The 5 and 10k nordic freestyle races opened a four-event weekend for the 2012 NCAA Skiing Championships. Both nordic races are being held on a 5.1k lap course at Bohart Ranch in Bozeman, Montana.
The trailhead at the venue is measured at 1859 meters (6100 feet) of elevation, the track winding through the woods up the side of the mountain and accumulating a total climb of 167 meters. The course begins with a couple steep climbs, mellows out for a rolling two kilometers, and then starts the last kilometer with a literal “Wall” of a climb. Before letting the racers back into the stadium, however, the course first grinds up a grueling uphill S-turn.
On Wednesday teams and spectators were greeted with spectacular sunshine and 30 degree temperatures, the wind picking up just as the men’s races began at 11am.
Maria Graefnings from the University of Utah and Erik Soderman of Northern Michigan University took home the first titles of the week with their respective victories.
Dartmouth topped the nordic team scores with a total of 214 points. The University of Vermont had the second highest team score with 183. The University of Utah just edged Montana State for third place, the U of U tallying a total of 179 points to MSU’s 176.
Women’s 5 Kilometer, Individual Start Skate Race:
Maria Graefnings won the women’s 5 k skate by an impressive 20 seconds, clocking 14:05.9. Graefnings, a senior at Utah who hails from Falun, Sweden, is no stranger to the podium. In 2011 she was designated FasterSkier.com’s Women’s Collegiate Skier of the Year after her highly successful RMISA season was capped with an NCAA 5k skate victory and runner-up performance in the classic.
This season Graefnings missed the first four RMISA qualifying races in order to train and race in Sweden and she returned stronger than ever, winning both Regional races handily.
“I’ve been feeling good since Regionals,” said Graefnings of her current race form, though she indicated that she did not take winning today’s race for granted.
“I knew I was in the lead after about two and a half K, but I had no idea how the girls behind me were doing, so when I finished I just had to wait and wait. Then I was super happy when I heard that I won.”
Graefnings enjoyed racing on a course that included such variation.
“I love this course. It’s tough, it’s challenge. It’s steep hills, it’s flat, it’s challenge downhill s – it is everything, so I like it a lot.”
Caitlin Patterson took second place with a time of 14.25.8 and Sophie Caldwell finished third with a time of 14:31.0. Patterson and Caldwell were the top freestyle point scorers in the Eastern Region (EISA), and yesterday’s performance showed again how closely matched the two competitors were. Patterson is a senior at the University of Vermont who spent this last summer training in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska.
Patterson said she had a good feeling about her own form even before she arrived in Bozeman, but that the strength of the field was harder to put a finger on.
“In past years I’ve been a little sick or unsure of how I am feeling,” said Patterson, “but this year I was pretty psyched to be feeling good.”
“But the podium is never guaranteed,” warned Patterson, “you can only control your own preparation and there’s definitely a lot of fast girls out here gunning for the podium too.”
Patterson said she dealt with the altitude by pacing the start of her race. Though she said she started “smooth and conservative as usual” when she tried to apply her finishing kick she could “feel the burn of altitude”.
“I actually didn’t feel like I could ‘kick it in’ quite as much as I wanted to, said Patterson, “but it was a good race.”
Caldwell is a Dartmouth senior whose hometown lies in Peru, Vermont. As the overall points leader from the EISA region, Caldwell says she had a hard time making a concrete goal knowing that the other two regions would bring strong competition to the field.
“The podium was my goal, admitted Caldwell, “but I really had no idea.”
Caldwell stuck to her race plan – skiing conservatively on the steep hills in order to apply speed to the flat sections, but said her legs still burned with unusual force by the four kilometer mark. At that time she got positive reinforcement via splits and was able to find momentum through the finish line. Caldwell crossed the line in third place with just .8 seconds to spare. Clocking in just behind her was another of Caldwell’s close eastern competitors, Lucy Garrec of UVM.
Garrec finished nine seconds ahead of fifth place finisher, Jaime Bronga of UAA. Utah’s Joanne Reid finished sixth and Erika Flowers (DAR) placed seventh. Amy Glenn was the third UVM finisher in eighth and Annie Hart was the third Dartmouth finisher in ninth, while Marie-Helen Soderman of NMU rounded out the top ten.
