NCAA 5/10 k skate race
There are always a lot of questions and unknowns coming into the NCAA nordic competition every year. The best athletes and schools from one region rarely get to compete head-to-head with athletes and schools from a different region until they travel to the collegiate nationals, making NCAA’s the first time they get test their mettle against the rest of the nation’s elite.
It was fitting then, that the first race of this year’s NCAA competition, hosted in the east, would be won by an Eastern school. Today Dartmouth took the trails at Trapp Family Lodge in an impressive storm of Green, putting 5 out of their 6 racers in the top 5, and all 6 in the top 10; a feat no other school came close to matching.
It was a blue-bird morning at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, and the 5 kilometer course was a hard-packed and polished corduroy that held firm through both laps of the men’s 10k and the women’s one-lap 5 k race.
At the start of the men’s race at 10am the temperature was still in the low 20’s.
The Dartmouth men, led by Sam Tarling, definitely put some heat to the cold tracks. Sophomore Sam Tarling found his speed again just in time, finishing 4.6 seconds ahead of the field with a time of 26:05.7. Tarling, who was the strongest eastern competitor through the middle of the season, missed Regionals due to sickness. In today’s race however, Tarling looked as if he had not only picked his speed back up but added a higher gear.
Also finding their higher gear, Dartmouth teammates Nils Koons and Eric Packer finished 4th and 5th, posting the top men’s team score ahead of the University of Utah. Koons, a senior for Dartmouth who recently returned from the World Championships in Oslo where he was competing for his native country of New Zealand, may have been lacking on sleep going into today’s race, but seemed to still have the energy created by the cheers of thousands of Scandinavian ski fans. Packer started right after Tarling on the start list, and finished right after Koons in the final placings.
Tarling, who was sick through Regionals and did not compete that weekend, used this past weekend as a way to get in some time trials and find his race pace again. Though he hoped for a top 5 today, he didn’t know what to expect. He decided to take it “a little conservative on the first lap” in order to check his energy levels and be able to pick up time in the finishing kilometer when some of his competitors might slow down.
“I just wanted to ski relaxed. I knew people would go out too hard today – it seems like this course is easier than it is ‘cause you can just go out and V2 the whole thing, but training is a lot different than racing it and on the second lap people are hurting.”
Did the Dartmouth men have any idea what they were capable of today?
“It’s AWESOME to have three guys in the top 5,” said Tarling. “I am thrilled to have those guys to train with, it’s a great group. We have probably three more guys that could have been right up there with us if we had the spots, but we have a lot of depth this year and we’re really lucky.”
Colorado’s Vegard Kjoelhamar was the runner up in today’s competition. A senior, Kjoelhamar was 4th in last year’s NCAA classic race. He has been skiing at the top of the western region this season, along with Utah’s Miles Havlick. A sophomore from Boulder, Colorado, Havlick posted the third fastest time today, just 1.5 seconds behind Kjoelhamar.
Didrik Smith was the second Utah racer to finish, placing 6th. Scott Patterson was the first finisher from host school UVM, in 7th, ahead of Denver’s first racer, Andrew Dougherty. NMU’s Andy Leibner and UNM’s Tor-hakon Hellebostad rounded out the top ten All-American contingent, finishing 1.2 seconds apart and 40 seconds from first.
The winner of the women’s 5k skate race was no surprise to anyone, as she had dominated the western region for all but one weekend of the RMISA season. Utah’s Maria Graefinings, a senior from Sweden, took the one lap race in a time of 13:51.9, almost ten seconds up on one of her main rivals from the west, Colorado’s Eliska Hajkova.
“Maria’s been skiing super strong all year,” said Colorado coach Bruce Cranmer, “and even though Eliska had good regionals, she probably felt that Maria was the person to beat.”
The two competitors smoked the competition, putting more than 30 seconds up on the rest of the field.
Though her team’s flight to the east was delayed, making for a nightmare travel schedule, Graefning was nothing but energetic, on and off the course.
“I just wanted to have fun and ski just as fast as I possible could,”Graefnings said, smiling widely as she praised the course. “I like it a lot, I like the V2 and V2 alternate a lot, and being from Sweden, I’m used to racing at low altitude, too, so I was super excited to race today, and just to be here!”
Hajkova’s teammate, Joanne Reid, was next to finish, grabbing third place to round out the women’s podium and help the CU women’s team post the top score of the race.
The Dartmouth women continued the success of their men’s team, Erika Flowers and Rosie Brennan finishing in consecutive 4th and 5th places. Flowers, a junior from Bozeman, Montana, is a notoriously strong racer in the skate technique, while Brennan is just a fierce all-around competitor, especially when it comes to the big races.
UVM’s Caitlin Patterson, who won most of the eastern regional races this year, finished in 6th, 2 seconds up on 7th place finisher Jamie Bronga of UAA. Patterson’s teammate, Lucy Garrec, cam in 8th. CU’s Alexa Terzian and Dartmouth’s Sophie Caldwell finished in 9th and 10th, respectively, to grab the last All-American honors.
Dartmouth posted the top nordic score over Colorado by 28 points, CU grabbing second individual titles in both races but lacking that top score and the depth of Dartmouth.
“It was an awesome day,” said CU coach Bruce Cranmer. “We were so close to getting top of the podium, so it’s sad just missing it, for both skiers. .. . .but, yeah, I was super happy with the way everyone skied.”
Cranmer is looking forward to the next races to show off his team’s strength, though he is a little worried that wax might play more of a role in Friday’s classic race (the forecast calls for rain).
Today, however, the easy waxing made for fair races.
“Best person for sure, won,” Cranmer assured. “I don’t think many people were hampered by poor skis or waxing today.”
Top 5 Nordic Team Scores:
1. Dartmouth: 240
2. Colorado: 212
3. Utah: 191
4. Vermont: 181
5. Denver: 118
1 34 Tarling, Sam DAR 26:10.3 47.0
2 36 KJOELHAMAR, Vegard CU 26:10.3 47.0
3 30 HAVLICK, Miles UU 26:11.8 44.0
4 27 KOONS, Nils DAR 26:15.1 41.0
5 35 PACKER, Eric DAR 26:19.7 39.0
6 31 SMITH, Didrik UU 26:25.8 37.0
7 37 PATTERSON, Scott UVM 26:31.1 35.0
8 29 DOUGHERTY, Andrew DU 26:36.6 33.0
9 39 LIEBNER, Andy NMU 26:45.1 31.0
10 20 HELLEBOSTAD, Tor–hakon UNM 26:46.3 30.0
1 37 GRAEFNINGS, Maria UU 13:51.9 50.0
2 34 HAJKOVA, Eliska CU 14:01.7 47.0
3 38 REID, Joanne CU 14:32.0 44.0
4 35 FLOWERS, Erika DAR 14:37.6 41.0
5 32 BRENNAN, Rosie DAR 14:37.9 39.0
6 36 PATTERSON, Caitlin UVM 14:44.2 37.0
7 20 BRONGA, Jaime UAA 14:46.2 35.0
8 29 GARREC, Lucy UVM 14:47.5 33.0
9 39 TURZIAN, Alexa CU 14:49.8 31.0
10 17 CALDWELL, Sophie DAR 14:52.4 30.0