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2001-2002 Midwest Collegiate Nordic Skiing Preview

By Corey Coogan
January 24, 2002

About Collegiate Nordic Skiing

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the national governing body for the highest level collegiate Nordic skiing competition in the United States. Just as in other sports, NCAA divides schools by size, into Divisions I, II, and III in the case of skiing,. NCAA permits both divisions I and division II schools to give skiing scholarships. Division III schools are forbidden to do so. Despite this, all sizes of schools compete in one NCAA Skiing Championships. Thus, non-scholarshiped athletes and scholarshiped athletes compete side by side. This year’s championships will be hosted by the University of Alaska-Anchorage. All Nordic competition will take place on the school’s home course of Kincaid Park.

Midwestern Colleges with skiing compete in the Central Collegiate Skiing Association (CCSA). CCSA is the governing body for collegiate skiing in the Midwest and determines which athletes will move on from central to compete in NCAAs. Interestingly, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks has the dubious pleasure of being part of CCSA, a fact which forces them to fly across five time zones to race. (The two Alaska universities with skiing, Anchorage and Fairbanks, needed to be placed somewhere, so NCAA sent Anchorage to the Western Region to compete against such schools as Universities of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, etc. Fairbanks was sent to Central because its small enrollment size better matched those of most central schools. In contrast, University of Alaska-Anchorage is Division I, and so is among the majority in the west.)

CCSA is permitted to select one team of three plus three individual competitors to attend NCCAs. In an expense saving move, NCCA limits scoring squads to three. CCSA schools may race more than three skiers at central events, but only three skiers per team score, and only three advance to NCAAs. Central collegiate athletes compete in four weekend (two day) competitions over the course of the season. From this series of races, CCSA ranks athletes using best two results from each discipline (skate and classic). Top athletes and teams are announced and given berths to NCAAs at the final CCSA event: the Regional Championships.

NCAA skiers compete in both skate and classical. At the national championships, there is one long race (15 kilometers for women and 20 kilometers for men) and one short race (5 kilometers for women and 10 for men). The technique used for each race (short and long) changes every two years. In 2002, the short race will be classic style. Thus, the long race will be skating.

Womens Nordic Skiing

The Central Collegiate Ski Association is lucky to possess the nation’s top womens team: Northern Michigan University (Marquette, MI). At the 2001 NCAA Nationals, Northern’s womens trio of Aubrey Smith, Melissa Oram, and Caitlin Compton won the womens team competition in both the skate and classic. In both races, Smith and Oram were the top-American finishers, earning “All-American” status. (Smith was third in the classic and second in the skate. Oram went fourth in the classic and fifth in the skate.)

Fortunately, this trio returns to competition in the 2002 season, as Smith and Oram are both seniors and Compton is a junior. Further strengthening the team are local notables Jordan Seethaler and Rachel Daw (four-time Minnesota State Champion), who bring added experience to the team, having both competed in Junior Worlds in 2001. New and fast recruits include Tami Kochen (a top-five finisher in both the skate and classic at 2001 Junior Olympics from Boulder, Colorado), Shannon Dikkema (a Canadian with Noram and Nationals experience), Maggie Sorrenson (a top Duluth-East skier), and Katherine Huemmer (formerly of University of Minnesota-Morris).

While Northern most likely will not be challenged for the top spot in CCSA, the battle for second should be tight. Four teams: Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI), St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN), University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay all may have the racers necessary to take this runner-up spot.

Michigan Technological University’s top-female skier is Leah Zimmer, a senior who missed a trip to Nationals by just one place in 2000 and 2001. “Zimmer remains motivated ...[and] has done everything possible to go out with a bang. With her fitness and form at new levels, [Zimmer] will be full of fight, according to Tech’s coach, Gary Nichols. Other Tech women, Jenny McConville and Toni McKnight “will need to be more consistent if [the women’s team] wants to stay near the top...but are very capable of breakout seasons” (Nichols).

