyle last year and sweeping both Nordic events in 2005. Reisshauer is coming off of an illness that has kept him from competing in five of the last six races.
As CU's Rokos points out, it is likely that the champion will not be decided until the final run of the Slalom on Saturday afternoon.
Maria Grevsgaard (CU) dominated the western women's circuit