With help from non-contending schools, the University of Utah was able to miss its worst finish in the NCAA Ski Championships in a decade.
The Utes ended up in third behind the University of Vermont, winner of its third national title in four years and the University of New Mexico. The Catamounts finished with 693.5 points, the Lobos with 642.5 and the Utes with 626. The Utes passed Dartmouth and Colorado.Utah went into the final event, the classical cross country, on Saturday in 5th place. And, measured by past NCAA meets, did not do awfully well in the event. But, non-contending schools like Dartmouth, Middlebury College, New Hampshire and Northern Michigan placed skiers high enough to take points away from leaders.
Winning the women's 7.5 kilometer was Kristen Vestgren of Utah. The freshman from Slemmestad, Norway, had not lost a single race this season going into the nationals - freestyle or classical. Thursday, however, she finished second to Annette Skjolden of Colorado, in a freestyle race.
According to Utah ski coach Pat Miller, Vestgren went out strong and kept the pace up the entire race on Saturday. Her time was 48 minutes, 53.4 seconds.
Miller said the course was in excellent conditions and did not necessarily favor any particular skier.
Teammates Venke Hatleberg finished 20th, Erica Alexander was 25th and Kristen Bjervig was 26th.
Saturday, Skjolden ended up in second with a time of 49:03.1. Third was Kerrin Petty of Vermont. Petty also entered the national unbeaten this season. Her time in the classical was 49:55.3
Vermont's Tromond Nystand's win in the men's 10K classical was enough to put the Catamounts into the lead for good. His time was 57:17.8. Second was Max Robinoqitz of Dartmouth in 57:23.2.
Utah's best was Peter Klofuter in 9th, followed by Marcus Nash in 23th, Torry Kraftson in 26 and Eric Flora in 36th.
Vermont, which trailed New Mexico by 10 points heading into the final day of competition, ended up placing three skiers in the top 6. New Mexico's best finish was 7th.
Vermont's director of skiing, Chip LaCasse, said he was worried after some some poor finishes by his skiers in the women's slalom and women's 5-kilometer freestyle cross-country races earlier in the week.
"But this is a four-day thing with eight events and the men and women who win this win on consistency," he said. But LaCasse also acknowledged "some people skied better here than they did all season long."
Since 1983, when the scoring was changed to combine men's and women's scores, only Wyoming in 1985 and Colorado last year have finished ahead of Vermont or Utah.
This year the Utes got off to a poor start on the first day. Poor showings in the giant slalom, especially in the men's event, left Utah a distant 6th behind powers Vermont, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Dartmouth.
The Utes closed the point gap after the freestyle cross country on Thursday, but not their position in the standings. They remained in 6th despite the fact that women finished in first overall.
In the slalom on Friday, Miller expected his team to move into contention. It was, after all, he said, "Our best event."
Here again, the women's scored in on the tight-gated course, but the men did not. Katja Lesjak won the event and there three teammates all finished in the top 10.