STOWE — The University of Vermont women snagged a trio of top-11 results Wednesday, leaving the Cats one point behind first-place Utah after Day 1 of the NCAA Ski Championships.
The Catamounts and Utes began the Nordic racing with fourth-place team results in the men’s 10-kilometer freestyle race at Trapp Family Lodge. Colorado’s Erik Olsvik Degerud won by 20 seconds, crossing the in 24 minutes, 25.5 seconds. The Buffaloes (77 points), Northern Michigan Wildcats (70) and New Mexico Lobos (60) seized the top three spots in the scoring, while the Utes and Cats were tied for fourth with 60 points.
The women began their interval-start 5k competition is windier conditions, with Utah’s Julia Richter using smart pacing to win by one second in 13:28.3. Utah amassed 82 points with additional skiers in fifth and 18th, while UVM athletes finished third, fifth and 11th for 81 points. Both teams leapfrogged the three early leaders, opening up a double-digit advantage over their rivals entering Thursday’s giant slalom racing.
The front-runners entering Day 2 are Utah (142 points), UVM (141), Colorado (120), Northern Michigan (117), Denver (92) and Dartmouth (91). Friday will feature classic racing at Trapp’s, with women covering 15k and men completing 20k. Saturday’s slalom action will determine the national champion.
Dartmouth is the three-time defending East Regional winner, and both the Big Green and Catamounts have claimed NCAA titles in the past. But West Region skiers have dominated the big stage, with Denver (24 titles), Colorado (20) and Utah (11) leading the way. The Big Green won their third crown in 2007, while the Catamounts claimed their sixth championship in 2012.
The scoring formats during the NCAA championships and regular-season carnivals are similar because only three racers can contribute points for each team. But there are several key differences, and mistakes can be disastrous at NCAA’s because each school can only enter three individuals in each event. In contrast, if skiers crash or miss a gate during a carnival race, they’re often bailed out by a teammate.
The top 30 performers in every NCAA race contribute points for their respective teams, and the scoring system rewards the top seven skiers who cross the line. Based on finish order, each of those leaders receives 40, 37, 31, 29, 27, 25 or 24 points. Eighth place is good for 23 points and the ninth-place skier collects 22 points. That one-point scoring gap continues all the way down to a single point for 30th place.
Vermont’s women’s Alpine contingent has a good chance to keep things close in GS, led by Laurence St. Germain, Paula Moltzan and Millie Graesdal. The Catamounts’ potential in the men’s race will be limited because only two skiers qualified. But Germain can ski with the best, and a podium finish by her or her teammates would give UVM a huge boost. Germain won three EISA slalom races this winter and placed sixth in the same discipline at FIS world championships.
And for all of UVM’s success in women’s Alpine, the men’s cross-country ski team had been the story of the season up until Thursday. Nordic coach Patrick Weaver called it the strongest squad of his 11-year career after his athletes earn back-to-back podium sweeps at the UVM Carnival. The Cats placed racers in the top 13 during the 10k freestyle and swept the top six spots during the 20k classic at their home carnival.
Although the Cats performed well Thursday, it was an off-day for freshman phenom Ben Ogden (22nd, 25:28.6). Earlier in the winter he won a relay gold at junior world championships, and he was consistently near the top of the East Region circuit after returning to New England.
It wasn’t a huge surprise that Ogden lost to his teammates at the NCAA opener, especially after the top Cats swapped spots for much of the winter. But Ogden was not accustomed to finished behind Bowdoin’s Elliot Ketchel, and he also trailed two Dartmouth skiers, two Middlebury skiers and a trio of Northern Michigan racers.
Luckily for the Cats, Bill Harmeyer (fifth, 25:06.2) and Finn O’Connell (ninth, 25:10.6) stepped up at the perfect time. Harmeyer’s efforts gave UVM 29 points and O’Connell added 22 points. Even tough Ogden only finished 18 seconds behind O’Connell, the top finishers were so bunched that he only scored nine points.
The Dartmouth men were led by Gavin McEwen (19th, 25:22.3), Callan DeLine (20th, 25:24.3) and Adam Glueck (39th, 26:33.4). Leading the charge for Middlebury were Peter Wolter (15th, 25:16.3), Lewis Nottonson (17t, 25:19) and Sam Wood (33rd, 25:54.8). Woodstock graduate Zane Fields placed seventh for Colby in 25:09.1.
During the carnival circuit Vermont’s women took a back seat to Dartmouth at times, although UVM’s Evelina Sutru and Anna Bizyukova emerged as individual champs. Teammate Margie Freed has been the Queen of Consistency, often missing the podium by just one or two places. That trio had the magic touch Thursday, combining efforts to beat Dartmouth by 13 points.
Sutro (third, 13:29.4) and Bizyukova (sixth, 13:46.3) earned All-American honors with top-10 finishes, joining Harmeyer and O’Connell. Freed (11th, 13:58.8) was one-tenth of a second away from a top-10 result. Sutro was the fastest to reach the 2k mark (3:33), while Richter was 1.5 seconds behind. Sutro hit the 3k mark in 6:42, holding a 4.7-second lead over Richter. A big hill leading up to the 4k mark took its toll on many competitors, and Richter’s big engine was the difference-maker as made up a lot of time at the end. Freed and Bizyukova were both 16 seconds back after 2k and 20 seconds back after 3k.
Ben Ogden’s older sister, Katharine, placed fourth for Dartmouth in 13:34.5. Lauren Jortberg (12th, 14:04.3) and Lydia Blanchet (13th, 14:05.4) also scored points for the Big Green. The Middlebury women relied on quality efforts from Alexandra Lawson (26th, 14:31.6), Avery Ellis (36th, 14:53.5) and Annika Landis (36th, 14:53.5).
NOTES: The top men and women were traveling in excess of 25 mph at one downhill section Thursday. ... Utah’s one-point lead after two events matches the closest margin in the 37 years since NCAA skiing became coed in 1983. … In 1991 the Catamounts led eventual champ Colorado by one point after two events.
(Team, men, women, overall) 1, Utah, 60-82-142 2. UVM, 60-81-141 3. Colorado, 77-43-120 4. N. Michigan,70-47-117 5. Denver, 31-61-92 6. Dartmouth, 23-68-91 7. New Mexico, 68-6-74 8. Alasksa-Ancorage, 18-42-60 9. Montana St. 14-23-37 10. Alaska-Fairbanks, 30-5-35 12. Colby, 5-27-32 13. Bowdoin, 25-0-25 13. Michigan, Tech, 0-13-13 15. Williams, 5-0-5 16. Bates, 0-1-1
TOP 10 WOMEN
1. Erik Olsvik Degerud (Colorado) 24:25.5 2. Korelius Groev (N. Mexico) 24:45.1 3. Ian Torcia (N. Michigan) 24:45.5 4. Ricardo I.-Bernier (N. Mexico) 24:49.3 5. Bill Harmeyer (UVM) 25:06.2 6. Alvar Johannes Alev (Colorado) 25:07.3 7. Zane Fields (Colby) 25:09.1 8. Maximilian Bie (Utah) 25:10 9. Finn O’Connell (UVM) 25:10.6 10. Zak Ketterson (N. Michigan) 25:11.3
TOP 10 MEN