The Central Region Ski Championships are Saturday (Feb. 17) and Sunday (Feb. 18) at the Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming, Mich.
All 12 teams from the Central Collegiate Ski Association are competing; at stake is the conference championship plus 19 slots for the NCAA Skiiing Championships in next month.
The Alaska Nanooks last season wrested the CCSA title away from Northern Michigan University, which had won the crown every year since 1999 (Alaska and NMU tied in 2004).
The Nanooks have their hands full trying to defend their title against a stacked NMU squad.
NMU's women have excelled this season, with eight skiers ranked among the top 15 in the current NCAA-qualification standings (each school can only send three men and three women to NCAAs, however).
NMU's top skier, Lindsey Weier, will miss the races on her home course because she is with the US Ski Team at the World Cross Country Ski Championships in Japan.
Aurelia Korthauer (No. 3) paces Alaska, while Kristina Owen (No. 6) leads Michigan Tech and Linn Dale (No. 12) is the top skier from the conference's Minnesota schools.
Ten women will qualify for NCAAs, with Sarah Willis of Gustavus Adolphus College currently in the final spot.
On the men's side, Alaska has the first and third-ranked skiers in German Marius Korthauer and Estonian Vahur Teppan. But NMU hopes to offset that with four in the top nine, led by second-ranked Norwegian Martin Banerud.
Currently, Henri Soom of Alaska, Tyler Kjorstad of St. Scholastica and Santiago Ocariz of Wisconsin-Green Bay are battling for the ninth and final NCAA spot.
Owen won the women's CCSA classic championship last year while Tami Kochen (since graduated from NMU) took the freestyle. Defending men's champs are Marius Korthauer in freestyle and Bryan Cook (since graduated from NMU) in classic.
The conference had its quota increased and earned extra spots (19 compared to 13 last year) based on strong performances at NCAAs the past two years.
“It's good for Central skiing that more skiers and more schools are getting a chance to compete at the national championships,” said Alaska coach Scott Jerome.
The races are the conference's fourth and final 2007 NCAA qualifier.
The weekend schedule calls for interval-start freestyle races on Saturday, with the men skating 10 kilometers at 9:30 a.m. and the women going 5K at 11 a.m.
Sunday features a mass-start classical race: women stride 10K at 9:30 a.m. while the men go 15K at 11 a.m.