It will be, again, a meeting of the Titans, skiing's two super powers - the University of Utah and the University of Vermont - matched up in this year's NCAA Ski Championships.
It has been that way the last eight championships. In all eight, Utah or Vermont were expected to win. In six of those Utah did. Vermont hasn't, not yet, but has finished runner-up seven times.This year the Utes are again the champs out West and the Catamounts the champs of the East, and predictions are the two will go at it toe-to-toe again.
If Utah were to win, it would be its seventh NCAA title in nine years, and its fourth straight. If Vermont were to win, it would break an unbelievable string of frustrations for Catamount coach Chip Lacasse.
The ski championships open Wednesday on the slopes of the Jackson Hole Ski Area with a giant slalom. They will continue with a classic cross country race on Thursday, a slalom race on Friday and finish up with a freestyle cross country race on Saturday.
(Note: The nordic portion of the NCAAs changed this year. Instead of an individual race and a team relay, skiers will compete in a individual classic race and an individual freestyle. Classic means that skiers can use only the diagonal, side-by-side technique, and the freestyle means that they can skate if they choose, which, of course, all will.)
Other schools entered - Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Alaska-Anchorage, Middlebury, St. Lawrence, Dartmouth, to name a few - are expected, as they have in past years, to fill in spots and try to play the role of spoilers. Twice in the eight years they have. Colorado won in 1982 and Wyoming in 1985.
This year it would take a great deal of luck on the part of the challengers, and some serious mistakes on the part of the two favorites to register an upset. The Utes have dominated western races, Vermont eastern races.
Utah goes into this event with probably its strongest team in the past eight years. It has not lost a meet this year. Most frightening to the competition is its women's alpine team. Utah Coach Pat Miller, allowed only four women in alpine competition, left home better skiers than what most schools brought. Two skiers left behind, in fact, won races this past season.
So strong is the women's team that all four skiers are in the first of four seed levels in both the slalom and GS.
A good men's alpine team was made better for Utah with help from a new NCAA ruling last January. Lifting the age limit on competitors swiftly moved three-time All-America Henrik Smith-Meyer back into the Ute lineup for one more year.
The Ute men's and women's nordic teams are also strong this year, with skiers more than able to outright win one of the four cross country races.
How much the change in the format will have is unknown. The team relay was always an exciting event, but seldom dictated the outcome. Having a second individual race may weigh more heavily. Observing since skating was allowed a few years back has shown that good diagonal skiers don't always make good skaters, or freestyle, skiers, and vice versa.
Following is a brief look at the 16 skiers who will be representing the Utes over the next three days:
Henrik Smith-Meyer, a senior, has wins in both slalom and GS. It is said that he has the quickest feet of anyone in skiing, which makes him especially strong in the slalom. Always one of the top finishers.
Brent Nixon, a senior, has been plagued by a knee injury this year, therefore had limited training. His experience has put him in the top five several times this year, however.
Oeivind Ragnhildstveit, a junior, joined the Utes this year after four years with the Norwegian National Team. He won one slalom and is scoring well in the GS.
Greg Morton, a senior, is making his first appearance at an NCAA meet. This year he has been one of the most consistent finishers for the Utes.
Kjersti Nilsen, a junior, has won one slalom and is consistently up in the top three. According to coaches, she's skiing better each week and is peaking at the right time.
Heidi Dahlgren, a freshman, comes to Utah after three years on the U.S. National Team. She, too, is one of the most consistent skiers on the team. She has finished every race for the Utes this year, and even won a slalom and two GSs.
Katja Lesjak, a sophomore, is also new on the Utah team. She was a member of the Yugoslavian National Team and was at one time ranked No. 47 in the world in slalom. She recently won the GS in the western regionals.
Anke Friedrich, a freshman, was a last-minute addition and has been a pleasant surprise. She transferred to Utah from West Germany and won the very first race she skied in.
Men's Cross Country
Erik Baumann, a senior, is probably the best skater on the team. He has won two freestyle events and is among four figured to win this year's new race.
Luke Bodensteiner, a freshman, is considered the most talented junior racer in the country. He has tremendous endurance and is known for improving his position late in the race.
Thomas Lium, a sophomore, did not ski for Utah last year. This year he has won a couple of classical races, but has had trouble in the skating event.
Hans Martin Sjulstad, a senior, is considered strong in both the classical and freestyle. He has one win and several seconds and thirds.
Women's Cross Country
Simone Brake, a senior, has improved steadily through the season, moving up into the top three near the end of the season, winning one of those events.
Anne Kari Aas, a sophomore, has won all of the diagonal races she has entered this year, but has had some trouble in the skating events. She's one of the favorites to win the classical race, however.
Kris Ryan, a junior, has finished second in all the classical races behind Aas and has a number of top five finishes in freestyle. Her strongest event, however, is classical.
Kim Csizmazia, a junior, has been bothered by an injury. She's considered strong in both events, and while she has not won she has finished second several times. In 1987, she was voted Junior Racer of the Year.