Central Collegiate Ski Association Season Preview, Part 2

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.

CCSA Preview, part 2

(This is the second of a two-part series profiling the 12
schools in the Central Collegiate Ski Association. Part 2 chronicles the
half-dozen schools from Minnesota;
Part 1 detailed the six programs from Michigan,

Wisconsin and Alaska).

Gustavus Adolphus College-

Last season Gustavus Adolphus made school history when
Chandra Daw became the first skier — male or female — to qualify for the NCAA

This year the Golden Gusties of St. Peter, Minn., who tied
for fourth in the CCSA in 2005-06, are hungry for more.

“It was huge to get the first qualifier because it gave
confidence to a lot of our other skiers that they can do it (too),” said
third-year coach Jed Friedrich. “I think Chandra gave a positive message to the
rest of our skiers, and it motivated the rest of the team for summer training.”

Daw, since graduated and now coaching at St.
and St. Benedict, impressively qualified last
season when the Central Region had just seven available NCAA spots for women.
With 10 berths to be earned for 2007, the Gusties’ prospects are even better
this season, especially with eight capable women.

“It definitely improves our chances because in the past
couple years we’ve had skiers in the bubble area,” said Friedrich, a 2003
graduate of Northern Michigan
. “(But) it’s going to
get tougher because all of the skiers in the Central Region are getting

The GAC women finished third at the 2006 CCSA Championships,
trailing only powerhouses NMU and the Alaska Nanooks and ahead of larger
schools such as Michigan Tech and Wisconsin-Green
. They hope to repeat that
podium position this season.

The all-Minnesota women’s roster consists of senior Ritva
Taipale, juniors Sarah Willis, Kathleen DeWahl and Laura Edlund, sophomores
Allison Bohn, Kelly Chaudoin and Kathryn Ladig and freshman Brynden

“I see all of those ladies contending for (NCAA) spots,”
said Friedrich, who in 2004-05 replaced Scott Jerome, now the coach at Alaska
Fairbanks. “It’s going to be really tight. We have some good competition
intrasquad. At this point I don’t want to rule out anyone.”

Brynden may miss most of January, however, to compete at the
World Junior Biathlon Championship in Italy
and possibly other events in Europe.

“She’s the top junior biathlete in the country right now,”
said Friedrich.

Brynden’s brother, Kevin, is also a highly ranked biathlete
for the Gusties.

Kevin, a junior who took the last two seasons off to focus
on biathlon, will compete with nine GAC teammates at the U.S. Nationals Jan.
3-7 in Houghton, Mich.,
then also will spend most of January in Europe for World
Cup level biathlon races.

Friedrich’s goal for the five-person men’s team is to be the
best Division III team in the conference.

“The guys are young and a little bit less experienced, but
they’re dedicated,” said Friedrich. “They’ll be competing well against the
other small schools in our region.”

Due to the lack of snow in Minnesota,
the team has mostly been rollerskiing so far this season, though they have roadtripped
to the Minneapolis area a couple
times to ski on man-made snow. They also traveled north to the Upper Peninsula
of Michigan for the Grandview XC Ski Challenge Dec. 9-10.

Though Friedrich has no scholarships to award because GAC is
a Division III school, he said the academic reputation of Gustavus Adolphus
sells many prospective skiers on the school.

“Gustavus is nice because we’re one of the top academic
institutions of all the ski schools,” said Friedrich.

The College of Saint Scholastica-

The surprising thing is not that a school in Duluth,
has a Nordic skiing program; the
shocker is that it took so long.

The College of Saint
becomes the first varsity program in
this snow-rich town on Lake Superior, and former
world-class biathlete Chad Salmela is the Saints’ first coach.

“There’s numbers (of skiers),
there’s reliable snow, we’ve got a captive audience. People like
Duluth. It’s a great place to ski,” said Salmela, who was hired
this summer and is assisted by Brad Nelson and volunteer Andre Watt.
“If you look at the city of Duluth, there’s pretty reliable annual snowfall and four
regularly groomed ski areas just about within walking distance of the (CSS) campus.
It’s a no-brainer to have a college ski program in this town.”

But until now St. Scholastica and
University of Minnesota-Duluth have only had campus clubs that didn’t focus on racing.

Salmela aims to put the Saints on the skiing map, but
considering his late hiring and lack of scholarships to work with for the Division
III program, that process may take some time.

“To be quite honest, I had very
little time to even recruit. I wasn’t hired until July,” said Salmela, adding
that the team will add a summer training program before next season. “For the
time frame I had, we’re doing really well for our first year.”

Salmela does have a pair of young
leaders on the men’s team in
Duluth sophomores Jason Kask and Tyler Kjorstad.

