It was no surprise that the University of Colorado won the NCAA Ski Championships. Nor was it surprising that the University of Vermont was second and the University of Utah was third. Nor did it shock anyone when Laura Wilson of Vermont won the women's 15 kilometer, nor that it snowed.
Actually, there weren't many surprises at all in the fourth and final day of the national ski finals.CU had what was considered an unsurountable lead going into the classical cross country and Vermont had a wide enough lead over Utah to feel secure. Actually, the only real threat was Wyoming overtaking Utah, which didn't happen.
So, CU finished with 713 points, Vermont with 682, Utah with 615, Wyoming with 574, Dartmouth with 492 and New Mexico with 458, which was the same order they went into the finals.
Wilson, winner of three previous NCAA cross country events, won the women's classical race and, as in the case of her other three wins, impressively. She started in the lead and finished over a minute ahead of teammate and runner-up Selma Lie.
Not totally expected was Stig Matsson's win in the men's 20K classical. Utah's Luke Bodensteiner, who finished second, was favored. Unfortunately, new snow Saturday turned this event into a wax race and while Matsson hit it, Bodensteiner didn't.
And neither did the CU coaches in the first race.
"I'm happy we won," said CU nordic coach Mike Deveca, "but I'm a little disappointed that it turned into a wax race. I missed the wax for the girls. I dreaded that it would come to waxing rather than a person-to-person race."
Wilson didn't hit right on, but what she lacked in wax she made up for in talent. She has, now, for two years dominated women's cross country. She's had no peers.
She did one other thing at this event that she was very proud of . . . "I beat the altitude. I like what someone said to me, `I made mincemeat out of the altitude.' A lot of people thought I'd have trouble skiing at this altitude."
She admitted that the track was slow and that the last of three loops around the canyon course was tough, but said she felt strong and smooth throughout. Her time was one hour, 7 minutes, 15.1 seconds. Lie's time was 1:08:34.5.
Utah's top finisher was Venka Hatleberg in 6th. Anne Kari Aas was 10th, Erica Alexander was 27th and Kristin Bjervig was 34th.
Actually, at this point, Wyoming moved ahead of Utah by 15 points by putting three skiers in the top 10.
Waxing, too, proved critical in the men's race. And, while most coaches waxed right for the first of four loops, when it was snowy and cold, conditions changed dramatically when the clouds moved on and the sun came out and skiers struggled.
On the first loop a cluster of a 20 racers were running ski-tip-to-tail. By the second lap, Bodensteiner, Matsson and Peter Rune of New Mexico, had broken off and were holding their own race. By the third lap, Matsson had a large lead over Bodensteiner, and Bodensteiner had a large lead over Rune.
The Utah skier said he realized after the first lap that he was at a disadvantage.
"His skis were faster than mine. I tried to stay ahead, but he put on a strong move and pulled ahead. Then I couldn't catch him," he said.
Matsson said that every racer has his good days and bad days, "and this was my day." His time was 1:11:55.7, Bodensteiner's time was 1:13.04.5 and Rune's was 1:13:46.6.
What pushed Utah back into third was Top 5 finishes by Ole Evensen and John Farra, 4th and 5th, respectively. Wyoming's best was a 20th.
For Utah coach Pat Miller, Saturday put to rest what he called his most "frustrating year" as head of the ski program. Injuries and illness plagued the Utes all season. With two exceptions, these NCAAs were simply a carryover. In the women's slalom on Friday, for example, all four skiers fell. Falls also proved costly in the women's giant slalom, and then on Saturday the wrong wax proved costly to the Utes.
"What can you say. It's been a tough year," said Miller. "We weren't consistent and Colorado was, and that's what it takes to win NCAAs. The two bright spots were the men's alpine and men's nordic. They skied well. They kept us in third."
First-year coach Richard Rokos said he felt that the consistency came out of team unity.
"From the very beginning, this team has been very close. I think the football team winning the national championships helped, too. It got everyone at the school excited," he said.
This event did one more thing: It put another player in the NCAA ski picture. For the past decade Utah and Vermont have dominated.
But, as one observer pointed out, "Maybe this will shake them up. We used to think that just getting to the NCAAs was an automatic first or second. That's no longer the case. Colorado's young and they're good."