St. Olaf returns two seniors with nationals experience: Sonja Bostrom who has made two trips to NCAAs (2000 and 2001), and Hillary McCulloh who made one (2000). Both hope to end their college careers with yet another trip to NCAAs. They recently returned from U.S. Nationals, where Sonja earned a team-best placing 16th in the skate race. St. Olaf has also added some depth this year with two new freshmen: Alina Evans from Fairbanks, Alaska and Kelly Underkofler from St. Paul, Minnesota. Both of these athletes have earned the right to compete on Olaf’s 2002 traveling team.

The University of Alaska-Fairbanks has experienced some significant losses to graduation, but retains its top skier, and several talented others, including new recruits. Nanook skiers will travel over five time zones to compete the Central Collegiate Skiing Association, bringing early-season on-snow experience with them. Norwegian Sigrid Aas is expected to lead the team again in 2002. This excellent classic skier hopes to build on her top results (15th in the classic and 28th in the skate) at last year’s NCAA Championships. She began her season on November 4th with a 27th place result at the Fairbanks Continental Cup 10 kilometer classic. Also returning from 2001 is Erinn Whitmer, who will solidly back-up Aas, and could even best her in skating. Not to be overlooked are Diana Heimerl, Anna Sorenson, and Mishelle Norris. Both Heimerl and Norris attended the Junior Olympics in 2001.

2001 saw University of Wisconsin-Green Bay produce its strongest-ever female skier: Laura Anderson, who skied to 9th in the NCAA skate to become Green Bay’s first All-American women. Unfortunately, Green Bay has lost Anderson to graduation. This year’s team looks to be lead by upperclassmen Anne Fait (junior) and Kate Thompson (senior). UWGB also possesses some young athletes with lots of racing experience including Marina Martin, Valerie Waldoch, and Angela Gaetz.

Making its way up the CCSA ranks is Gustavus’ Womens’ Nordic Team. Its program is very young: 2002 marks just its third season, and only its second under head coach Scott Jerome. Gustavus College’s support of its ski team and Jerome’s experience as former assistant of Northern Michigan University’s ski team has brought this program’s results swiftly upward. In 2002, the team should be lead by Swedish exchange student and first-year Gustavus skier Emma Stefansson. Top Gustavus skiers from 2001, Ingrid Olson and Britta Carlson, return for 2002, and should use their experience to finish just behind Stefansson. Also likely to score for the team is Kelly Damrow, a first-year Gustavus student, formerly of Roseville High School.

Carleton College’s women’s team is young, but developing, in 2002. The team is lead by junior Liz Parke who competed at this year’s U.S. Nationals, and in the words of Carleton College’s assistant coach, Siiri Carver, “...put together some good performances to show that Carleton is a competitive program that is continually growing.” Carleton has had a tremendous recruiting year, as it welcomes no less than seven freshmen (men and women). Top female recruits include Marissa Sowles from North Yarmouth, Maine and Eulaila Ishee from Charlotte, Vermont. These two “tough freshmen” have many years of experience racing the New England Junior Olympic qualifying circuit between them.

St. Cloud State University’s Womens Nordic Ski Team begins 2002 with a new head coach. However, the top of the roster remains unchanged as SCSU standout Kay Adamson is returning for another season. Other strong skiers on the St. Cloud team include veterans Jamie Petsch (junior), Jenny Lanin (junior), and Jenni Mead (sophomore). Rachel Norman begins her first year skiing for SCSU and will be on the traveling team.

Macalester College faces something of a rebuilding year in 2002. They graduated former top-skier Lindsey Tuominen and can expect to be lead by underclassmen this season. Macalester’s top-skier for 2002 looks to be first-year skier Joan Bennett from St. Paul, Minnesota. Sophomores Renne Schaefer (Waukesha, WI) and Amy Votilla (St. Paul, MN) will also likely contribute to the team’s point score.

