Regional championships have concluded, team selections are finalized, and now all eyes shift to the most important competition of the year: NCAA Championships in Bozeman, Mont. from March 7 to 10. Here are how the Power Rankings stand in the final installment prior to NCAAs.
#1 Utah (Last week: 1) – It goes without saying, but we’ll say it again. The Utah Utes completed both the regular season and regional championships undefeated. They are, unequivocally, the top-seeded team in the country heading into the national championships. But as is often quipped, “That’s ski racing!” nearly anything could happen in Montana. Utah has shown the kind of surefire resolve all season long to tackle adversity, but no results in skiing are ever a foregone conclusion… except, of course, for the fact that Maria Graefnings is poised to steal the whole darn show.
#2 Colorado (Last week: 4) – The Buffaloes cried about the weather in Ala-ska but then rallied back into form at regionals, held in Bozeman at the same venues as nationals. The alpine team has already had four race days of practice on the trails at Bridger Bowl, and the Nordic team two days at Bohart Ranch. With a roster of veterans leading the Buffs into NCAAs, they might just muster up enough willpower to defend their title from last season. The mere thought of holding the trophy two years in a row could be the motivation needed for this bunch.
#3 Vermont (Last week: 2) – For the past two years, the sheer appeal of the Catamounts has been the unparalleled depth of their roster. It’s blindingly attractive to see that on any given day, any Cat can win. But NCAAs limit teams to three athletes per race, and Vermont had the most challenging task of any team in the country selecting its roster. They leave behind multiple race winners from this season and fly to Montana with a trio of alpine rookies. Add in that soft, Western snow and a propensity to crack under pressure, and you’ve got the Cats sliding into third. On a good day, they are unquestionably the strongest team in the nation; but they’ll need to string together four of those in order to have a run at the title. Those Cats left off the roster this year can be comforted by the fact that Robby Kelley, last year’s NCAAs alternate, is now on the U.S. Ski Team.
#4 Dartmouth (Last week: 3) – Dartmouth qualified a full team to national championships by the skin of its teeth. While the Nordics will undoubtedly walk away with individual and team victories, the overall is just out of reach with the Big Green’s alpine squad. Team captain Trevor Leafe, who finished 4th in the slalom and 9th in the GS at last year’s NCAAs, was the final male alpine qualifier for Dartmouth. Unfortunately, he will be racing in Montana with a knee injury. Still plenty of individual titles at stake for these guys and gals, but they won’t pose much of a threat to the top order.
#5 New Mexico (Last week: n/a) – The Lobos are the only team unable to qualify a full 12-skier roster to still make the Power Rankings. They’ll be running 11 gunners in Montana, missing one male Nordic skier. But their rallying performance at RMISA Championships, including a miraculous surge by their alpine squads, means they have their head in the game for the post-season. They’ve been racing with only three alpine females all winter, so the team restriction at NCAAs shouldn’t feel very restrictive at all. Alaska was the only other team in the nation to qualify a full roster, but they have drastically fallen off in performance since their early season success, so the Lobos steal the spot with their passion and verve.
Photo of Utah’s Nick Cohee by Jeremy Elliot