It was an interesting winter in the NCAA West, where the only constant was Utah finished fourth in all five meets. All six other schools had rollercoaster rides to varying degrees, and when things settled, Colorado emerged as the victor three times, including in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Association Championships, which also served as the NCAA West Regional.
Now back to Utah. The Utes had depth and injury issues, but overcame those and managed to qualify a full 12-skier team for the NCAA Championships. That makes the Utes a legitimate threat and a contender along with top-ranked CU, No. 2 New Mexico (winner of the other two meets) and No. 4 and defending two-time champion Denver. And thereís a fifth team to reckon with from the west, as Alaska-Anchorage rallied to claim runner-up honors in the regional.
Colorado and Denver also qualified full squads, while Alaska (menís) and UNM (womenís) will both be short one womenís Nordic skier and will go at it with 11-skier units. Montana State qualified nine and Nevada eight to round out the 75 entries from the western region.
Throw in the inherent advantage that this yearís regional was held on the same courses the teams will see for the NCAAís, and it looks good that the west could be in line for a 22nd title by one of its members in the 28 years since the sport went coed in 1983. Though expect No. 3 Dartmouth and No. 5 Vermont to have a say if that happens or not.
Colorado had a 25-point lead at the midway point of the regional, but due to dominant final day and some outright bad luck suffered by those chasing the Buffs, cruised to a 138-point victory in rolling up 902 points. Alaska moved from third into second and finished with 764 points, while New Mexico (725), Utah (705) and Denver (700Ĺ) rounded out the top five. (It is interesting to note that the top three schools combined for 2,391 points; the top trio in the east regional scored 2,393 in the first year the regions used identical scoring formats.)
New Mexico skiers won 18 of the 45 races in the west this winter, followed by Denver (11), Colorado (7), Alaska (4), Utah (3) and Nevada (2); all six had at least one of their skiers crowned a regional champion.
There was excitement in practically every race, but it will be a long time until the womenís 15-kilometer freestyle race will be topped. DUís Antje Maempel and UNís Maria Graefnings had a classic sprint at the end, but after 9.3 miles of skiing, the two were deadlocked and with a video review being deemed inconclusive, the two shared the title.
CUís Matt Gelso was the only skier to be crowned champion twice, as he won the menís classical and freestyle races, and both in convincing fashion. Maempel had already claimed the womenís classic title before her duel to the end with Graefnings.
New Mexico claimed two of the alpine champions: Anne Brusletto (giant slalom) and Petter Brenna (slalom). Utahís Anna Kocken won the womenís slalom while Alaskaís Andreas Adde took the menís GS. Colorado largely won due to its skiers racking up 23 top 10 finishes in the meet, 12 in the top five, both easily regional bests.
Maempel won the most races in the west with seven, followed by UNMís Martin Kaas with five (Nordic), and four skiers with four wins: CUís Gelso and three UNM alpiners: Brenna, Brusletto and Malin Hemmingsson. The UNM menís Nordic skiers also recorded the first 1-2-3-4 finish in recent memory when Kaas, Tor-Hakon Hellebostad, Pierre Niess and Simon Reissman completed the one through four sweep in the freestyle race in New Mexicoís own invitational.