Kask is a transfer from Northern
Michigan University
who placed ninth in the 10-kilometer classic against
stellar competition at the Grandview XC Challenge Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich.
Kjorstad, who grew up playing hockey, was 12th in the sprint and 17th

in the classic at the Saints’ inaugural meet.

“Putting a guy at NCAAs in the
first year of the program is a tough job, but I’m not shooting for anything
less than at least one of the two guys (making it),” said Salmela.

Kjorstad did not begin prep skiing
until his junior year at
, where Salmela coached him in cross country running, but not

“In what can only be described as
one of the most dramatic and meteoric rises to prominence in Minnesota high
school skiing, Tyler improved from near dead last his junior year to second in
the 5-k classic his senior year,” the Saints’ Web site touted.

St. Scholastica is inescapably young as 18 of the 24 men and
women listed on the roster are underclassmen.

Freshman Megan Holmes (Gilbert. Minn.)
and biathlete Ellen Anderson (Ely, Minn.)
lead the women’s team.

“Those two girls, if they pop a top 15 (in a CCSA race),
that’s a good step for us,” said Salmela.

Holmes, Anderson, Kask and Kjorstad will compete at the U.S.
Nationals Jan. 3-7 in the Upper Peninsula town of Houghton,


Over Thanksgiving break, the team bonded at a weeklong
training camp in West Yellowstone, Mont., then shortly thereafter made history
in its first intercollegiate race.

Competing in a CSS uniform, regardless of place, was a
thrill for the Saints at the Grandview Meet.

“We’re the first generation of
this program,” said Salmela. “When we left and got in the van to go home on
Sunday, I think there was a great sense of pride that we can hold our heads
high as a new program and not get pushed around.”

St. Olaf College-

After four years of skiing at St. Olaf, Ollie Garrison graduated
from the liberal arts college last spring and headed home to Massachusetts,
unsuspecting of what was about to happen.

A few months later, the 23-year-old boomeranged back to Northfield,
, as the Oles head ski coach and the
youngest mentor in the CCSA.

“I had no idea (I’d be back). I
really didn’t. I made my peace with the school and went home,” said Garrison,
who replaces Kevin Brochman. “I’m so glad I got the position and I’ve been
happy with it so far. It’s a great opportunity to be able to do this

Despite his youth, Garrison said being a St. Olaf alumnus is
a major plus.

“It’s a really big advantage. A
lot of coaches spend the first year just getting to know the school,” said
Garrison. “That’s what I already have under my belt – just knowing the
athletes, knowing the school, where to train.”

One former standout teammate he
won’t have around any more, however, is Karl Nygren, who qualified as the lone
Ole for the 2006 NCAA Championships as a freshman but then decided to transfer
to the
University of Colorado. Nygren will be missed; he was the school’s first NCAA
participant in five years.

In addition, the team lost
Garrison, at least as a competitor, so the men need to rebuild.

“For the guys, it’s definitely
looking to be a developing year,” said Garrison. “We have a bunch of new skiers
coming in who need to take leadership roles. They’re anxious to do it.”

Senior captain Nels Dyste spent
the fall semester in
Germany on an exchange program but has returned and will be looked
to for leadership.

Meanwhile, the anticipated number
two skier, Jim Vaillancourt, came down with mononucleosis and will require time
to return to full strength, said Garrison.

“The guys I’ve got are committed
and they’re good athletes,” he said. “We can get somewhere with hard work.”

For the women, senior Linn Dale
heads the team.

“She’s Norwegian but has been
going to school here the past four years. She went to high school in
Bloomington,” said Garrison. “She has a definite shot at qualifying
for NCAAs this year. I really think she can crack in there.”

Sophomore Shaina Short (Plymouth, Minn.) and junior Jennie Hedberg (Eden Prairie,
), a proven runner, will try to help compensate for the
loss of 2006 standouts Audrey Weber and Bria Schurke.

The Oles have not yet competed this
season but did conduct a weeklong training camp over Thanksgiving in West
Yellowstone, Mont. And the team will send six men and six women to the first
two races at the U.S. Nationals, which begin Jan. 3 in
Houghton, Mich.

“My goal as a coach in the next couple
years is to be the best in
said Garrison. “After that I’m planning to put someone in the NCAAs on a yearly

College of

Saint Benedict (women) and Saint John’s University (men)-

Located about a 10-kilometer jaunt apart are the College
of Saint Benedict
(for women) in St.
, Minn.
, and Saint

(for men) in Collegeville.

The central Minnesota
schools near St. Cloud share an
academic program — St. Benedict was founded by Benedictine nuns and St.
by Benedictine monks — but have separate
athletic programs, campuses, residence halls and traditions.

