St. Scholastica Sweeps top of Podium at CCSA Relay Championships

CCSA News |  

St. Scholastica swept the top of the podium Saturday at the CCSA Relay Championships, winning on home snow at Spirit Mountain Nordic Center in Duluth, Minnesota.

The women’s 3 x 7 kilometer freestyle relay was led out of the gates by Michigan Tech’s Ulrika Axelsson with St. Scholastica’s Anita Kirvesniemi and Liz Peterson skiing in close pursuit. Axelsson held the lead for her entire leg, handing off to teammate Lisa Koenig just ahead of Kirvesniemi and Peterson. Kirvesniemi of CSS 1 tagged off to Ellie Evans, and Peterson of CSS 2 handed off to Chelsey Youngberg. The two St. Scholastica teams quickly took control of the race, with Evans and Youngberg pulling away from Michigan Tech’s Koenig. Evans handed off to CSS 1 anchor leg Sharmila Ahmed with a 31 second advantage over CSS 2’s anchor skier Allison Ternes. Michigan Tech’s Koenig tagged off to Alice Flanders 23 seconds behind CSS 2.

“I felt to ensure a win today, we needed a cushion on the final exchange,” said St. Scholastica Head Coach Chad Salmela. “I wasn’t ruling out pulling it off with Sharmila [Ahmed] and Alice [Flanders] together at the exchange, but when you’re up against Alice in a 7.5km freestyle, you just do the math. It’s just going to take anyone in the CCSA a great day to beat her, and Sharmila is one of the few who could, but a cushion is nice.”

With Ahmed starting the final leg of the race with a 54 second advantage over Flanders, St. Scholastica had the cushion that Salmela desired. Ahmed skied a strong and composed race to win the relay with a total time of 49:02, while Flanders battled back for Michigan Tech, passing Ternes to take second with a time of 49:53.6.

Ternes finished third for CSS 2 with a time of 50:23.5. As the program’s second relay team CSS 2 will not receive medals or championship points but it still marks a result for the Saints.

“Two teams in the top three is just more than you can anticipate,” said Salmela. “Really great skiing from everyone. Ellie [Evans] really made the move of the race, and as it turned out, Sharmila would have had the form today to challenge Alice if it came to that, but it was easier on me for sure that it never did. Our second team was just awesome too, making it to the podium.”

Michigan Tech Head Coach Joe Haggenmiller said that he thought the race “started out pretty well, and our anchor leg went pretty well,” but added, “I think Lisa [Koenig] had a little bit of a rough day on her second leg and that was kind of the story for the men too. You know Scholastica really raced well so we have to give them a lot of credit, they beat us fair and square.”

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay took fourth in the women’s relay, and third in the Championship standings. Led by Kailey Mucha, Hanne Guthrie, and Bree Mucha, in that order, the Phoenix enjoyed a good day at Spirit Mountain.

“All three had respectable laps—they showed progressive effort,” said Green Bay Head Coach Steve Teclaw. “Hanne [Guthrie] had the best race of the three, she had a lot left in the tank after the first lap and was able to put time on the other girls.” Guthrie skied the second fastest middle leg for the Pheonix. “All in all it’s a fun weekend,” said Teclaw.

St. Olaf 1 took 5th in the relay with MTU 2 in 6th, and Saint Cloud State University 1 in 7th. Gustavus Adolphus finished 8th.

The men’s 3 x 10.1 kilometer freestyle relay was led in the opening leg by Michigan Tech’s Kyle Hanson. Chasing Hanson was Reitler Hodgert of CSS 1 and Jake Richards of CSS 2. St. Olaf’s Nels Thompson was also in close pursuit along with MTU 2’s Thomas Kendrick.

Hanson demonstrated his skating prowess, pulling ahead of the chasing pack to hand off to his teammate Sam Holmes with a 16 second advantage over CSS 1. Hodgert tagged Paul Schommer who started quickly with an eye on closing the gap to Holmes. Schommer caught Holmes and continued to put time on the rest of the field, handing off to Joe Dubay with a 1:16 advantage over Nick Power of CSS 2. Holmes tagged MTU 1’s anchor leg skier Haakon Hjelstuen in third.

Hjelstuen skied a fast first lap, catching CSS 2’s Calvin Mehrhof, but Dubay proved to be out of reach for the Norwegian exchange student. Dubay skied to victory for the Saints with a total time of 1:05:13, with Michigan Tech taking second with a time of 1:06:08.

The Saints relay victory came in part due to the strategic acumen of their skiers. “Paul [Schommer] is a great, great skier,” said Salmela, “but the guys saw me putting Paul last against Haakon [Hjelstuen], and they actually told me they knew Paul could ski with him if they were knotted together, but they all agreed Paul couldn’t outsprint Haakon if it came down to that. They asked for an order change, and I gave it to them.”

CSS 2 took third while MTU 2 skied to fourth. St. Olaf finished 5th overall, but third in the CCSA Championship standings.

“I set a goal of our team being in the top three programs, and our men’s team made that,” said St. Olaf Head Coach Tom Jorgenson. “I can tell that our team really likes skiing relays, they’re very team focused, so they do well in events like these.”

Jorgenson said he was “really impressed by Nels [Thompson’s] opening leg, he was right there with the other teams so I’m really encouraged by Nels result there. And Jake [Brown] skied a great anchor leg to put us into that third program position.”

Jorgenson added that, “It’s pretty impressive what they’ve done here on this course with how little snow we have right now, so I’m glad that we can be here.”

Gustavus Adolphus took 6th in the men’s relay, CSS 3 was 7th, and Green Bay 8th.