Much like the Nordic event that highlighted the event's final day, the NCAA Skiing Championships proved to be an arduous battle of attrition for the Colorado Buffaloes.
A pair of crashes in the giant slalom during the opening day of the finals on Thursday left the title-hopeful Buffs in fifth place, even after the first of what proved to be two individual downhill titles by freshman David Ketterer.
Going into the 15K Freestyle races Saturday in Franconia, New Hampshire, CU still had significant ground to make up. Between Ketterer and Nordic standout Petra Hyncicova the Buffs very nearly pulled off a momentous rally, instead settling for second overall in the team standings at the completion of the meet Saturday.
Utah won its first national championship in any sport in 14 years, topping the runner-up Buffs 541.5-525. CU's rivals from the University of Denver, last year's champs, finished third with 524 points.
The stellar finish continued CU's run of finishing no worse than fourth at the national finals over the past 11 years.
"We started a long way off the first day, digging out of fifth-place and being 60 points behind or in that neighborhood," CU coach Richard Rokos said. "That was a long ways for three days of competition. Every day was nerve-racking. Coming out of the first day we didn't have too much hope to end up anywhere in the pack. It's surprising and I'm very happy with everything."
While Ketterer kept the Buffs within striking distance with his wins in the slalom and giant slalom — he became the fifth skier to sweep those events at the NCAA finals and also became the third Buffs athlete to claim titles in his first two NCAA races — Hyncicova's effort on Saturday allowed CU to put pressure on the Utes.
After leading three top-eight finishes by the Buffs in the 5K Classic on Thursday with her first title, Hyncicova added another victory Saturday in the 15K Freestyle, outpacing runner-up Alayna Sonnesyn of Vermont by 21.1 seconds. CU's Christina Rolandsen placed third.
In the men's 15K freestyle on Saturday, CU senior Mads Stroem narrowly missed a fifth individual title for the Buffs, finishing just half a second behind Utah's Martin Bergstroem. Buffs sophomore Petter Reistad placed fourth.
The 2017 finals marked the first time since 2008 the Buffs recorded four individual championships. The haul increased the program's all-time total to 94 individual national titles.
"It's a very strong group. Cohesive, and they help each other," Rokos said. "It's all about how they feel about each other. In both the slalom and (Saturday's) Nordic, it was a team effort. Obviously individuals won and took the podium, but everyone chipped in and everyone was working hard."
NCAA Skiing Championships
Team Scores (Final, 8 events)— 1. Utah 541 ½ ; 2. Colorado 525; 3. Denver 524; 4. Dartmouth 400; 5. Vermont 355; 6. Montana State 320; 7. New Mexico 188 ½ . 8. Northern Michigan 182; 9. New Hampshire 146; 10. Colby 142.5; 11. Alaska-Anchorage 125; 12. Williams 107½; 13. Alaska-Fairbanks 104; 14. Middlebury 94; 15. St. Michael's 56; 16. Plymouth State 49; 17. Bates 29; 18. Michigan Tech 28; 19. St. Scholastica 24; 20. Bowdoin 21; Colby-Sawyer 15.
Men's 20-Kilometer Freestyle (40 finishers)— 1. Martin Bergstroem, Utah, 46:02.8; 2. Mads Stroem, CU, 46:03.3; 3. Moritz Madlener, DU, 46:03.4; 4. Petter Reistad, CU, 46:04.0; 5. Fabian Stocek, Dart., 46:04.7; 6. Adam Martin, NMU, 46:21.5; 7. Dag Frode Trolleboe, DU, 46:46.7; 8. Martin Mikkelsen, Utah, 46:51.2; 9. Luke Brown, Dart., 46:51.8; 10. Kevin Bolger, Utah, 46:52.9. Other CU Finisher: 28. Jackson Hill, 48:37.7.
Women's 15-Kilometer Freestyle (39 finishers)— 1. Petra Hyncicova, CU, 39:21.6; 2. Alayna Sonnesyn, UVM, 39:42.7; 3. Christina Rolandsen, CU, 40:00.5; 4. Anika Miller, MSU, 40:05.6; 5. Merete Myrseth, Utah, 40:23.1; 6. Guro Jordheim, Utah, 40:37.7; 7. Johanna Talihaerm, MSU, 40:39.2; 8. Sarissa Lammers, UAF, 40:46.5; 9. Elizabeth Gill, UNH, 40:48.6; 10. Hannah Miller, Bowdoin, 40:50.5. Other CU Finisher: 28. Jesse Knori, 42:57.4.