They also share the mission of improving on the ski trails
while getting a solid education at schools both ranked in the top three among
Catholic liberal arts institutions in the nation.

“Our kids are here because skiing is something they love to
do and they want to race in college,” said David Johnson, the seventh-year
coach at both schools. “They happen to also be very bright so what they do in
the classroom is also important for the future.”

Each school also happens to have talented skiers, including
a foursome at St. Benedict comprised of senior Kelly
Wubbels, sophomores Rebecca Mueller and Maggie Donohue and freshman Anna
Roessler, an elite junior biathlete.

“I’m guessing that one of them may find their way to the top
of the team,” said Johnson. “There’s 10 slots now (for the NCAA Championships),
so there’s a shot now for somebody other than Northern (Michigan)
and (Alaska) Fairbanks.
I think some of the smaller schools have a chance.”

At the team’s first competition this season, the Grandview
XC Classic Dec. 9-10 at Ironwood, Mich., Donahue and Roessler led the Blazers
by both finishing in the top seven for the Older Junior division in sprint and
5-k classic races.

“It went very well,” Johnson said of the races that most
CCSA schools attended. “We had four women in the OJ finals – one (of them) in
the A finals and three women in the B finals in the sprints.”

The Blazers and Johnnies also now have NCAA-experience
affiliated with the team as Chandra (Daw) Zeigler, who skied for Gustavus
Adolphus last season and competed at the 2006 NCAAs, will be their assistant

The men at St. John’s
are a relatively young group led by Minneapolis-area seniors Tom Dehler and Erik

“We would like to break into the top 15 in the region,” said

Seniors Seth Spencer (Duluth)
and Keegan O’Hara (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
are also on the 12-man roster.

“We would like to
gain the respect of the rest of the skiers,” said Johnson, who will bring a
group to the U.S Nationals Jan. 3-7 in Houghton,

Mich. “We’re working just as hard. Our
mission is to be competitive.”

St. Cloud State University-

The more, the merrier for the CCSA, says St.
State University

coach Jeremy Frost.

With newcomers St. Scholastica from Duluth,
, and Northland

College from Ashland,
, joining this season, the conference
sits at a healthy 12 teams and Frost says there’s room for further expansion.

Minnesota schools
like Carleton College
and Macalester College

used to field varsity squads but now compete on a club level.

“I think if those schools wanted
to join, we would definitely welcome them back in,” said Frost. “The more teams
we have, the better it is for everyone.”

Other schools like the University
of Minnesota
, St. Mary’s in Winona
and Minnesota-Duluth only field clubs.

The Minnesota College Cup races, of which there are a
handful this season, aim to bring all the state’s teams together to compete,
regardless of varsity or club affiliation. St. Cloud,
which only sports a women’s team, will host one such event on Feb. 10.

The Huskies, as a Division II program (the only one from Minnesota)
are permitted to offer scholarships, and have a half-dozen skiers on their
roster this season.

“It’s a pretty young team, one
junior and all the rest freshman, but it’s a pretty solid base to start from,”
said Frost, coaching his sixth season. “Right now we’re really looking to gain
experience in the CCSA races so that we can see what it is we need to do to

The team’s lone upperclassman is
Stephanie Swenson from nearby
Big Lake, who skied for Minnesota-Duluth’s club team last year.
Katy Shaver from
and Canadian
Melissa Walden (
, Ontario
) head the freshman quintet.

Cassi Leoni (Ely, Minn.), Danielle Moe (Hayward, Wis.) and Katelyn Prow (Sauk Rapids, Minn.) round out the team.

The reason for St. Cloud‘s female-only status is the program was created in the
late 1990s to help the school comply with NCAA gender-equity requirements.
Therefore Frost doesn’t foresee the school adding a men’s program anytime soon.

“At this point I don’t think there
has been any talk of that,” said Frost. “If the opportunity presented itself we would just be all over
it, but at this point it’s not in the cards. The upside is we’re able to put
all our resources in the women’s side.”

Because of minimal snow, the team
has done its share of rollerskiing for training this season but also commutes a
couple times a week to ski on man-made snow. On Dec. 9-10, the Huskies traveled
to Ironwood,
Mich., for the Grandview XC Ski Challenge on real snow. And from
Jan. 3-7, Swenson, Shaver and Walden will compete at the U.S. Nationals in
Houghton, Mich.

“It was a great experience. At
this point in the season, you just get real excited to be on snow. We haven’t
had a huge opportunity to do that,” said Frost of the Ironwood meet. “Swenson
and Shaver advanced in the sprints from the qualifying round. That was great to


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