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Barring a complete disaster in the final relay race Saturday, the University of Wyoming men's Nordic team will repeat as national champions.
The Cowboys had their best outing Friday in the Division II United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSSA) Nationals by putting four individual skiers in the 15km classic's top 10 at Black Mountain near Rumford, Maine.
The strong effort gives the UW men a seemingly insurmountable 20-point advantage over runner-up St. Olaf College (Northfield, Minn.) in the overall standings. The only competition left is the 3x5km team relay comprising the top three indivduals from each team in a classic, skate and skate leg.
St. Olaf would need to place three positions ahead of UW for the Cowboys to lose the national title, UW Coach Christi Boggs says. And all week, the UW men have not fallen lower than second place, winning two of the three individual races with overall team depth. Clarkson College (Potsdam, N.Y.) is in third place.
"We are confident that they will win it again. We will be hard to catch," Boggs says. "But you never know. We have a couple of people banged up right now and it could be interesting in the last race, but truthfully we should be OK. It's looking really good for us to win the whole thing again."
As for the UW women, who also are the 2009 national champions, the best they can hope for appears to be the runners-up. St. Olaf has a 14-point advantage over the Cowgirls, who are currently in third place, eight points behind the second place team, Whitman College (Walla Walla, Wash.).
"Our women have a good shot of finishing in second place but it looks like it's not in the cards for us to catch St. Olaf," Boggs said.
The UW men had their best outing of the week Friday when the foursome of Evgeniy Panzhinskiy from Khabaravsk, Russia; Elia Pedersen of Lander; Dan Lewis, Jackson; and Casper's John Kirlin went first, third, seventh and ninth, respectively.
The Cowboys won the day with 11 points, followed by St. Olaf with 19 and Clarkson College scored 29.
The Cowgirls put three women in the 15km race's top 10. Jackson's Gracey Lewis had the highest finish for the UW women in fifth place, while teammates Marie Cartwright of Riverton and Gwynn Barrows from Laramie went seventh and eighth, respectively.
St. Olaf scored a team-low 13 points in the competition, followed by Whitman College with 18 and UW had 20.
After Saturday's final race, individual honors will be awarded, including the top 10 overall skiers who will earn All-American honors. Boggs expects several UW student athletes to receive those honors.