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Before Friday's competition at the 34th annual United States Collegiate Ski Association (USCSA) Championships, University of Wyoming Co-Head Coach Rachel Watson said the mass start competition was the strongest event for both the Cowboys and Cowgirls.
She was right -- and wrong. Because the snow was melting so fast in Bethel, Maine, the mass start competition and Watson's proclamation were postponed until Saturday, the final day of competition. Instead, teams participated Friday in the 3-by-5 relay, in which each team has three competitors each ski 5 kilometers.
Both the Cowboys and Cowgirls finished second in their respective races. But not before the competition was moved to the north face of the hill, thanks to some last-minute grooming of the course.
"It was actually really crazy. Yesterday (Wednesday), it was 60 degrees and the majority of the snow at the venue melted," Watson says. "This morning, we woke up to a cancelled race."
Rather than scrap the day's race, coaches of the competing teams met and decided to continue, opting to instead run the relay race. Because of the lessening integrity of the snow, teams were forced to ski classic style rather than skate.
UW's teams adjusted to the elements and competition style.
Bridget Weiner, a Casper sophomore, "scrambled out like crazy," according to Watson. By the end of her leg, UW was in second place. Sarah Dixon, a sophomore from Steamboat Springs, Colo., "held tight," but eventually slipped into third place, Watson reported. Anchor Sierra Jech, a sophomore from Cody, stormed back on the final leg and almost ran down the leader.
"She's on fire right now," Watson says of Jech. "She caught the second girl and almost caught the first."
The UW men also got out to a quick start, with scrambler Kyle Bochanski, a junior from Fairfax, Vt., bolting out to a 10-to-15-meter lead within the first 200 meters.
"He had an amazing leg," Watson says.
Two Casper sophomores -- Patrick Rodgers and Nathan Hough -- held strong in the relay and were able to secure an overall second-place finish for the Cowboys.
"The entire team is young. We're stoked," Watson says of the UW men.
Heading into the final day of the women's competition, Clarkson University (Potsdam, N.Y.) leads with a low score of 31 points, while the Cowgirls nudged into second with 55 points. St. Olaf's (Northfield, Minn.) is in third with 56 points.
The Cowgirls were national champions in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010; and the national runner-up in 2005 and 2006.
Clarkson also leads the competition on the men's side, with 43 points. St. Olaf's is second, with 65 points, and UW remains in third with 70 points.
The Cowboys were national champions in 2006, 2009 and 2010; and the national runner-up in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The national championships conclude tomorrow. Rather than a mass start format for the 15K race, an interval format, with skiers taking off every 30 seconds, will be used, Watson says.