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Nordic skiers help Bobcats finish 13th at NCAAs

RUMFORD, Maine -- The three Nordic skiers from Bates College competing at the Bates-hosted NCAA Skiing Championships closed out the event with impressive performances from all three, allowing the Bobcats combined ski teams to finish 13th in country.

Before a large crowd of Bates supporters on a picture-perfect March day, senior Sylvan Ellefson (Vail, Colo.) placed 12th and senior Sam Evans-Brown (Gilmanton Iron Works, N.H.) was 27th in the Men's 20K Free Technique Mass Start race, after sophomore Natalie Ruppertsberger (Plainfield, N.H.) came in 29th out of 38 competitors in the women's 15K Freestyle race.

"I think they all did great. Anytime you come into one of these championships you hope for the best, and you can walk away knowing you're one of the elite skiers in the country, regardless of your finish," said Bates Nordic coach Becky Woods. "Sylvan was really close to the top 10; I know he really wanted to get in there, but he had a great race. He finished within that pack, just couldn't get into that top 10. Sam had one of his best skate races, and Natalie had one of her best skate races of the year, so I think it's fantastic. I'm really happy for all of them, and I'm pretty proud of them."

Ellefson was vying for his second career All-America finish, but missed it by two places, timing in at 45:03.5. He finished his collegiate career as one of three Bates males to win All-America honors, a four-time qualifier at NCAAs, and the only Bobcat to have won an EISA carnival race, having won three.

"I was so happy coming to the finish, but at the same time, it's the end of my college career. So it was a little bit sad, but awesome all at the same time," he said. "I'm happy with how I finished. The thing that made my day was the people from Bates that were here today; seeing all my friends and people from the crowd, it was really fun having people here."

Evans-Brown, competing in his first NCAA Championships, said he was determined to fare better than Thursday, when he came in 36th in the 10K Classical race. He accomplished his goal, submitting a solid time of 46:34.6 in what is generally his weaker discipline.

"It was a wonderful end to a very rewarding career," said Evans-Brown. "It's been a while since I've had a good, clean race. I had one today, and I feel like I finished as well as can be. On our home course, senior year, with three qualifiers (from the Bates Nordic team) after two years of having just one qualifier [Ellefson], it was great. It was about all you can hope for."

Ruppertsberger, also making her first NCAA appearance, is also generally more successful in classical technique races, but she submitted perhaps her best freestyle race of the year.

"I just felt really good," she said. "I've been resting for the last two weeks and skating's been hard for me this year, but this was a good finish for me, so I'm happy. It helps to have my whole team here supporting me and Sylvan and Sam, and what seemed like the whole Bates community here."

It is the fourth consecutive top-15 finish at NCAAs for Bates, which was able to jump ahead of rival Williams in the team standings, 175 points to 147.5. Northern Michigan finished ahead of the Bobcats with 195 points.

Final Results (PDF)

NCAA Championships -- Final Day Recap

Antje Maempel won her second individual NCAA Nordic skiing title in three days, propelling the University of Denver to its second straight NCAA Skiing Championship team title, and 20th overall, as the NCAA Skiing Championships, hosted by Bates College, came to a close on Saturday at Black Mountain.

Denver, which trailed the University of Vermont by two points going into the final day of the championships, surged with 74 points from its three Nordic skiing men and 103 points from its three Nordic women to win the team title with 659 points. For the second straight year, the Pioneers claimed the team title after not leading going into the final day, a feat that hadn't been accomplished in the 11 years prior to 2008.

The University of Colorado got a boost from sophomore Vegard Kjoelhamar, who won the men's 20K Freestyle race in dominating fashion, to vault from fifth place to second with 602.5 points, only half a point ahead of third-place New Mexico (602). It's the 13th time in the 56-year history of the NCAA Skiing Championships that DU and CU have claimed the top two places. The University of Alaska-Anchorage took second and third place in the men's 20K, moving from sixth place to fourth with 584 points, and Vermont finished fifth with 573.

"It was an improbable and unlikely win for the team this year," said DU Nordic skiing coach David Stewart. "We had a solid team, but I don't think anybody looked at us in the beginning of the year and said, 'They're the team to beat.' A couple other teams are really strong. But the team came here and just performed extremely well, to be honest.

"A lot of our athletes are taking their final exams right now, proctored here at the championship. This is a team that has the best GPA of any sports team at our university. It's just a great group of individuals, and they just could not have performed any better here."

Maempel, a sophomore from Stuelzerbach, Germany, overtook Colorado's Alexia Turzian in the final 50 meters to win the 15K Free Technique Mass Start race on Saturday, two days after claiming first in the 5K Classical Technique race. Maempel timed in at 38:35.0, just half a second ahead of Turzian. Rosie Brennan of Dartmouth came in third, followed by Annelise Bailly of Denver and Sophie Caldwell of Dartmouth.

"I was lucky because I wasn't sick or anything all season, so I could continue to practice and race all year, and it kind of worked out for a great season," Maempel said prior to the men's race. "We were motivated to win the team title. We want to win, for sure."

Maempel is the first athlete to win both women's Nordic races at the NCAA Championships since Colorado's Jana Rehemaa in 2006. Rehemaa also pulled off the feat in the same format: a 5K classical race and a 15K freestyle race.

"She's obviously an outstanding skier, and she just peaked at the right time for the championships," said Stewart. "We design our training to be at our best for the NCAA Championships, so it's not surprising that she's racing at her best here, and to have her win was just the icing on the cake."

While Maempel's victory was the closest of the entire championships, Kjoelhamar's in the men's 20K was the most dominant. The 6-foot-3 transfer from Oslo, Norway, led virtually from start to finish, timing in at 44:07.9, 19.5 seconds ahead of runner-up Lex Treinen, a freshman from Alaska-Anchorage.

"I felt OK after warmup, but not that good," said Kjoelhamar, who finished sixth in Thursday's 10K classical race. "But as soon as the race started I just felt awesome. The first time up the hill I got a little gap, but then the second time we had more, me and another dude. Then he couldn't follow me, so I was alone. It wasn't really a big attack from me. It was just my race pace, and the others couldn't follow. That was really nice."

Lex Treinen and his teammate Raphael Wunderle finished 2-3 in 44:27.4 and 44:27.9, respectively. A tightly packed top five was rounded out by Martin Kaas of New Mexico (44:28.4) and Max Treinen (44:29.9), Lex Treinen's sophomore brother.

Alpine Top 5: New Mexico 354, New Hampshire 353, Vermont 328, Utah 319, Denver 284

Nordic Top 5: Alaska-Anchorage 383, Denver 375, Colorado 347, Dartmouth 343, Utah 249

Men’s Top 5: Colorado 347.5, Denver 337, Alaska-Anchorage 311, Vermont 289, Utah 276

Women’s Top 5: Dartmouth 339, Denver 322, New Mexico 320, Utah 292, Vermont 284