The College of St. Benedict begins the 2002 season in a significantly stronger position than ever before. Previously, the school has struggled to yield a full-team, but this year it has nine committed athletes. The team is lead by three freshmen Jessie Donovan (Buffalo, MN), Britt Peterson (Elk River) and Megan Rose (Wayzata). About his women’s team, coach Dave Johnson says, “We are a young program...[The women] are working hard and who knows how fast they will become. It is a fun group of women who like to be athletic and ski. I can’t ask for much more-but time.”

St. Mary’s University’s Women’s Nordic Team is coming back from a couple of years of coaching inconsistency. The team was led by new coaches in both 2000 and 2001. Fortunately, Head Coach John Skemp has returned to the program after a two-year absence. Skemp lead the program from 1991 to 1999. If Skemp stays aboard, St. Mary’s Nordic Skiing should return to previous levels. For 2002, look for Missy Mollick, a junior from Hastings, Minnesota to lead the women’s team. Freshmen Rachell Lundell from Golden Valley, Minnesota will add depth to the team.

Mens Nordic Skiing

By all accounts, Northern Michigan University’s Mens Nordic Ski Team has what it takes to sweep the Central College Skiing Association races, again. As the mens team to qualify for NCCA Nationals out of CCSA in 2001, they did the region proud by earning second-place team recognition in the classic race. While Northern’s mens team did loose two of its NCAA Nationals athletes to graduation: Chris Cook (two event All-American) and Corey Wubbells (skate All-American), it retains Matt Weier (classic All-American) for a final year. A number of experienced upperclassmen may replace Cook and Wubbells, including juniors David Duede, Jon Filardo, Max Weir, and Matt Nielson. In addition, Northern has brought in three talented freshmen in Joey Graci, Adrain Ostrander, and Bryan Cook. Cook, of Rhinelander, Wisconsin was a two-time top-ten finisher in last year’s Junior Olympics. Ostrander (Hayward, WI) skied to 5th in the Junior Olympic 10 kilometer classic. Marquette-native Graci also skied at the Junior Olympics, where his top result was 12th in the sprint.

Perhaps most able to challenge for second place in CCSA, or even upset Northern, is University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The Fairbanks Nanooks return Juraj Brugos, who gained NCAA Nationals experience in 2001, skiing to two top-thirty results there. Other skiers also bring increased experience to the 2002 season, as they had the opportunity to compete at home in Fairbanks in November Noram openers. Greg Jurek competed in the skating sprint, where he earned 28th place. Brugos led the Nanooks in the ten-kilometer classic with a 36th place. He was closely followed by Shawn Harper in 38th place and John Heimerl in 43rd. About the Nanooks men and women, Head Coach Bill McDonnell says: “We have a team more capable than ever and I expect big things from them. UAF has made great strides over the last two years. I anticipate this will be our best season ever.”

Michigan Technological University also returns an experienced team that should contend in CCSA. Chris Seaman, a 2001 NCAA Championships participant (best result 17th in the skate), should lead the mens team in 2002. About Seaman, Head Coach Gary Nichols says, “He has taken the momentum of last years regional and national results into this season. His strength, form, and attitude are at an all-time high and he hopes to parlay that into a shot at the NCAA Championships in his hometown of Anchorage.” Joe Bettendorf and Karl Walczak should be the other scoring skiers for the team. “[They] will have to have breakout seasons if [Tech] wants to stay near the top of a tough, improving region,” says Nichols. Michigan Tech has recruited into two “strong, talented freshmen” in Matt Copps of Timmins, Ontario and Tom Richardson of Burnsville, Minnesota (Nichols). Whether or not Copps and Richardson will be seen on the CCSA circuit this year or not remains to be seen, as one or both may choose to redshirt in 2000 in order to more fully develop.

