Elite Team Preview: Alberta World Cup Academy

Alex KochonAugust 15, 2012
The Alberta World Cup Academy team behind a banner promoting the upcoming World Cup races from Dec. 13-16 in Canmore, Alberta, during a Canada Day parade July 1 in downtown Canmore. (AWCA courtesy photo)

This is the third preview in a quick-and-dirty series about Canadian national-training centres. We asked coaches to send their 2012/2013 rosters and tell us what’s new for the coming season. We will be publishing additional reports over the next few weeks. Teams are presented in no particular order.

Team: Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA)

Coaches: Chris Jeffries (head coach/women’s coach), Mike Cavaliere (racing director/men’s coach), George Grey (women’s assistant coach), Stefan Kuhn (universal coach/men’s assistant), Jeremy Hecker (summer intern), Rob Soffer (strength and conditioning trainer), Shelly Collier (strength and conditioning)

Roster: 20 senior athletes, eight of which are on the Canadian Senior Development Team (SDT), between the men’s and women’s teams

The 2012/2013 AWCA women’s team stops for a photo while rollerskiing on Palliser Range in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. (AWCA courtesy photo)

Men: Kevin Sandau (SDT), Graham Nishikawa (SDT), Graeme Killick (SDT), Brent McMurtry (SDT), Jess Cockney (SDT), Mike Somppi (SDT), Phil Widmer, Patrick Stewart-Jones, Matt Wylie, Russell Kennedy, Chris Hamilton

Women: Emily Nishikawa (SDT), Alysson Marshall (SDT), Kate Brennan, Janelle Greer, Annika Hicks, Heidi Widmer, Alana Thomas, Marlis Kromm, Rebecca Reid

Who’s new: Four men – McMurtry (from Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre), Somppi (NDC Thunder Bay), Hamilton (NDC Thunder Bay) and Kennedy (Canmore Nordic Ski Club).

Three women – Thomas (from Nakkertok), Greer and Reid (first-year seniors).

Also on the team, three juniors all born before 1994: Dahria Beatty, Suzanne Stevenson and Brittany Evans. According to Jeffries, this is notable since the team didn’t have any female applicants or additions last year and received as many as 20 applications this spring. This year, the women’s team – with 12 total skiers – exceeds the men’s by one.

Who’s missing: Drew Goldsack (retired), Zach Holland (pursuing education), Pate Neumann (Canmore Nordic Ski Club), Bob Thompson (NDC Thunder Bay), Gerard Garnier, Joey Burton.

“All of the above are very good skiers, it is just challenging because of the strength of the group and our applications,” Cavaliere wrote in an email. “Drew had a great career and always brought a lot of professionalism to our team, and we wish him the best … and we are sure he will make some great contributions to skiing in the future.”

Top results last season: Sandau and Marshall clinched the overall men’s and women’s NorAm titles, respectively, to secure World Cup starts and start in prime positions this season.

Cockney celebrates winning the 1.6 k NorAm freestyle sprint ‘A’ final at Black Jack Ski Club in Rossland, British Columbia. (Photo by Dan Roycroft/AWCA)

Cockney won three NorAm skate sprints, including his first of the season in Rossland, B.C., where he skied away from the pack and ahead of the crashes to come out on top. According to Cavaliere, that style is what they’re looking for.

“Take some chances, be aggressive and go for it,” Cavaliere wrote.

The next day, Cockney pushed his teammate Sandau to win the mass start after hanging with him for several laps.

“It has been a great couple of years watching the overall progression of the group and their ability to push each other in races,” Cavaliere added about the Academy, now in its fifth season.

In all, eight AWCA athletes won races last year, and two more, Greer and Reid, topped junior podiums. Sandau won four NorAms and placed second in four others, battling with McMurtry throughout the season for the overall title. He went on to notch a World Cup career-best of 37th in a 35 k mass start in Falun, Sweden.

McMurtry was a runner-up at five straight NorAms then finished fourth before securing his first win, and closed the season with four victories. Like Sandau, Graham Nishikawa earned some World Cup starts, and back home, he won a NorAm 15 k pursuit in Canmore, Alberta, and finished fourth at Canadian nationals in the 50 k classic mass start. Killick started last season with a 10 k classic SuperTour win in West Yellowstone, Mont., and later won the Mont Orford NorAm 15 k skate. Phil Widmer won the NorAm skate sprint in Whistler, B.C., and placed third in the sprint at nationals.

