The Central Collegiate Ski Association released its coaches and athletes of the year last week. The honors were voted upon by a coach representing each school to reward successes in the 2009-10 ski season. Santiago Ocariz of Wisconsin-Green Bay was the recipient of Male Athlete of the Year, and Northern Michigan’s Laura DeWitt was his counterpart, taking home Female Athlete of the Year. The male coach of the year was Butch Reimer, Ocariz’ coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, while Northern Michigan head coach Sten Fjeldheim and assistant coach Jenny Ryan took female coach of the year honors.
Ocariz, a senior from the small town of Spooner, Wisconsin, capped off a stellar Central Region career with consistent and impressive finishes this season. He had won several races in his junior campaign, but turned in an even stronger set of results for his final collegiate winter. Ocariz’ top-notch results began with performances at U.S. Nationals in January, at which he was the top collegiate skier, and extended through the CCSA’s regional season—during which time he won a majority of the races and finished as the top points-getter on the All-CCSA team.
The leadership role and key to team success did not go unnoticed by his coach, Butch Reimer, who credited Ocariz with a strong body of work throughout his seasons in Green Bay. “Santi skied very well at the end of the season and was very consistent throughout the year,” he said. “I think [he] had higher goals, but the NCAA Ski Championships are very tough.” Indeed, while Ocariz may not have finished as high as he wished at what were his 4th NCAA’s, he cracked the top 10 in the 20k freestyle to earn All-American honors with the best race in Phoenix history.
On the women’s side, Laura DeWitt was the CCSA’s skier of the year for the second season in a row. The Northern Michigan senior, out of Rhineland, New York, was part of a fearsome Wildcat attack that dominated the women’s ski scene and dominated several Central Regional competitions. Among these was the Central Regional Championships, at which NMU women swept the podium in both disciplines.
DeWitt qualified for her 3rd NCAA championships under the direction of coach Sten Fjeldheim, who could not be reached for comment. Although her results in the 2008-9 year weren’t up to her high standards, she improved on those this year with a 12th-place freestyle finish and an 8th-place classic race. Her classic result earned her All-American honors for the 2nd time in her career. The senior captain was the top CCSA woman in each of the NCAA races to cap off an impressive career.
Fjeldheim earned women’s coach of the year honors for the second straight winter as well and shared the honors with assistant coach Jenny Ryan. Fjeldheim began coaching at Northern Michigan in 1986 and, after leaving the team temporarily in 1994, returned to the Wildcat staff in 1997. Also a cross-country coach at the school, Fjeldheim has coached some singular talents including a host of nationally competitive collegiate skiers, some of whom have continued on to the Olympics.
While NCAA results may not have clearly reflected it, this was another extremely strong year for a fast group of Wildcat women. A full squad of DeWitt, Christina Gillis, and Monica Markvardsen qualified for NCAA’s, and Marie Helen Soderman joined these three on the All-CCSA team. Fjeldheim, native to Norway, and Ryan, from Burnsville, Minnesota, work together on the cross-country running teams as well as Nordic ski teams, and if the past few years are any indication, have done so with great success.
Butch Reimer is in the 4th year of his second stint with the Phoenix. He also coached the team from 1988-1998. He brought the Wisconsin-Green Bay program to some prominence in the 80’s and saw his team succeed this year based on the results of senior leader Santi Ocariz and a squad eager to gain experience. “It means a lot to me and to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay,” Reimer said of the award. Carolyn Freeman also qualified for the team from the womens’ side. Reimer and his team battled to keep up with the powerhouses of Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech and Alaska throughout the year and managed to hang pretty close in a couple races, especially during the best performances from junior Nick Maki, who may return next year as one of the fastest Phoenix.
And although Reimer deemed the 2009-10 campaign a “successful year,” for his program and for the region, he is already looking forward to next season. “We will be back with a stronger regional team next year,” Reimer said. “Our coaches will work even harder to make our region stronger. We have very good coaches in this region and they will have their skiers ready to go.” He continued with an optimistic outlook for his own team. “We will have depth on the women’s team but we will be young on the men’s side. Overall, both teams will be even better next year,” he ended hopefully. Reimer is assisted by Steve Teclaw, who is in his first year with the team.