Central Collegiate Ski Association Season Preview, Part 1

FasterSkierDecember 24, 2006

The Central Collegiate Ski Association has launched a Web site that can be accessed at www.ccsaski.com .
The site, which went live last week, serves to increase the exposure of the 12-team CCSA by providing Nordic skiing news, results, photos, and more. There are also links to each program’s school Web site for rosters, schedules and other information.

This is the first of a two-part series profiling the 12 schools in the Central Collegiate Ski Association. Part 1 will detail the six programs from Michigan, Wisconsin and Alaska; part 2 will chronicle the half-dozen schools from Minnesota.

Northern Michigan University

Watch out again for the Wildcats, virtually disguised as the U.S. women’s Nordic ski team.
Last season, Lindsey Weier and Lindsay Williams redshirted in order to focus on competing at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, while Morgan Smyth took the year off from NMU for the Junior World Championships in Slovenia.
The three are all members of the U.S. Ski Team’s “B” squad, and they’re back as seniors this season, along with a host of other talented women.
“I don’t think I’'ve ever had a women’s team with this power,” said Fjeldheim. “It’s an incredible group.”
That’s saying a lot, considering that Fjeldheim has coached in Marquette, Mich., since 1986 (minus a stint with the U.S. Ski Team from 1994-97) and in his tenure has produced 40 NCAA All-Americans and 10 Olympians.
The Wildcats are looking to reclaim the CCSA title after NMU placed runnerup to the Alaska Nanooks for men, women and in the overall standings at the 2006 CCSA Championships.
“UAF had challenged us many times. They had been close for many years,” said Fjeldheim. “It wasn'’t really too much of a disappointment (finishing second) because our top three girls weren’'t there. We did pretty good considering.”
Fjeldheim has so much depth on the women’s side that he’'s faced with a problem other coaches wish they had.
“You hate to see people staying home that could be All-Americans,” said Fjeldheim.
That’s a realistic predicament, since only three women can qualify for the NCAA Championships from a single school and more Wildcats than that are capable of doing damage at the NCAAs. The intrasquad competition, therefore, will be fierce.
That will include Weier (Mahtomedi, Minn.), a two-time Olympian who placed third at the 2006 NCAAs in the 5-kilometer classic; Williams (Hastings, Minn.), 2005 NCAA runnerup in the classic; Smyth (Vernon, Vt.), who won three golds at the 2006 Junior Nationals on the Michigan Tech trails; Laura Dewitt, a junior from Rhinebeck, N.Y.; Maria Stuber, who’ll rejoin the team for the second semester; and several promising freshmen including Anna Karin Berglund of Sundsvall, Sweden. Fjeldheim’'s freshman daughter, Ingrid, has also joined the team.
Though NMU has produced the last two American-born NCAA men’s individual champions in Pete Vordenberg (the winner in 1993, and now the U.S. Ski Team’s head coach) and Chris Cook (2003), no Lady Wildcat has ever stood atop the NCAA podium. “The girls are really shooting to win a (individual) national championship,” said Fjeldheim, adding that Williams was just five seconds shy in 2005.
Other goals for the team include qualifying the maximum six athletes for NCAAs and having four of them achieve All-American status (earned by finishing in the top 10).
Northern planned to host a season-opening meet Dec. 2-3 but it was canceled due to lack of snow.
But NMU’s depth was evident at the Grandview XC Classic Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich., where the Lady Wildcats claimed six of the top seven places in a competition that featured many of the CCSA teams, with one notable omission being the Alaska Nanooks.
Bergland won the sprint as NMU placed six in the top seven (the lone infiltrator was second-place Tami Kochen, a 2006 All-American at NMU who has since graduated but still trains in Marquette). In the women’s 5k classic, Weier won and Smyth and Dewitt placed third and fourth, respectively, as the Wildcats put seven in the top 10.
On the men’s side, the Wildcats graduated 2006 NCAA-qualifier Bryan Cook but have five skiers vying for three possible NCAA spots, said Fjeldheim.
“It’s hard to say who our top guy is because they’re all pretty close,” said Fjeldheim.
The quintet includes junior Ben Cline (Madison, Wisc.), winner of the Grandview Sprint; Bill Bowler, a sophomore from Wausau, Wisc, and a Junior Nationals champion last season; Martin Benerud, a freshman from Oslo, Norway; Justin Singleton, a sophomore from Eagle River, Alaska, who redshirted last season; and Phillip Violett, a sophomore from Brownsville, Calif., who placed third in the Grandview 10k classic, trailing only two elite non-collegiate skiers.

