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College roundup: Utes capture NCAA West Region championship

Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 25 2012 11:46 p.m. MST

BOZEMAN, Mont. — The Utes won two more races and had five student-athletes finish on the podium as the University of Utah ski team won the NCAA West Region/RMISA championship on Saturday.

Utah totaled 932 points over the two-day event and finished 69.5 points ahead of reigning national champion Colorado in the team standings.

"It was fitting for us to end the regional's on a day where team skiing was really what it was all about," Utah Director of Skiing Kevin Sweeney said. "Conditions were very challenging for both Alpine and Nordic squads, yet we handled the pressure to put up solid results in every discipline, once again. I really can't ask for more than this from the team. Everyone has contributed and today was no different. I am very proud of our run so far this season, thanks to hard work, team work and a great staff. We will rest up now and do a bit of fine tuning as we gear up for the finals."

Senior Maria Graefnings completed her sweep of the women's Nordic races at Bohart Ranch as she won the 15km classical race.

"Today turned into a really tough day of racing," Utah Head Nordic coach Abi Holt said. "It started snowing partway through the men's race and the women stepped to the start line in an aggressive blizzard. In this type of race, on a tough course and in challenging wintery weather, the racers are pushed to their absolute physical and mental limits. Every result was hard won and this makes me extra proud of this team's efforts today.

"Maria skied her way to another win, and Parker landed another top-10 finish. In short, this is a cohesive team and one that truly works together. I am thrilled we won regionals, blown away by our season so far, and looking forward to returning to Bozeman for the championships in a week and a half."

Senior Parker Tyler joined Graefnings in the top 10 with an eighth-place, while Mali Noyes placed 24th.

Senior Didrik Smith finished third in the men's 20km classic for his fourth podium effort of the season and the sixth of his career.

"Today, I just want to take off my hat to the coaches," Smith said. "It was an amazing job they did with the skies. Even though the conditions changed dramatically during the race, our skies were stellar. It is also inspiring to watch the girl's team working through the toughest conditions I have seen in a long time. It was just dumping snow. We are doing a great job as a team and that is motivating."

Teammate Miles Havlick followed in fourth place, the first race he has not finished on the podium this season. The Boulder, Colo., native has finished in the top five in all 10 events in 2012 and 21 times during his career.

"Miles and Didrik skied the entire race together," Holt said. "They sprinted one another to the finish line, congratulated one another, and then immediately asked how they could help with the women's race. Tom and Rolf also skied great races and were quick to step up to support our women's team."

Rolf Figi followed in 13th, while Tom Smith was 15th.

In the Slalom races at the Bridger Bowl, two Utes were on the women's podium as junior Anna Kocken notched her first victory of the season. Her other career victory came in the slalom race at the 2010 regional meet. This was Kocken's third straight podium appearance and her fifth this season.

"I am just speechless," Utah Head Alpine coach Jaka Korencan said. "I would like to congratulate our athletes for brave performances in extremely challenging weather conditions. From thick snowfall to wind, fog, and challenging surface, it didn't matter, the team was on fire. We could not have been more proud of this tight-knit group of student-athletes. It is so rewarding to see that all our athletes contributed to the success of this team and they should be really proud of themselves. Today, the women's team was shining again and after sweeping the podium yesterday, Anna and Julie [Bordeau] put together two more fantastic runs and occupied the podium."

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