After three of four race days at the NCAA National Championships, University of Denver (DU) took the lead in the team standings with 437 points, besting host school University of Colorado (CU) by 26 points. Dartmouth sits in third with 330.5 points. The Pioneers can attribute part of their lead to Amelia Smart, who took home her second individual title in the women’s slalom after winning Wednesday’s giant slalom. Dartmouth’s Tanguy Nef won the men’s slalom title after finishing second in the giant slalom.
“Amelia (Smart) was impressive winning both events; but everyone on my team can be proud, we’ve been again the strongest alpine team,” says Andy LeRoy, Denver’s alpine head coach. “We can celebrate our own achievements and Amelia’s titles now; tomorrow we’ll cheer on our Nordics.”
Friday’s race was staged at Howelsen Hill; the alpine skiers finished their portion of the championships with a night slalom race. The conditions were excellent again, and the race surface was hard and provided a fair competition.
The women kicked off the evening’s festivities. After the first run, Smart sat in second, but took over the lead from her teammate Andrea Komsic, who led after the first run. Komsic did not stand the pressure and had a few little mistakes that put her into fourth place.
“I just feel great; I am even a bit surprised by myself taking both [titles],” said Smart. “I didn’t try anything special, but I was already able to build more confidence in slalom than in GS throughout the regular season; my goal was to be calm and to not overthink it.”
Second and third place were seized by two Catamounts, Paula Moltzan and Francesca English, who were 0.54 and 1.2o seconds away from the win, respectively.
Then, the men took the stage with their final run. For them, the second run was set straighter than the first, which was to the favor of Nef according to himself.
“I had a little mistake at the top in both runs; I knew I had it right there, I just needed to keep myself together. This year I was more relaxed than at last year’s NCAAs,” says Nef, who is more than happy about today’s win. “Friends and family are here; it’s a night race, a crazy crowd; college skiing is a big family!”
Nef was able to take the confidence from his second place in GS into the slalom, and hopes to take it even further.
“I definitely was able to take a step from last year’s NCAA; I hope I can continue and come closer to the World Cup, where a lot of former NCAA Champs are skiing,” he added.
The Big Green skier was joined on the podium by UVM’s Sandy Vietze, 0.77 seconds off the pace, and Denver’s Tobias Kogler, 0.98 seconds away from the win.
Darthmouth men’s head coach, Peter Dodge, was happy about the strong result that his men pulled off. After Nef’s win, Thomas Woolson and Brian McLaughlin finished in 12th and 16th. Nevertheless, he also knows that between Darmouth’s top female athlete Foreste Peterson’s DNF and 10th- and 13th- place results by Alexa Dlouhy and Stephanie Curry, the gap between Big Green and DU is substantial.
“It will be hard for the Nordics, but we’ll see tomorrow what’s going to happen; we know our Nordics are strong,” said a hopeful Dodge.
It has been an even tougher series for the defending national champions, the University of Utah. With just two women starting and one man outside of the top 30, the Utes had just 4 out of 6 possible athletes in the points.
“It is a tough day and disappointing,” says Jaka Korencan, head coach of the Utes. “I expected more from men and women; it will be very difficult tomorrow for our Nordics, but it isn’t over until it’s over.”
Very likely tomorrow’s showdown on the fourth and final day will be between DU and CU. It will be a tight race; Denver is leading by 26 points, which is a doable distance for CU. Throughout the regular season, the Nordic team of CU has proven its strength.
“If this wasn’t the championship race I would feel great about it because the girls and guys they came from behind on the second run, just demonstrated their ability,” Head Coach Richard Rokos said. “Max (Luukko) finishing third, David (Ketterer) second, it was back to the old groove. Unfortunately, it takes two runs and the first one was not as good so we have a little deficit to gap and perhaps we can make our Nordic team heroes tomorrow.”
The Buffs will be chasing the Pioneers for one last battle in Colorado this season.
“Now, we are the hunted ones, which is the better side to start off,” says LeRoy. “We always want to be in this positon; let’s hope for the best.”
Tomorrow the Nordic athletes will finish the NCAAs with the skating competitions: men’s 20k mass start and women’s 15k mass start.
Complete results are available here.