Colorado had a good night in the men's and women's slalom races at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs on Friday, but Denver had a great night to take over the lead in the team standings.
Through six of eight events heading into Saturday's Nordic races, Denver has 437 points, with CU not far behind at 411. The race for the team title is essentially down to those two teams, with Dartmouth a distant third (330.5) and defending champion Utah in fourth (290.5).
Barring a disastrous performance on Saturday, CU will finish in the top two for the fourth year in a row, but the Buffaloes are hoping to avoid being runners up for the third straight year. CU's last title came in 2015.
A year ago, Utah rallied from a 34.5-point deficit after the third day to claim the title, but CU faces tough odds, as the Day 3 leader has won the title 28 times in 35 years of coed skiing.
"It has been done before," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "If everything goes right, it's doable."
The NCAA championships will come down to Saturday's Nordic freestyle races. CU's alpine team gave the Buffs a shot at the title with Friday's performances.
David Ketterer led the way with a sixth-place finish in the men's slalom, but it wasn't the result he wanted. The defending national champ in this event, Ketterer put himself in a hole with the 14th-best time in the first run. He posted the second-fastest time in run No. 2 to vault to sixth.
"I am absolutely not happy with the first run; I am more happy with the second run," Ketterer said. "I definitely over-thought it in the first round. I put too much focus on not skiing out and I was just not aggressive enough. I'm happy with how I handled the situation for the second run and gave it all I had and moved up a couple spots."
Ola Johansen finished seventh, while Max Luukko was 14th. Luukko had the third-best time on the second run.
"That first run was just not what we are capable of," Ketterer said. "So, absolutely a good comeback in the second round."
Ketterer and Johansen earned second-team all-American honors with their performances.
The CU women also had to recover from a tough first round, but did so with two of the top six runs in the second round.
Tonje Trulsrud finished seventh to lead the Buffs. She had the third-best time on the second run and, in her third trip to the NCAA finals, posted her best finish.
Trulsrud, who was 15th in the slalom in 2016 and 13th a year ago, earned second-team all-American honors.
Nora Christiansen, who was fifth in each of the past two years, was 10th to claim second-team all-American honors. Isabella Fidjeland finished 12th overall.
"If this wasn't the championship race I would feel great about it because the girls and guys they came from behind on the second run," Rokos said. "Unfortunately, it takes two runs and the first one was not as good."
Denver's Amelia Smart won the national title in the women's race, while Dartmouth's Tanguy Nef took the men's title.
CU now leans on its Nordic skiers to deliver a championship on Saturday.
"We have a little deficit to get, and perhaps we can make our Nordic team heroes (on Saturday)," Rokos said.
Since 1983, when the sport went coed, the Day 3 leader is 28-6. CU posted the largest final day comeback, rallying from a 54-point deficit to win the title in 2013. This is the fifth time there has been a different team leading after each of the first three days (also in 1992, 2000, 2006 and 2017). Ketterer earned his fourth career all-American honor, while Johansen and Trulsrud both hit all-American status for the third time. Luukko came up short of his fifth all-American honor.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.