Outstanding Nordic results from the University of Denver on Saturday lifted the DU Pioneers to their second consecutive NCAA Championship team title, closing out one of the tightest team competitions in memory. Going into Saturday’s freestyle mass start races, the University of Vermont, DU, and the University of New Mexico sat in a virtual three-way tie. But as the final races unfolded under sunny skies at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine, the Denver women showed their depth to take an insurmountable lead in the overall standings, with sophomore Antje Maempel earning her second NCAA individual title of these championships, followed closely by Annelise Bailly in fourth. Denver thereby took the team lead over UVM following the women’s 15 KM, and held on with a strong 6th place by Mike Hinkley in the Men’s 20 KM to take the overall win by 56.5 points.
But the surprise of the day came from the University of Colorado, finishing second overall, an amazing .5 points ahead of New Mexico. Colorado entered the day in fifth place, unlikely to be in the hunt for the podium. But Alexa Turzian’s outstanding second- place performance in the 15 KM, along with Maria Grevsgaard’s sixth place finish, lifted the Buffs into third heading into the final 20 KM men’s event. CU’s Vegard Kjoelhamar kept the momentum going with a convincing 20 second victory in the men’s race, reminding that Colorado will always be a podium contender at NCAAs. Despite two top-10 performances from New Mexico’s Martin Kaas (4th) and Simon Reissmann (10th), and a relatively weak finish from CU’s Matt Gelso (20th in a sprint finish to the line with Michigan Tech’s Oskar Lund), Colorado ended the day a mere .5 points ahead of New Mexico, thanks to a tie-breaking scoring rule from Friday’s men’s slalom race. (Colorado’s third slalom skier tied for 14th with Williams’ Eric Mann, resulting in an averaged score of 25.5 for each racer. That additional .5 pts provided the margin over UNM in the final standings).
The University of Vermont led the team competition going into the final Nordic events, and sat in second following the women’s 15 km. But classic race champion Juergen Uhl failed to produce in the skating race, finishing a disappointing 26th. UVM finished the team competition in 5th, five points ahead of Utah. The University of Alaska Anchorage finished fourth, riding the strength of the most consistent men’s X-C team of these championships.
NCAA championship skiing is unique in its emphasis on team competition; a team can only send three athletes per discipline, and all three athletes count. In a tight team competition, every close individual result can determine where a twelve-athlete team stands on the final podium. In this format, the final mass-start nordic events consistently provide an exhilarating finale with high stakes head-to-head action. Congratulations to all the 2009 NCAA individual and team champions.
Photos courtesy of www.flyingpointroad.com