Keri Schlopy of the University of Vermont hadn't won a race all year, and Willy's Run at Park City, site of the NCAA finals in giant slalom Wednesday, was steeper than anything she or her Catamount teammates have raced on in the past two years. Yet Schlopy, a junior, felt confident that it would be her day because of that steepness.
"I had some confidence. It's my type of hill," she said after winning a race for the first time this season. "You have to ski a little more technical," Schlopy said.University of Colorado freshman Toni Standteiner also was confident, but for a different reason. He'd won six races this season, including four of the five giant slaloms contested in the West.
"I had been skiing giant slalom real well all year, and I thought I could win today, but I was nervous - that's for sure," said the former U.S. Ski Team member from Squaw Valley, Calif.
Schlopy put together two remarkably consistent times - 63.78 and 63.77 - to total 127.55 seconds and defeat Colorado's Andreja Rojs (128.25) for the NCAA women's GS title.
University of Utah's Karianne Eriksen (128.51) took third, her best of the year. "I had problems on the top," said Eriksen, "but I lost most of my time on the flat part. The flat part was the hardest part for me."
Standteiner had runs of 63.35 and 61.41 for 124.76 to move past defending champion Einar Boehmer (125.4) of Vermont for the men's NCAA GS title. Colorado's Eric Archer (126.09) was third.
At the end of Day 1, Schlopy's Vermont team, two-time defending NCAA champion, stood one point up on Colorado for the team lead, 175-174, with three days to go in the NCAA finals being hosted by the University of Utah.Utah, devastated by injuries all season and with more bad luck Wednesday when No. 1-ranked GS skier Katja Lesjak caught a tip and fell on her first run, then missed a gate and was disqualified on her second, stands in third place with 140 points, followed by Wyoming at 119 and Dartmouth at 97.
Today's events were the cross country freestyles at Jeremy Ranch. The scene shifts back to Park City Friday for the men's and women's slaloms, with races at 9:30 and 10:45 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, it's the classical cross country, with the women's race at 9 a.m. and men's at 10:30 a.m. at Jeremy.
"We should definitely be closer, but we're not so far behind we can't catch up," says Utah Coach Pat Miller, whose men's team won the NCAA championship the last time it hosted the finals, in 1981, just before it became a coed event. Utah also won a women's title in 1978 and combined titles in 1983, '84, '86, '87 and '88, and it was runner-up in '85, '89 and '90.
"We're not even halfway through, and a lot of things can change," says Miller, "especially with the risk event, slalom, coming up."
Utah lost All-America Heidi Dahlgren several weeks ago to a knee injury, and All-America Gillian Frost went out with a preseason ankle injury, came back and sprained a knee Saturday. She competed Wednesday, finishing 21st. Sylvie Seigneur was 18th as Utah totaled 66 points for fourth in women's standings.
Vermont and Colorado tied for the women's lead with 89 each. Vermont had Schlopy, Sally Knight (fourth) and Meg St. John (eighth), and Colorado finishes were Rojs, Heidi Hager (fifth) and Jennifer Barrett (sixth).
Among the Ute men, Per Kaare Langlo was sixth, John Ethen eighth and Oyvind Ragnhildstveit 14th for a third-place 74 points. Said Langlo, a sophomore from Norway in his first year with Utah, "I really didn't know what to expect. My goal was to get in the first 10, and I finished sixth, so I'm happy."
Vermont scored 86 with Boehmer second, Cristofer Sherer fifth and Jeff McVey ninth. Colorado men took first, third and 13th (Mike Quas) for 85.
Vermont Coach Chip LaCasse says his team's been stronger in slalom than GS, and the women's GS was the weak point early in the season. "Halfway through, our women got together and said, `We are not the Achilles' heel.' They skied well through the regional championships and today had a tremendous performance. This was a great boost to this team, so we will now throw the ball to the cross country skiers.
"I'm not surprised," he said. "Just happy."
Colorado's new coach, Richard Rokos, has brought a European training regimen and racing tactics to the Buffs - Standteiner said it's helped him - but Rokos said he's still unfamiliar with the Eastern teams. "We proved we can compete with the best teams in the country," Rokos observed. "We have basically skied to our potential. We are starting this race as the underdog, and this was a very good performance."
Rokos sees Colorado's strength as its balance in all events, and that could mean this championship will go down to the wire, unlike last year, when Vermont broke Utah's NCAA record for winning margin, beating Utah by 100 points.