CU’s March: In Like a Lamb; Out Like a Lion

The folklore, “If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb”, or the reverse, “If March comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion” has no known specific origin.

The Farmer’s Almanac thinks it goes back to the ancestral belief that there should be some balance in life, and if the spirits brought in a harsh start to the month, they would even things out at the end.

Regardless, for the CU athletic department and some of its programs, this March saw its teams start the month like lambs … but finish them off like lions.

CU Ski Team

The Colorado ski team in the 2023-24 season was a program in transition. The Buffs were led by Jana Weinberger, coaching her first full season as CU’s Director of Skiing.

Colorado, a perennial power on the national stage, was in a slump, with “slump” in this context meaning a nine-year drought without winning a national championship. Yes, the Buffs were regularly in the top three in the nation at the NCAA championships, but were in the longest run without a national title since the NCAA began coed championships in the 1980’s.

So, even though the Buffs were “hosting” the 2024 championships in early March in Steamboat Springs, there wasn’t the usual buzz around the program and its chances at a national title.

And then … The event got off to a rough start.

For those unfamiliar, here’s a brief primer on NCAA scoring at the skiing finals … There are four days of events at the championships, with two days of Alpine (downhill) and two days of Nordic (cross-country) competition, with each program allowed to qualify up to three skiers per event. So, schools can have up to 12 skiers (six men and six women) participating. Scoring is based upon individual finishes, with the first place skier earning 40 points for their team; second place earning 37; and so on down to the 30th place skier, who earns one point for their team.

It’s possible to win a championship without a full complement of 12 skiers, but it’s rare.

So, when on the first day of the competition, CU downhill skier Ryder Sarchett did not finish his first run, the Buffs were down to 11 potential qualifying scores. The Buffs were in second overall after Day One of the event, but were already a full 17 points behind defending national champion Utah.

By the end of the third day of competition, Colorado had fallen to third place. Utah was comfortably in the lead with 444 1/2  points, with Denver a distant second with 401 points. The Buffs had 393 1/2 points, a full 51 points behind Utah. While Colorado was strong in the final events – the women’s and men’s 20K nordic races – Utah was also a power, and unlikely to falter.

But … on the final day of competition the Buffs posted the third-biggest comeback in NCAA skiing championships history. The women started the rally, with 4th, 5th, and 9th place finishes, bringing the Buffs back to within 17 points.

That set up a battle of the two of the best men’s Nordic team’s in the nation, and they didn’t disappoint. Magnus Boee won his third individual NCAA Championship, joining an elite list in CU history, and Will Koch took third and Johannes Flaaten 11th while Utah went sixth, seventh, and eighth. When the math was calculated after Flaaten crossed the finish line, CU had outscored Utah 94-75 to win the race and, more importantly, finished with 569.5 points in the meet, just two points ahead of Utah’s total of 567.5.

“It feels surreal,” CU head coach Jana Weinberger, who became just the first female head coach at CU to win a championship and second female coach credited with a ski national championship, said. “That was very close, very nerve racking, everybody did what we had to do.  We came back from our not-so-great day on Thursday and it turned out well.”

CU Women’s Basketball Team

The Colorado women’s basketball team opened the 2023-24 season with a splash, knocking off defending national champion and No. 1 ranked LSU to rocket from No. 20 in the preseason polls to No. 5. The Buffs made it as high as No. 3 in the national rankings, and were a staple in the Top Ten for most of the campaign.

But the Buffs limped into March on a slide. After being named as a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA women’s tournament, the Buffs lost four out of five games to close out the month of February, and opened March with a home loss to unranked Washington State. After the No. 13 Buffs were out-scored 14-0 in final three minutes to fall to WSU, 72-63, a frustrated JR Payne’s comment was: “I don’t have a lot to say”.

When CU lost to Oregon State in double overtime on March 7th in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, the Buffs, who had been all but assured of home field advantage in the NCAA tournament, found themselves on the outside looking in, qualifying as a No. 5 seed for March Madness.

While a No. 5 seed in and of itself is a great accomplishment, it’s a tough break for a good team in the women’s tournament. Unlike the men, who play all of the tournament at neutral sites, the women play the first two rounds of March Madness on home courts. As a result, instead of playing the first two rounds of the tournament at the CU Events Center, the Buffs took to the road to the home court of No. 4 seed Kansas State.

After dispatching No. 12 seed Drake, 86-72, to open the tournament, the Buffs faced the challenge of taking on the home-standing Wildcats in the second round. A sellout crowd of 10,692 was on hand to cheer on Kansas State, but the Buffs prevailed, 63-50, matching the accomplishment of the 2023 Buffs, who defeated No. 3 seed Duke at Cameron Indoor Arena to advance to the Sweet Sixteen last March.

How hard is it to accomplish what the Buffs did the last two seasons? In the last four NCAA Tournaments (2019-24) there have been 17 times a team got to the Sweet 16 by winning a true road game … Colorado is the only team to do it twice.

CU Men’s Basketball Team

Tad Boyle’s Buffs entered March in familiar territory … on the Bubble.

A “First Four Out” team at the end of February despite a three-game winning streak to end the month, the Buffs had to keep winning just to be considered as an NCAA tournament team.

The Buffs kept winning, opening March with a win at home against Stanford on Senior Night to close out a 16-1 home record – the best in school history. CU then took to the road for another must-win game against Oregon … and won, then closed out the regular season with another road win, finishing off Oregon State to finish the regular season with 22-9 record.

Still, the pundits were not ready to give the Buffs a tournament bid. A No. 3 seed in the final Pac-12 tournament, the soothsayers said Colorado had a must-win game against No. 6 seed Utah to not lose their seat at the table. The Buffs won, but then the same prognosticators said CU had to defeat No. 2 seed Washington State in order to punch their ticket. The Buffs won again, but … there were still no guarantees.

After falling to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship, and watching “bid stealers” take tournament spots, Tad Boyle’s Buffs had to sweat out Selection Sunday. The Buffs made it in, but just barely, qualifying for a play-in game in Dayton as a No. 10 seed.

CU’s quality play in March continued, with a rock fight win over No. 10 Boise State, then an NBA G-League shootout win over No. 7 seed Florida in the first round. The Buffs fell to No. 2 seed Marquette, in the Round of 32, but the loss couldn’t take away from the Buffs their strong March finish.

At the beginning of March, the CU ski team was looking at the ninth straight season without a national title, the CU women’s basketball team was on a four-game losing streak, and the CU men’s basketball team was one bad loss away from missing the Big Dance.

As March closes, the CU ski team is celebrating its 21st national championship, the CU women’s team will finish the season ranked in every poll on the heels of a second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance, and the CU men are coming off of a March with two wins in the NCAA tournament for the first time since … 1955.

In like a lamb … out like a lion.


One Reply to “CU’s March: In Like a Lamb; Out Like a Lion”

  1. March was very fun for an old Buff like me, but now for the the eternal question, will the offensive line hold up enough to get the Buffs to that elusive bowl game or even better?

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