This weekend’s central collegiate points race took place as part of a FIS/ USSA NRL race hosted by Northern Michigan and Superiorland Ski Club at Al Quaal Trails, site of this year’s Spring Series. This was the first opportunity to compete on this new and challenging system designed by John Morton. The “Olympic Loop” is steeply rolling and very twisty, technical course, which lacks any long climbs, but is still relentlessly difficult. Because Marquette has been experiencing a low snow year, many volunteers shoveled a lot of snow to cover the course. Despite taking great pains to preserve the course, conditions were very rough by the end of the racing.
The first collegiate event was the women’s five-kilometer skate individual start. Aubrey Smith of Alpina Racing and the U.S. Development team posted the fastest time in this her last U.S. event before she leaves for Under-23 Worlds. As her skiing eligibility is up, she competed open class. 18 seconds behind Smith’s 16:52 was Erinn Whitmer, who won the collegiate class, representing Alaska-Fairbanks. Whitmer is also on the Under-23 team. Third and fourth overall, 2nd and 3rd in the collegiate field were Northern’s Tami Kochen and Hilary Patzer (17:14 and 17:21). With the exception of Whitmer, Fairbanks was back home catching up on schoolwork after more than 4 weeks on the road. Northern dominated the team competition scoring 84 points to Michigan Tech’s 69. Tech was led by Jenny McConville’s 10th in the collegiate field.
The afternoon men’s 10 kilometer was also won by an open-class skier. Northern alum and Atomic team skier Matt Weier outskied the field to win in 31:35. In 32:02 was the first collegiate finisher Northern’s Dave Duede, who was second overall. Taking third was another open-class skier: Andy Liebner in 32:03. Karl Walczak of Michigan Tech and Trevor Walz of Wisconsin-Green Bay broke into the normal Northern/Fairbanks dominance taking 2nd and 3rd respectively in the collegiate class. With Fairbanks skiers back home, the men’s team victory went decisively to Northern, whose 83 points bested 65 and 64 by Michigan Tech 2nd and Gustavus 3rd.
On Sunday course conditions grew challenging. The course ranged from sugary to thin and dirty with some rocks exposed. This and a mass-start onto this very technical turny course wreaked havoc onto the race. In the men’s race, four different skiers broke skis, and more than the normal number of competitors dropped. On lap one Duluth’s Andre Watt and Matt Weier gapped the field. Watt continued to lead for two more laps with Weier following comfortably behind. As they emerged in the stadium, 400 meters to the finish, Watt had a single stride lead. But on a tiny hill 150 meters from the line, Weier easily sprinted by Watt and gaped him to win. Nearly a minute later, Dave Duede took third, and his second collegiate win of the weekend. Liebner was again in the top-five; this time fourth. Northern teammates Joey Graci and Hjalmar Westie finished 5th and 6th for collegiate third and fourth. In the team results, Northern again won easily over Michigan Tech 2nd and Green Bay 3rd.
After the men’s race, much of the field scurried out to “hay-bale corner,” a very steep, icy and sugary, 90 degree turn with a rock in the middle, to watch the women’s race. In that race, Erinn Whitmer broke away from a pack of Northern women in lap one and skied alone to the win in 42:21. The only Northern woman able to ski after her was Hilary Patzer who came in second in 42:57. Next came a Northern pack of Tami Kochen and Rachel Daw (in 43:14 and 43:15) to seal Northern’s team win. Michigan tech took second as a pack of their skiers went 12, 13, 14. Notably St. Cloud State, a relatively new ski program with few previous successes took third, led by Kay Adamson’s 9th place.
Corey Coogan recently wrote a book on collegiate skiing called One Week in March, a Peterson's-like guidebook on all the collegiate teams and clubs in the U.S. This guide book is especially helpful for high school skiers and parents who are looking at college ski programs. <More info available here.