St. Olaf College Men’s Nordic Skiing has a relatively young star in Jay Eidem. Eidem, only a junior, went to NCCA Nationals in 2001, where he was 25th in skate and 38th in classic. According to Assistant Coach Siiri Carver, he “...is showing great results that will secure his [NCCA Championship] spot for this year, including a recent 24th place in the mens thirty-kilometer skate race at 2002 U.S. Nationals. The teams other “powerhouse” is Kevin Hochtl, a senior, who “...is looking for his first trip to nationals this year and is showing signs of not slowing down” (Carver). St. Olaf did not gain any new skiers for 2002, but has some strong juniors and seniors who, according to Carver “...are ready to take the helm when the seniors leave.”

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay begins 2002 with an impressive mix of seasoned veterans and hot new recruits. Sophomore skiers Shane Hoelz and Joshua Korn recently returned from U. S. Senior Nationals in Bozeman, where their top results were 98th and 82nd respectively in the thirty-kilometer skate race. Also likely to factor into Green Bay’s team standings are the duo of Bens: senior Ben Mogren and freshman Ben Dubay. Add to the list of notables Josh North, who also competed in Bozeman. Green Bay looks strong, fast, and saturated with Joshs (three) and Bens (two).

Gustavus Adolphus College Mens Nordic Ski Team finds itself in a much better position for this season. Last year Gustavus competed with a single man, so the team never had enough athletes to score. This student graduated, but Gustavus recruited in the essential three scoring skiers in strong freshmen Dan Kueffer, Nathan Porath, and Greg Vilard. Kueffer, a former Roseville High School standout, notched the 8th fastest sprint in the 2001 Junior Olympics. Because all three of these freshmen have significant high school/junior racing experience behind them, they all will not only score, but will score well. The challenge this improving program faces is in the numbers: lacking even a single extra skier, the team cannot score in the event of an athlete’s absence.

Another young team with numerous talented new recruits is that of Carleton College. Nate Scott enters his junior-year ski season as the team’s top male skier. Scott, who hopes to make a crack at the top-fifteen in the CCSA this year, will be looked upon to lead the team. Although Carleton graduated four of its male skiers in 2001, a booming recruiting year, in which seven (men and women) new freshmen came aboard, leaves the team primed for improvement. Freshmen Jon Miller from Roseville, Minnesota and Russell Spitler from Concord, Massachusetts have particularly strong skiing backgrounds and should make a good addition to the mens squad.

St. John’s University will field a large and improving squad in 2002. SJU will look to the leadership of top-upperclassmen skiers: senior Bobby Yankovich, and juniors Sean Laidig, Max Mogren, and Jeff Paulson. The team has a strong first-year class with Christain Brekke (Stillwater, MN), Kevin Walczak (Park Center, MN), Andy Yankovich (St. Thomas Academy, Mendota Heights, MN), Donald Harris (Alexandra, MN), Chris Gadacz (Elk River, MN), Justin Nistler (Bemidji, MN), and Chris Henkel (Duluth East, Duluth, MN). Both Nistler and Gadacz are talented biathletes from Minnesota Biathlon.

St. Mary’s University begins 2002 under the stability of returning coach John Skemp. 2000 and 2001 saw the team led by different coaches. It is a relief then that Skemp, St. Mary’s Nordic Ski Coach from 1991 to 1999, has come back to the program. St. Mary’s men will be led by junior Garrick Holey, a particularly strong skater. Neil Matsch, of Hastings, Minnesota is the team’s top freshmen.

Macalester College graduated its best male skier in a long time, Jesse Crandall, in 2001. Fortunately, Crandall returns to the program as an assistant coach and should be able to drawn upon his successful collegiate experience in order to help other Macalester skiers move up the ranks. The 2002 program is unquestionably led by experienced racer Tim Lewandowski, who is a junior this year. Paul Singh appears to be another Macalester skier who will score for the team. Despite a medium-sized roster, only these two racers have competed in early-season intercollegiate time trials, so it remains to be seen if and when Macalester may be ready to field a full team of three.

Author’s Note: St. Cloud State University only sponsors a womens Nordic ski team.

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