Alaska Nanooks (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Last year, the Alaska Nanooks sent five Nordic skiers to the NCAA Championships and finished 10th as a team even though they, like Northern Michigan, competed with the handicap of no alpine squad.
The Nanook also won the CCSA Championships team title for the first time, edging perennial powerhouse NMU.
This year, despite several key losses to graduation, the Nanooks expect to send a full complement of six skiers to NCAAs and hope to defend their CCSA title.
“Our team is good enough that we should be sending six,” said third-year head coach Scott Jerome.
The CCSA, which comprises the NCAA’s Central Region, sent seven women and six men to NCAAs last season. Because of the conference’s performance at NCAAs the last two years, and a one-skier increase in the region’s quota, the CCSA will be awarded 10 slots for women and nine for men in 2007.
“That’s huge for our region and big for our team,” said Jerome.
The increase is likely to benefit schools like NMU and Alaska, which seek to qualify full teams, as well as the other 10 schools in the conference, which will have a greater opportunity to sneak skiers into the championships.
Though NCAA silver-medalist Johanna Turunen and qualifier Pavla Havlova have moved on, the Nanook women have a “Fab Four” of underclassmen ready to step in.
And while the men graduated two consistent Scandinavians, All-Americans Marius Korthauer and Bart Dengel are back seeking more hardware while a pair of newcomer Estonians and local boy Anders Gillis are also expected to challenge for NCAA slots.
“I think our men are as good or better than last year,” said Jerome.
Jerome acknowledges NMU was shorthanded on the women’s side last year, but is far from conceding the 2007 CCSA title.
“It’s going to be tough for our women. (NMU) is definitely stacked on the women’s side. The door was open a crack (last season) and we took full advantage of it,” said Jerome. “However, on the guys’ side, I think that just looking on paper we’re stronger than Northern, so it’s going to be close for the overall.”
The Nanooks have had one meet so far this season, edging rival Alaska Anchorage last month in a meet shortened to one day because of cold weather. And though the Fairbanks winter has thus far brought a dearth of snow, there has been enough to ski on since Oct. 25, providing the Alaskans with a healthy training advantage.
Korthauer, a junior from Bonndorf, Germany, is hoping to pick up where he left off last season, when he won silver at the NCAA classic race and placed seventh in the freestyle despite falling during a chaotic mass-start that relegated him to the back of the pack. Dengel, a senior, culminated last season by placing seventh at the NCAA 20K freestyle.
Meanwhile, junior Vahur Teppan and freshman Henri Soom, both from Tartu, Estonia, bring their supreme gliding ability to the squad.
Gillis, from Fairbanks, used part of his redshirt last season to spend a semester in Sweden gathering Nordic skiing tips. His sister, Christina, is a freshman skier at NMU.
For the Nanook women, who won the school’s first CCSA title last year, twins Julia and Anna Coulter of Traverse City, Mich., Aurelia Korthauer (Marius’ sister) and Paula Daabach of Sweden form the Fab Four, but they have no established upperclassman to lead them.
“Everybody’s gotten fitter. I really have no idea how things are going to fall out,” said Jerome. “We just don’t have that leadership, that senior leadership that’s sort of setting the stride. As a result, the Fab Four are looking to each other for guidance, to push each other.”
Last season, Anna Coulter redshirted while Julia narrowly missed qualifying for NCAAs as the eight-ranked CCSA skier with seven earning berths.

