DONNER'S SUMMIT, Calf. — The University of Utah ski team posted a fifth-place finish at the 2004 NCAA Championships on the opening day of the four-day event. The Utes rallied to a combined score of 137 and are currently 51 points off the lead, skiing in the men's and women's giant slalom disciplines. Three Ute skiers earned All-American honors.

Denver has taken a commanding lead, followed by Vermont in second. New Mexico placed third and Middlebury skied fourth.

"I'm really happy with the point breakdown," head coach Kevin Sweeney said. "The points are spread out well, and this sets us up for the upcoming events. I'm hoping to move up the ranks tomorrow in the Nordic events."

Junior Ben Thornhill defended his GS title, winning the men's giant slalom event and beating out New Mexico's Petter Roering with a time of 1:52.24. Thornhill's opening run (56.49) put him in contention, but it was his second-run effort (55.75) that put him over the top. The Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, native was ranked seventh coming into the event, but held nothing back to repeat as champion. The All-American won this same event last season.

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"Ben's first-place finish was absolutely awesome," Sweeney said. "We couldn't be more proud of him and this goes to show how great of a team leader he has become. He skied a very tough second run, which really made the difference."

Ute skiers Will McDonald and Gaspar Perricone finished the men's alpine scoring participation, skiing into the top 30. Sophomore McDonald edged out Colorado's Cody Jenick to finish 26th with a time of 1:56.64. Freshman Perricone skied to a 29th-place performance with a two-run time of 1:57.39.

"Will and Gaspar skied well," Alpine coach Aaron Atkins said. "The conditions were very windy, and I think we were expecting better results, but overall we are close to reaching the goals we set out to accomplish."

On the women's side, standout juniors April Mancuso and Rowena Hyldahl led the pack, both qualifying for All-American honors.

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