Thirty minutes after the conclusion of today's nordic podium ceremonies, the NCAA announced that all winter and spring championship events were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective immediately.
An incredible day for the EISA - including two podiums, men's and women's team wins, and an overall nordic team win, turned suddenly sour as the news reverberated throughout Bozeman. There would be no slalom at Bridger Bowl tomorrow, no mass starts at Crosscut on Saturday, and no ceremony to crown the overall team champions. In a single press release, the 2020 NCAA Ski Championships came to a heart-breaking halt.
While I can't tell you much more about the decision, I can tell you how the nordic races unfolded today at Crosscut Mountain Sports Center.
The day dawned cool and cloudy, with low overnight temps making the snow firm and fast. With occasional peeks of sunshine through the cloud cover, it looked like it could be a classic Montana March day. But nothing today would be that straightforward, and a snow squall materialized thirty minutes before the women’s start. Although just half an inch fell, the course was totally transformed and slowed down dramatically.
Even though the snow let up for the women’s race, the early starters had to plow through the fresh flakes, and skate tracks appeared around the loop as the first few starters raced through the powder.
Crosscut’s course is mostly rolling, but features brutal climbs at about the 1 and 4k marks. The climbs are long, steep, and demanding, especially because of the venue’s location 6,100’ above sea level. The new snow made the climbs sloppy, with a few inches of sugary powder sucking speed on their upper pitches.
Starters were reverse seeded based on regional rankings. Top seeds were randomized in the final ten bibs, making 30-40 the racers to watch for podium places. As the women rolled through the course, three EISA skiers skied themselves into a crowded top ten. Middlebury’s Alex Lawson, UVM’s Lina Sutro, and Dartmouth’s Katharine Ogden were all within a few seconds of each other at the halfway mark, battling for fourth through six places.
Middlebury first-year Sophia Laukli started third from last, but quickly reminded everyone why she swept the EISA season awards as she roared into second place at the 2.5k mark, 5 seconds behind University of Denver’s Eveliina Pippo. Laukli continued attacking the course with her signature high tempo, catching back a few skiers who started in front of her - no easy feat given the quality of the competition.
She couldn’t quite reel in Pippo, but Laukli finished in second, just 4.8 seconds back. Ogden emerged from the pack to finish fourth, followed by Sutro and Lawson three seconds apart from each other in fifth and sixth. UVM’s Margie Freed grabbed ninth, giving the EISA a remarkable five women in the top ten.
The Middlebury trio of Laukli, Lawson, and Annika Landis has been on a tear throughout the EISA this season. Today they showed that their winning ways aren’t limited to the East Coast, finishing 2-6-16 and amassing 79 points to take the team win over the University of Utah (74 points.) The Catamounts, with Anya Bizyukova in seventeenth, scored 65 points and took third on the day.
As the women cooled down and the men warmed up, the sun finally came out from behind the clouds and stuck around. The course filled up with spectators and racers, and the excitement was palpable as the first man prepared to take the line at noon. Once again, the top seeded racers were in Bibs 30-40, and the winner would probably be found somewhere in that group of ten.
Ben Ogden took off like a rocket from the start, flying through the first 5k nine seconds faster than anyone else. Third through ninth places were separated by just fifteen seconds at the halfway mark, setting up an exciting second lap where the course, snow, and altitude conspired to punish anyone who started too fast and reward those who had paced their efforts.
Utah’s Sam Hendry started reeling Ogden in, coming back from a seventeen second deficit at 10k to a three second margin at 7.5k. Ogden came into the final climb and entered into a tunnel of Catamounts, with teammates, friends, and fans screaming on both sides of the trail.
Ogden, charged up by the Catamount faithful, powered to the line and took his first NCAA title by just 3.1 seconds over Hendry. With a second-straight gold medal in the relay at Junior Worlds last week, Ogden may need to invest in a bigger trophy case.
Fellow Catamount Karl Schulz was thirty seconds back in fifth, his best career NCAA result. Middlebury’s Peter Wolter was the next EISA finisher in ninth, twenty seconds behind Schulz.
Williams’ Isaac Freitas-Egan rode a blazing fast seventh-fastest first lap to an eleventh place, just 2.1 seconds out of the top ten. UVM’s Bill Harmeyer and Harvard’s James Kitch continued the EISA scoring in twelfth and thirteenth, with Kitch picking up five places on a well-paced closing lap.
The UVM men brought their season-long dominance to bear on the NCAA field, combining for 88 points and giving the EISA its second team win of the day. Middlebury and Williams were the next EISA scorers with twenty-two and twenty points, for seventh and eighth place, respectively - those results are particularly impressive, considering each team had just one starter!
Given the cancellation of the rest of racing, today's nordic races were the fi crowned nordic and overall national champions. Here are the standings:
1 - University of Vermont 153
2 - University of Utah 141
3 - University of Alaska Anchorage 123
4 - Middlebury College 101
5 - University of Colorado 100
1 - University of Utah 293
2 - University of Denver 261
3 - Middlebury College 216
4 - University of Vermont 190
5 - University of Colorado 158
Complete nordic results are on Summit Timing.
Team scores are available on RIMSA.
You can read the NCAA statement on championship cancellation here.