Michigan Tech University

Michigan Tech is getting noticed both for its performance on the ski trails and for the high-profile events it’s been hosting.
Led by two-time NCAA All-American Kristina Owen, the Huskies placed third in the CCSA last season.
And the Michigan Tech Nordic Training Center, also known as the “Tech Trails,” last year hosted the U.S. Junior Nationals, the CCSA Championships and coming up Jan. 3-7 will feature its biggest event to date, the US Nationals, where many CCSA schools will face off against the top skiers in the nation.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not cooperated so far this season, and minimal snow forced the cancellation of the MTU Christmas Classic Dec. 16-17.
Michigan Tech coach Joe Haggenmiller is confident the trail will be in good shape for the US Nationals just three weeks away, though making snow artificially may be necessary.
“We also got a snow gun this year,” said Haggenmiller, adding that Tech will also host the event in 2008. “I’m pretty sure we’ll make it through this little (warm) spell. I know it’s going to get cold between now and Jan. 1.”
After being renovated five years ago, the 15-kilometer Tech Trails feature top-notch grooming and a converted pole barn for a waxing center, said Haggenmiller, MTU’s fourth-year coach.
“People are going to come here and see what fantastic trails we have,” said Haggenmiller, who competed at Northern Michigan from 1988-91. “I’d stack Michigan Tech up against any of them. Our terrain is just outstanding. The trails are laid out really nice.”
One skier who will benefit from a home-course advantage is Owen, last season’s CCSA 5-k classic champion, who placed ninth in classic and 17th in the freestyle race at the 2006 NCAAs in Steamboat Springs, Colo. She’s also seeking a spot at the Under-23 World Championships in Italy in late-January.
“She comes from pretty good roots,” Haggenmiller said of his engineering student from East Wenatchee, Wash. “Her mom was an NCAA All-American (skier) and her father was a runner at Western State (Colo.). The last three or four years she has started to train with the elite women in the country and her results are there.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Quinley of Anchorage, Alaska, is capable of having a breakthrough year, said Haggenmiller.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that she can contend for the Junior Worlds trip (in Italy) and hopefully be an NCAA qualifier and be competitive when she gets there,” said Haggenmiller.
Jenna Klein, a redshirt freshman from Ely, Minn., freshman recruit Kristen Monahan (St. Louis Park, Minn.) and freshman Hanna Stadem (Baxter, Minn.) could also contend for NCAA slots, said Haggenmiller.
At the season-opening meet Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich., Quinley won the women’s Older Junior division for the 5k classic, while Stadem placed sixth and Monahan 10th.
Owen and Klein placed sixth and eighth, respectively, in the women’s division.
The talented men’s side has depth but no clear frontrunner.
“We have a group of five, maybe six, guys that each could be challenging for NCAA berths,” said Haggenmiller.
Senior Aaron Ditty of Brooklyn Park, Minn., made the NCAAs last season and aims for a repeat visit.
Junior Chris Harvey and sophomore Jesse Lang, both from Minnesota, have fared well at past Junior Olympic races, while juniors Adam Airoldi (Everson, Wash.) and Kevin Heglund of Andover, Minn., also are capable. Sophomore Ben Beard is a skating specialist.
Lang led the group by placing eighth in the classic and sixth in the sprint at Ironwood.
Haggenmiller says Tech is striving to join what is considered the CCSA’s elite — NMU and Alaska-Fairbanks.
“We’re working hard to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak,” he said. “We’re moving from the second tier up to the first tier.”

Finlandia University

Across the Portage Canal from Houghton is Hancock’s Finlandia University, a DIII liberal arts school of 555 students competing in the CCSA for the third season.
The Lions have a half-dozen athletes that are gaining experience, said head coach Chris Schmidt, a former skier at Michigan Tech.
“We’ve been able to convert a few cross country runners and students from the general student body,” said Schmidt.
Leading the team is sophomore Heidi Butler, who skied for her high school team in Hoyt Lakes, Minn.
“Her heart is in the right place and she’s motivated and dedicated to the sport,” said Schmidt. “That makes coaching the program a lot more enjoyable, having athletes that are giving it their all. She’s the one skier who didn’t start from scratch.”
Nora Hyrkas, a senior from nearby Calumet, joins Butler on the women’s side.
“She decided to join the ski team to enjoy her last semester at school. She’s definitely the best athlete I’ve had on the team so far,” said Schmidt. “She’s an excellent runner and is completely committed and has picked up (skiing) technique real quick. She’s the kind of athlete I wish had joined the team three years ago.”
Justin Nantelle, a junior from Crystal Falls, Mich., is another runner making the switch to skiing boards, though knee injuries have limited him to classic skiing thus far.
“The one thing that a runner has going for them is that they have the mindset of how to train,” said Schmidt, whose team has the option of training on trails in Houghton, Hancock or Calumet. “A runner has the mentality to get out for a couple hours to train every day.”
Houghton’s Stephen Bosio, Adam Huey of Folsom, Calif., and Fred Knoch from Madison, Wisc., round out the men’s side.
In the future, Schmidt hopes to recruit athletes from Minnesota and Michigan and expand the team to full squads of six men and six women.
Due to race cancellations and minimal time on snow, Finlandia has not yet competed this season but plans to race at Northland College — weather permitting – on Jan. 7.
The CCSA’s expansion has been a positive move, he said.
“I hope we’re competitive with some of the new programs like Northland and St. Scholastica,” said Schmidt. “At least now we’ve got a broader range of abilities in the conference, which will make it more interesting, especially for those at the bottom end. Having skiers within reach will help everybody improve.”

