With just three weeks left until nationals, the defending champion University of Colorado ski team is poised to make another run at the NCAA title as it uses its final races of the season to select its best team to take to Steamboat Springs.
The Buffs have won 20 national titles since 1959 and look to continue that streak March 9-12.
"You hold the national title for a year, you have a target on your back and everybody is aiming at you," CU head coach Richard Rokos said. "Even though there is obviously more teams in the hunt for it, but it was a good year. Last year was exceptional and we would like to repeat."
The Buffaloes will host the NCAA Championships in Steamboat Springs, where they first were the host school in 1993 and also in 2006 and 2010. Before CU declared Steamboat its home snow, national championships were also held there in 1968, 1969 and 1979.
"I think that you can feel good about that and Steamboat's kind of been our home race site that we've sort of picked; one, because it's lower elevation," Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. "We sort of treat it like it's our home area for sure, and quite a few skiers are from Steamboat too."
Rokos said he too feels comfortable with the home-snow advantage, despite the extra work it brings him and his staff.
"Absolutely," Rokos said. "It's kind of both ways. We'll be pretty busy as coaches because we are going to be responsible to smooth organization, so we'll have to devote some time to stuff we normally don't mess too much with."
So far this season, the Buffs have finished second in nearly every race, but had several high finishers on both the men's and women's sides in the Nordic and alpine races. In several of those races, the University of Denver has edged CU, making the Pioneers some of the Buffs' biggest competition heading into nationals.
But due to extenuating circumstances, the Buffaloes have not been on their A game all year. Cranmer said that because of this, he believes the best is yet to come for this team.
"We've had some ups and downs, I don't feel like we've been at full strength yet this year between sickness, a little bit of injury and then a couple people are sensitive to the cold, you know, have asthma," Cranmer said. "I feel like we haven't really been on our top form with everybody this year."
But the season is not yet over, which means that the coaches have some time to pick their final squad for the NCAA races.
Heading into this weekend's competition in New Mexico, Cranmer said he will look to junior Mads Stroem, sophomore Petra Hyncicova and sophomore Ane Johnsen to lead the way for the Nordic races as they solidify their places for the nationals team.
As far as the alpine skiers go, Rokos said he will rely on freshmen Tonje Trulsrud and Nora Christensen for the women and Ola Johansen and Max Luukko for the men to lead the way during the NCAA title races.
The competition will be tougher than it's been in past years, and the Buffs will have to watch out especially for Denver, Utah and New Mexico, among other teams that Rokos believes might give them a run for their money.
"It's an open game," Rokos said. "This will be based on a season performance, but it's all about four days, how well will you come there and how much you are in a combination of those things can put you at the top or at least top six."
Rokos said Vermont, New Mexico, Montana and New Hampshire also could be in the title mix. "It will be a very interesting championship," he said.
Alissa Noe: email@example.com