Men’s 10 Kilometer, Individual Start Skate
Erik Soderman was the dark horse surprise in yesterday’s races, and not only did he win the 10k contest, he bested the field by an impressive 25 seconds. Soderman is a sophomore at NMU whose hometown lies in Njurunda, Sweden. Though Soderman had just won both his regional CCSA races, his results at last year’s NCAA – 19th place skate and 39th in the 20k classic – hardly put him on the map as the man to beat.
According to second place finisher Miles Havlick, Soderstrom “wasn’t really on the radar”.
Though he admitted his win was “a bit surprising” Soderman was not overly taken aback by his performance.
“There’s always hope. Realistically I was going for top ten, but you always want to be up there of course.”
When asked how his race strategy differed from racing in the Midwest, Soderman remarked, “It’s the altitude that is the biggest difference, I would say. I was just trying to keep it consistent, keep a consistent pace and maintain that.”
Soderman knew he was a having good race when he got a split at the 7 kilometer mark that he was in the lead by 25 seconds, but says he was in the dark after that, and just had to put his head down and hammer until the finish. “The last few K’s I was just going for it.”
As the MVP points winner from the RMISA region, Havlick was one of several favorites to win today’s race, but he was pleased with his second place finish, saying, “There are a lot of fast guys here, so there’s no pressure on me, it’s been a good, consistent season and it’s just ‘do it to have fun’ and go as hard as I can.”
The University of Utah sophomore from Boulder, Colorado is used to skiing at altitude.
“We skied in Alaska down at sea level and that was pretty tough,” said Havlick, “you just have to hammer the whole time. Up here, this course doesn’t have much rest, so I was trying to just stay smooth and relaxed and then turn it on and throw down as much as I could on the second lap.”
Though Soderman was a surprise, Havlick was getting splits that indicated that it was a very close race. “Everyone else was really tight,” said Havlick, “within five seconds, so you just had to fight hard today.”
Sam Tarling finished third with a time of 25:53.6. Hailing from Cumberland Maine, the junior from Dartmouth College is known as a stronger skate skier. Though he was ranked second in the EISA division and earned a podium in every skate race, he did not win any of the races outright. Leading the Eastern division in yesterday’s race with his podium result would not have been as much of a surprise if Tarling had been feeling more race-ready.
“I had one good day when we did some threshold, but after that two days of just feeling terrible,” Tarling said of his adjustment to altitude. He had a hard time warming up the morning before the race, and it took outside feedback to let him know he was in the race at all.
“I thought I was going out way too slow. I was keeping it in threshold, but it felt just so slow so I was a little worried but then I kept getting positive splits and I was moving up. I knew there were a lot of fast guys behind me but I was happy with those splits I was getting and happy with my feeling going into the hills on the last lap, so I was able to hammer up the last big climb and gain a couple spots.”
“I haven’t had a good race at altitude in a long time,” admitted Tarling, “so it was really nice to come here and put down a good run.”
Those couple spots Tarling may have picked up on the hill included fourth place’s Michael Schallinger of Montana State, who missed Tarling – and the podium – by only two tenths of a second.
Fifth through tenth places were won by Rune Oedegaard (CU, 5th), Didrik Smith (UU, 6th), David Norris (MSU, 7th), Erik Packer (DAR), 8th, Kjell-Christian Markset (NMU, 9th), Tyler Reinking (MSU, 10th).
For those who had a good race on the first day of competition, Graefnings summed up the feeling of the morning.
“I felt good, super good, I mean the sun is shining, people everywhere cheering – just an awesome day.”
ALL AMERICAN WOMEN
1 GRAEFNINGS, Maria UU 14:05.9
2 PATTERSON, Caitlin UVM 14:25.8
3 CALDWELL, Sophie DAR 14:31.0
4 GARREC, Lucy UVM 14:31.8
5 BRONGA, Jaime UAA 14:40.8
6 REID, Joanne CU 14:48.4
7 FLOWERS, Erika DAR 14:50.9
8 GLEN, Amy UVM 15:02.8
9 HART, Annie DAR 15:08.1 3
10 SODERMAN, Marie-helen NMU 15:10.5
1 SODERMAN, Erik NMU 25:20.2
2 HAVLICK, Miles UU 25:45.2
3 TARLING, Sam DAR 25:53.6
4 SCHALLINGER, Michael MSU 25:53.8
5 OEDEGAARD, Rune CU 25:57.6
6 SMITH, Didrik UU 26:03.1
7 NORRIS, David MSU 26:03.9
8 PACKER, Eric DAR 26:09.9
9 MARKSET, Kjell-christian NMU 26:10.9
10 REINKING, Tyler MSU 26:12.3