For many ski fans, it was an anxious wait today for men’s and women’s freestyle Nordic events to begin at the NCAA Championships. Heading into the final two events, Denver had held their own against the stacked field with eight Top-10 finishes, tied with Vermont and trailing CU (9) and Utah (10). DU basically needed to ‘bunch’ most of their six skiers in the front today, ahead of their rivals, especially Utah, to close the gap further. Unfortunately, it was not Denver’s day at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center.
Sure, it was to be a long shot for Denver but the Pios were within striking distance of the leading Utah Utes heading into the final day of competition. Denver had already whittled away an early first-day sixty-point deficit to Utah and reduced the margin to a 32.5 point deficit heading into the final two freestyle events. But these are not DU’s strongest events so I entered the day with some trepidation.
The men’s freestyle was an opportunity for Denver to make up ground but both Vermont and Utah dominated the race. Vermont scored a 1st and a 9th to pull away from Denver while Utah did even more damage with a 3rd place finish and 73 points from all three of their skiers. Bernard Flashberger finished 4th for the Pios but Denver could only collect 51 points on the event while Vermont and Utah pulled away. Utah’s lead ballooned to 52.5 points heading into women’s freestyle.
Denver struggled in the 15k women’s freestyle with no finishers in the Top 10. Utah scorched the field again with 1st, 2nd, and 8th to seal the championship, Vermont had a 6th place finisher and CU had a 7th but Utah was clearly the dominant force today.
The good news? Denver held on to 3rd place, ahead of rival Colorado by a slim 1.5 points. Vermont pulled away from Denver and finished 75 points better than the Pios. Utah cruised to the Team Championship, amassing 578.0 points, 141.5 more than DU in a dominant performance.
Ultimately, there were two main issues that plagued DU at this year’s NCAA Championship. First, Denver was short on depth and needed more high finishes from their second and third skiers in each discipline. Second, DU continues to have solid Alpine performances but on the Nordic side, there is work to be done. However, I do take great satisfaction in having DU hold the mark as the best collegiate ski team in Colorado. Don’t forget, both of our coaches, Joonas Rasaneni and Rogan Brown are new. I believe they are excellent and can bring competitive student-athletes to Denver with the goal of winning #25. Give Rogan Brown, the new head coach of Nordic, a few years to recruit and develop his kids and DU has a great chance to be at the top of the podium soon.
Go Pioneers and see you on the slopes!
Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics