Pioneers power to the lead |

Pioneers power to the lead

University of Denver skier Erik Read plows through the slalom course at Howelsen Hill on Friday on his way to winning a NCAA championship in the event. His win helped lift the Pioneers into first place in the team standings heading into the final day of competition.
Joel Reichenberger

— Teammates didn’t wait, lifting University of Denver sophomore Erik Read onto their shoulders at the base of Howelsen Hill on Friday night in Steamboat Springs before he could even pop off his skis.

They did the lifting in the bottom of the run, but it was Read who did the lifting on it. He won the men’s slalom race at the NCAA Collegiate Skiing Championships, helping lead the Pioneers to the front of the team standings heading into the final day.

Now, only Saturday’s Nordic skiing mass start event, set to begin at 9 a.m. at Howelsen Hill, stands between DU and a record 23rd skiing national championship.

“It’s amazing,” Read said. “Especially with a crowd like this at a night slalom, it doesn’t get better than this. I’m so thrilled.”

The Pioneers also got a lift from Monica Huebner, third, and Kristine Haugen, sixth, on the women’s side. It all added up to a big night for the Pioneers, who leapfrogged University of Utah and Montana State to take the overall team lead with 405.5 points.

The Bobcats, who’ve never been better than seventh at an NCAA Skiing Championships, start Saturday in second place with 390. Utah is in third at 362, and Colorado is fourth at 340.5.

Read’s championship came with plenty of drama.

He finished with the third-best first-run time, behind Brian McLaughlin of Dartmouth and University of Colorado skier Henrik Gunnarsson, who’d staked a 0.22 second lead on the field. Neither of those skiers could match Read on his second run, however. He had the second-fastest time on that course and it proved just enough to hold off Gunnarsson.

Read clocked in with a two-run time of 1 minute, 24.66 seconds. Gunnarsson was second at 1:24.68, .02 seconds slower.

“I wanted a podium, if not the win. That was my goal,” Read said. “I knew I was capable. These guys are great skiers, and I knew it would be tough, but I came out just ahead.”

McLaughlin held on for third. Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier Tyler Theis, a freshman at University of New Mexico, had his best result of the NCAA Championships, placing 21st.

Mohagen hangs on

The women’s race proved just as thrilling as the men’s, thanks both to the winner’s dominating first run, then a crucial bobble on her second.

Slalom is University of Utah freshman Julie Mohagen’s forte, and Howelsen Hill is among the many courses she’s dominated.

She won a collegiate race there in January, and Friday night, she did it again.

Her victory was almost entirely thanks to a first-run time that put her more than a second ahead of the competition. That proved important when, midway through her second run, she got on her inside ski on a turn, got her hip on the ground and nearly flew off the course.

“I came into some loose snow and got really late and lost my speed,” she said. “I thought I lost it.”

She kept going, however, and was rewarded. She ended up with a time of 1:29.63, still comfortably ahead of second-place finisher Laurence St.Germain, from Vermont, who finished at 1:30.00.

“It feels amazing, for sure,” Mohogen said. “When I came down, I heard all the Vermont people cheering, so I thought, ‘Well, I blew that one.’ Then, my teammates came up and told me, ‘No, you won!’ It was the best feeling ever.”

Friday’s was the third event of the 2016 NCAA championships, which wrap up beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday with Nordic classic skiing at Howelsen Hill. The women will tackle a 15-kilometer course, running three laps above the rodeo grounds. The men will ski 20K and four laps.

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