MINTURN/BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – The lead could be written like a football game. The University of Utah scored a late touchdown to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a four-point victory. Only when you’re talking about 600-700 points does it put into perspective just how close the 65th RMISA Championships were on Saturday (Feb. 22).
Trailing by three points entering Saturday’s races, Utah made a valiant comeback in the day’s final competition, the men’s slalom race, to earn the championship, which doubles as the NCAA Western Regional.
“It was very exciting and we really had some gutsy performances all weekend, especially today,” Kevin Sweeney, Utah’s director of skiing, said on Saturday. “I’m really excited how everyone stepped up at regionals. We are at a new level right now and I think it’s primarily because of how well each individual team member is pushing their teammates, but at the same time supporting them. Just like every weekend, we made a few mistakes, and I believe there is still more upside in this team but this weekend was a real confidence booster for all of us.”
Colorado was up 327-324 entering the day and pushed the lead up to 29 points after the men’s 20K freestyle race in which the Buffaloes earned the top two spots with Rune Oedegaard earning a sweep of the RMISA individual events despite not starting the race on time and his teammate Mads Stroem took second place. The Buffs scored 93 points in the race to Utah’s 67, pushing its lead up to 430-401.
Colorado then added one more point after outscoring the Utes 67-66 in the women’s 15K freestyle race. Utah finished 4-14-17 to Colorado’s 5-8-18, making it 496-467 entering the alpine races, where the Utes had kept themselves in contention on Friday by outscoring Colorado in the two giant slalom races.
The women’s slalom racers were up first and both teams placed three skiers in the top nine. Utah’s Kristiina Rove won the race while Colorado’s Brooke Wales also hit the podium in third. Utah added a sixth and seven place finish and Colorado a fifth and ninth, so the Utes outscored Colorado by six in the race, 91-85, bringing the meet total to 581-558. It looked as if the Buffs may hold on for the win.
But the slalom races are known as the great equalizer, and that’s exactly what happened when Utah’s Mark Engel won the race and teammate Joergen Brath took sixth while the Buffs struggled, finishing 15-16-17 among its three skiers. Behind by 23 points, the Utes outscored the Buffaloes by 29 in the final race of the day to earn the conference and regional championship, 640-636, when it was all said and done.
“Congratulations to the whole team for outstanding consistent performances this weekend,” said Utah’s head alpine coach Jaka Korencan. “The coaching staff could not be more proud of this group of athletes. We have been slowly gaining momentum through the season and their hard work is paying off. Congrats to Kristiina and Mark on their impressive double wins today, and on all four podiums yesterday by Chloe, Kristiina, Andy and Mark. Motivation and confidence is high, and we cannot wait for the NCAA Championships to start.”
New Mexico (617.5) held off host Denver (578.5) for third place, and all four top teams have to think they have a shot at winning the national championship in two weeks. Montana State (445), Alaska Anchorage (425) and associate member Colorado Mountain College (71) rounded out the team scoring.
It was the closest meet result of the season and closest in fact since the 2008 New Mexico Invitational when the host Lobos held off Colorado by just 3.5 points. Since skiing went coed in 1983, it’s tied for the second-closest RMISA Championships with the 1999 version where Colorado bested Denver 517-513 and behind only 1985 when the Utes beat Wyoming by just 1.5 points to win the championship.
Oedegaard’s winning time of 45:06.8 was even more impressive given the fact that when the starting gun sounded, he was trying to fix his uniform with his skis off and boots unbuckled. He started the race about 30 seconds behind the field but caught up to the front of the pack by the end of the first lap, eventually taking the victory. He won both men’s nordic races this year and has won five of the last six races at the RMISA Championships the past three seasons.
Stroem, who noticed his teammate was not there at the start and purposefully tried to slow the pace of the race so Oedegaard could catch up, finished second. New Mexico’s Aljaz Praznik rounded out the podium in third while Denver’s Pierre Guedon and Alaska Anchorage’s Lukas Ebner completed the top five.
New Mexico’s Eva Severrus broke away from Alaska Anchorage’s Marine Dusser on the second to final lap and ended up winning the race by 37.5 seconds, 39:53.0 to 40:30.5. The two had broken away in the first lap of the race and never looked back. Denver’s Makayla Cappel took the final podium spot in a time of 41:19.5 with Utah’s Sloan Storey and Colorado’s Maja Solbakken rounding out the top five.
The Utes won both alpine races on the day and Rove’s winning time of 1:19.54 was over a second ahead of second place New Mexico’s Karoline Myklebust while Colorado’s Brooke Wales took third. Close behind were Denver’s Kristine Haugen and Buff Jessica Honkonen to round out the top five.
Engel also had a solid victory margin in the men’s slalom race, over a half second ahead of New Mexico’s Joonas Rasanen (1:14.75 to 1:15.32) while Denver’s trio of Espen Lysdahl, Charlie Reynolds and Taylor Shiffrin rounded out the top five to give the Pioneers the men’s race victory.
Release courtesy of RMISA