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Butch is back.
After an eight-year hiatus, Butch Reimer returns to coach the Phoenix.
“It’s exciting,” said Reimer, who took the lengthy break so he could more regularly watch his school-age children compete in football and basketball. “I’m getting used to seeing the people again.”
Reimer coached at UWGB, the CCSA’s lone Division I program, from 1988-98, then gave way to former Phoenix skier Bryan Fish. When Fish moved on to coach the Midwest travel team CXC in April, Reimer decided to return.
Under Reimer’s previous direction, 29 UWGB skiers qualified for the NCAA Championships and the team won two regional and two conference titles.
Green Bay qualified Johanna Winters for the NCAAs the past two seasons, but she has since graduated. Qualifying athletes this season will be difficult, in part because the influx of foreign skiers has made it tougher for Phoenix skiers, said Reimer.
Last season, the Phoenix tied for fourth place in the CCSA with Gustavus Adolphus.
“To ski well, try to get to NCAAs if we can, and possibly get in the top three (CCSA) spots,” Reimer said of the team’s aspirations this season.
With a lack of snow in Green Bay so far, the team has trained by rollerskiing and running, though it did travel to Ironwood, Mich., for the Grandview XC Classic Dec. 9-10.
Reimer has just three women on this year’s roster but boasts a large group of capable men.
“Any of the top seven of my guys could probably pop one off,” said Reimer.
Freshman Santi Ocariz (Spooner, Wisc.), who redshirted last season, leads the group.
“He’s probably my best skier. I think he could do some damage,” said Reimer. “He’ll be right there with the Northern (Michigan) guys.”
Ocariz, who has dual citizenship and a Spanish heritage, led the Phoenix in 12th place in the Ironwood 10k despite stepping into classic skis for the first time this season.
Junior Tim Damrow, a transfer from Colorado University, is a former Junior Olympic sprint champion while junior Bryan Gastonguay is also a strong sprinter.
Casey Krueger (Ashwaubenon, Wisc.), is the only male senior and will be looked to for leadership.
“If I did name a captain, he’d be one of them for sure,” said Reimer.
Comprising the women’s team are junior Jenna Dickinson, a transfer from Northern Michigan, where she swam instead of skied; senior Rosy Walsh, who was in India last year; and junior Ashley Pletcher.
UWGB is known more for its DI basketball team and Green Bay Packer football-mania envelops the town, but Reimer is looking to increase the visibility of his Nordic skiers.
“It’s great to see all these skiers,” said Reimer, whose roster runs 15 deep, all from the Midwest. “My philosophy is to get as many skiers as you can. I’m actually excited (to be back). It’s a new challenge.”

Northland College

Creating a varsity sport for Nordic skiing at Northland College has been a group effort involving students, administrators and the community.
Sara Domek was a leader of that effort, and now the junior from Cora, Wyo., is a leader for the Lumberjills (and Lumberjacks). That’s because Northland, a 750-student Division III college on the shore of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wisc,, has joined the CCSA this season.
“We’ve had a ski club for awhile. (Domek) was really the spearhead of that club,” said Northland coach David Beeksma.
Domek also spearheaded the idea of promoting skiing beyond the club status, said Beeksma. A group of students met with the school’s president to get the ball rolling down the ski hill, and once startup funding was secured, the school’s Board of Trustees approved the proposal.
Last May, Beeksma was promoted from part-time cross country running coach to full-time running and skiing coach. Since then he’s put together a group of 15 athletes — a handful with skiing backgrounds and others who have the interest and desire but lack experience.
“I had four who I knew had experience and were going to join the team.The other 11 are brand new to the sport, especially from the competitive side,” said Beeksma. “Some of them have never been on skis before. It’s been a lot of teaching and patience. It’s been an interesting bag where I have a couple of athletes who are fit, and I’ve got to spend a lot of time with the first-timers so they can get around a lap without breaking a leg.”
The school’s first meet was the Grandview XC Challenge Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich., where senior Justin Brewster and freshman Kerry Soltis made school history as the first varsity athletes to finish a Nordic ski race.
“The best way to sum it up was everybody was ecstatic just to get out and get their feet wet,” said Beeksma of the five student-athletes who competed in Ironwood. “They’re just glad to have the opportunity. There’s no pressure or expectations. There’s just enjoying the sport.”
In addition to Domek and Soltis (Elk River, Minn.), freshman Natalie Morse-Noland (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) comes to the Lumberjills with prior skiing experience.
For the Lumberjacks, joining Brewster as leaders are sophomore Shannon Flynn from Spooner, Wisc., and senior Jeremy Voss.
As the team gains experience, their expectations will also rise.
“Every year the goal will be as we grow the program, we’ll have less and less of the beginners and (field) a team of competitive skiers coming out of high school,” said Beeksma.
Snow conditions permitting, the team will host the Northland Invite Jan. 7 against budding CCSA programs Finlandia University and St. Cloud State.
Beeksma is assisted by a trio of volunteer coaches — Dr. Kathy Gang plus Northland alumni Ray Wise and Blaise Sopiwnik.
The ski team’s creation has created a buzz around Ashland.
“The campus is very excited and the community has been extremely supportive,” said Beeksma. “People are asking “What can we do to help the program grow and succeed?’


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