Entering the final nordic events of the 2009 NCAA ski championships, the University of Vermont carries a hairline lead in what is essentially a three-way tie between UVM (484 pts), the University of Denver (482), and the University of New Mexico (481). Can UVM hold its lead through Saturday’s mass-start freestyle events, or will DU or UNM prevail over the classic-specialist Catamounts? What would Colorado (sitting in 5th with 439 team points) need to do to snag a podium finish?
Here’s the outlook:
If UVM replicates Thursday’s outstanding results (2 top-five results in the men’s race, and a top-ten woman’s finish), the Catamounts could sneak away with the title. However, Thursday’s NCAA champion Juergen Uhl and fifth-place finisher Franz Bernstein are stronger in classic technique events. Uhl has not cracked a freestyle podium in an Eastern Carnival race, while Bernstein, though on a roll since the Dartmouth Carnival in mid February, has not shown strength enough in freestyle events to count on an All-American performance Saturday. Caitlin Patterson, on the other hand, has shown consistent strength in freestyle and could gun for a top-five finish for the Catamounts.
But even if Patterson were to achieve a top result in the mass start race, chances are DU’s Antje Maempel will be right there. Maempel will be riding high after Thursday’s 5KM victory, having also captured the RMISA championships in February over Colorado’s Maria Grevsgaard, the defending NCAA champion and the winningmost skier in CU’s history. New Mexico’s Polina Ermoshina also contends for the title, having won the silver in Thursday’s classic event. But New Mexico doesn’t boast the depth shown by DU. Annelise Bailly captured second for DU in the RMISA championships and 8th on Thursday. Denver therefore has a distinct advantage in the women’s race over New Mexico, but don’t count out Patterson and Jennie Bender of UVM to hang in there with Denver through the women’s event, while Dartmouth’s women could accumulate points with the potential for three athletes in the top-ten. The team competition will still be tight following the women’s event.
In the men’s race, Denver, Colorado, New Mexico, and Alaska Anchorage can all place their skiers in the top-ten. Dartmouth’s men have been dominant in the East in skating, but Thursday’s performance fell flat for the Big Green. They won’t be able to pose a threat for the overall team podium on Saturday. The team race will likely hinge on the battle between Denver and New Mexico in the men’s 20 KM. New Mexico prevailed over DU at the RMISA championships in Reno, and a similar performance on Saturday would lift the Lobos to the overall national championship. Colorado looks favored to win the mens’ skate race, but would have to really dominate the top spots in order to contend for the overall podium (they currently sit in 5th overall). The team title will likely come down to Denver and New Mexico’s athletes battling for top-ten positions.
This is setting up to be the closest team competition since 1999, the last time the championships were held in Maine. Every spot will count for the teams in contention, and though there can always be surprises in a mass start event, things look good for Denver or New Mexico to glide away with the NCAA overall title.