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Ute skiers are sliding toward title

HANOVER, N.H. — The University of Utah ski team is on the brink of taking home its 11th national championship, which has been the goal for coach Kevin Sweeney and his staff from day one. The Utes lead after three days of competition with a combined score of 539.0.

The U. Nordic team skated its way to an extended 99.5-point lead over the second-place Lobos of New Mexico. The women's team won the 15K classical event with a combined point total of 104.0, while the men contributed by taking third with a total of 78.0 points.

"We are feeling really good right now," Sweeney said. "Tomorrow is a very important day for us. To secure the win, we need to focus on skiing solid. We are in a great position and we are going to ski the way we have been all season. I didn't want to lose any points today, but to gain points was a huge plus."

Junior Katrin Smigun became the first dual-winner at the 2003 NCAA Skiing Men's and Women's National Collegiate Championships on Friday, winning the women's 15K classical cross country race in front of more than 1,000 fans at the Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center.

Smigun, who won Wednesday's 5K freestyle event, finished the Oak Hill course in 46:30.7, nearly 50 seconds ahead of Sigrid Aas of Alaska-Fairbanks, in second place in 47:19.5.

"Katrin is skiing extremely well, as she has all year," Sweeney said. "Being undefeated in the championships and throughout the season is a remarkable accomplishment."

Junior Sara Svendsen also excelled in the CL grabbing a fifth-place finish with a time of 47:45.3. Sophomore Barbro Hatlevik skied to a time of 48:16.4 to beat out the competition and notch a 10th-place result.

"It was really awesome to see Sara coming in at fifth and Barbro placing in the top 10, and earning All-America honors was outstanding," said Sweeney.

Zack Simons headlined the men's cross country team with a time of 1:00:40.5 to nab 12th, while freshman Jess Kiesel's skied the pair of runs in 1:00:41.9 to earn him a 14th-place spot. Senior Ryan Quinn clocked in at 1:00:44.8 to snag 16th place.

"This was one of the toughest courses I have seen," Sweeney said. "The guys skied great and it was a really exciting finish. All three of the athletes skied solid for us and that's what I really was looking for all year."

Colorado, which had slipped to fourth place after Thursday's giant slalom, regained third place with 424.5. Three-time defending champion Denver stands in fourth place with 381.5 followed by Vermont with 374.

"The alpine team had some early training this morning," said Sweeney.