After a two-and-a-half week long break, the NCAA’s western conference met this weekend for the University of New Mexico Invitational held at Red River. The University of Colorado of Boulder (CU) won the overall invite by just 6-and-a-half points over the University of Denver 652-645.5, with Denver winning the alpine portion.
The alpine races in Red River were two slaloms for each gender. The weather and snow conditions were perfect, with sunshine and hard snow with good grip for both days. Due to a relatively flat slope in relation to the minimum/maximum gates that need to be set as per FIS rules, the courses at Red River usually contain more distance than normal between the gates.
Even though Denver won the alpine ranking, the Pioneers left New Mexico without an individual win. On Saturday, the CU Buffs took both races as Tonje Healey Trulsrud and Ola Buer Johansen took the victories, with Johansen taking his third win this season.
In the women’s race Denver’s Andrea Komsic ended up 0.29 seconds back in second and Nora Grieg Christensen finished in third for the Buffs, 0.51 seconds off the pace. Looking at the team results, the schools were all very competitive as no school was able to put three racers in the top ten. Denver, CU and the University of Utah each had two racers finish in the top ten.
Vegard Busengdal, skiing for the University of New Mexico, came in second in the men’s race and was followed by Denver’s Alex Leever in third. With Colorado scoring big points with Johansen’s win and having two other racers in the top ten, CU scored enough points to win the men’s alpine ranking. Denver and New Mexico also finished with three racers in the top ten.
“Slalom has been over the last years the stronger competition for us,” says CU’s head coach Richard Rokos. With two Slalom races and having a strong nordic team on their side over the weekend, CU was almost a sure bet to win. In the end, it was a tight race with Denver, with just 6.5 points separating the two colleges after the 8 alpine and nordic competitions.
“I am really happy about the win for CU, as a team we did terrible today and yesterday the nordics did not perform as usual,” Rokos said. “Every team has days where you don’t get your normal level out on the track. We had it this weekend and we have seen what the team needs to work on, but we still won, so that’s great.”
Some homework that Rokos and the Buffs will have to do before the next series is getting star alpine racer David Ketterer back on track. The German won both individual titles at last year’s NCAA championships and has been skiing on the World Cup with the German national team for the past two months in Europe. Ketterer ended up 22nd in the first slalom and 10th on Sunday.
“Ketterer skied on steep hills with hard icy surfaces, now back in the U.S. that’s a different world,” said Rokos. “He will need some time to adjust.”
The second Slalom was won by CU’s Christensen and was followed by two Denver Pioneers, Amelia Smart and Komsic in second and third, respectively. Addding Tuva Norbey’s 8th place to the mix made Denver the only school with three athletes in the top ten.
Denver head coach Andy LeRoy was really happy about the performance of his athletes. “Our athletes are starting to ski better, as they are now able to start showing their potential,” Leroy said.
This marks the half-way point in the Western NCAA season and the first ideas of potential NCAA starters are starting to form in the heads of the coaches.
“Of course I have some ideas in mind, but at this point so far none of my racers, women as men, has a secured spot to go to the NCAAs,” said Leroy. “The internal race with the team is still open for everyone.”
The team race for the second men’s Slalom on Sunday was as tight as it can be. While University of Montana State skier Garret Driller took the win, Denver’s Tobias Kogler and Leever finished in second and third to give Denver the win over New Mexico by one point, 88 points to New Mexico’s 87.
The only school that placed three racers in the top ten was the Lobos with Busengdal in fourth, Youri Mougel in fifth, and Rob Greig in sixth.
“Especially the men’s team did a great job this weekend,” Head coach Joe Downing said. “We showed strong skiing at our home invite, just what we wanted to do.”
The Lobos have had some problems with illnesses over the past weeks and Downing knows that there is work to do and not everyone in his team is happy with his or her result.
“Every one of my athletes is highly motivated and they know about their mistakes,” he said. “They also know that there is room to grow individually, which we will work on heading into NCAAs.”
Western college season continues with the University of Denver Invitational in Loveland, Colo, Feb. 9-10.