Heidi Widmer leads AWCA teammates Marshall (c) and Nishikawa (r) in the NorAm skate sprint semifinal at the Canmore Nordic Centre in on Jan. 21. Marshall won the A-final, Widmer was second and Nishikawa was fifth. (Photo courtesy of Angus Cockney)

Widmer’s younger sister, Heidi, also won a NorAm skate sprint. She turned 21 shortly after the U23 World Championships in Erzurum, Turkey, where she was 27th in a skate sprint.

The two women on the senior development team, Marshall and Emily Nishikawa had a rivalry similar to Sandau and McMurtry on the NorAm circuit, except Marshall and Nishikawa were teammates last year. Marshall tallied two NorAm sprint victories (four if you take out U.S. Ski Team member Jessie Diggins in two early NorAm sprints). She placed 35th in a World Cup skate sprint in Poland and 37th in a classic sprint in Lahti, Finland, and at nationals, the 24-year-old was second in the 10 k skate.

Nishikawa, 23, won the 10 k at nationals, which might have been a bit of redemption for missing out on a trip to the World Cup last season. Either way, she went to U23 World Championships, where she placed 17th in a 10 k classic, and tallied five NorAm wins mostly in distance events.

As part of a new arrangement with the national team, Marshall and Nishikawa have been training with the women’s World Cup skiers (Chandra Crawford, Perianne Jones and Dasha Gaiazova) while they’re in Canmore. Later this week, most of them will meet up in Whitefish, Mont., for an AWCA camp.

Coach’s comment: After dividing the team into men’s and women’s training groups this spring, Jeffries wrote in an email that the program has become more manageable.

World Cup Academy members getting ready for a rollerski in Canmore in August. (AWCA photo)

“Each coach has a more defined role and can better focus on individual athletes vs. group management,” he wrote.

Personally, Cavaliere’s satisfied to see the transition working. “Both groups are happy and working well with the coaches,” he wrote. “We love what we see.”

At the same time, the Academy’s philosophy remains the same.

“We generally focus on the process-progress of each individual and against themselves,” Cavaliere added.

Nothing’s really changed in terms of goals; they want to place athletes on the World Cup team and start as many World Cups as possible.

“We always view our job as getting them to 97% and let the [World Cup] coaches and IST [Integrated Support Team] get them from 97-100,” Cavaliere wrote. “We are always being creative in the type of training and work we do to close the gaps and strengthen each individual. This is what makes being involved with our team so exciting – lots of perspectives and diverse ideas.”

Canmore in July. (AWCA photo)

Five years since Cavaliere created the training centre, which has quickly become a development powerhouse, he acknowledged its challenges. Financially, providing the highest level of support for a couple dozen athletes isn’t easy.

“I think we just have to accept that we have to balance a fine line between what is a need vs. a want,” he wrote. “I believe we can afford everything we need. Having the WC/Nationals in the west always helps our budget a lot. We also hope to get more involved in some business ventures, which may help generate some consistent funding.”

After two Olympians, Grey and Kuhn, joined the coaching staff last year, Grey is balancing another life change – a baby – and recently moved back to Rossland to be with his new family. Cavaliere explained his team involvement will be camp and competition specific.

“We will still use George as he is an incredible resource, but we have an efficient system and lot of knowledge,” he added. “He all just have to work a little harder.”

AWCA skiers, including Kevin Sandau (r), get the crowd going while rollerskiing through a Canada Day parade on July 1 in downtown Canmore, Alberta. (AWCA photo)


Other previews: NDC Thunder Bay | Pierre-Harvey NTC

Related: Canadian National Team, World Cup Academy on Same Track

Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (alexkochon@gmail.com) is a former FasterSkier editor and roving reporter who never really lost touch with the nordic scene. A freelance writer, editor, and outdoor-loving mom of two, she lives in northeastern New York and enjoys adventuring in the Adirondacks. She shares her passion for sports and recreation as the co-founder of "Ride On! Mountain Bike Trail Guide" and a sales and content contributor at Curated.com. When she's not skiing or chasing her kids around, Alex assists authors as a production and marketing coordinator for iPub Global Connection.

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