STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo.—Given the length and variability of ski racing, any coach or racer will tell you it is important not to put too much emphasis on a single event. With that said, though, the Central Collegiate Ski Association may have slightly more than usual riding on this week’s NCAA Championships. The events for this year’s championships run from March 10-13 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with the Nordic events on the 11th and 13th at Howelsen Hill. The first event is the classic race, 5 kilometers for the women and 10 kilometers for the men, while the freestyle races are 15 and 20 kilometers.
The reason this year’s results carry so much meaning for the CCSA is because last year’s races did not go according to plan. In the classic race, the CCSA had just 3 top-15 finishers and no All-Americans in the men and women’s races combined. Michigan Tech’s Jesse Lang picked up an All-American eighth-place finish in the freestyle race, but only one other man (NMU’s Martin Banerud, in 11th) joined Lang in the top 20. No female CCSA competitor placed in the top 15 in the skate race.
As a result, the number of qualifying spots available was slashed from 20 to 15. CCSA women sent 11 competitors to Rumford, but can send just 7 this year to Steamboat Springs, while the men’s number dropped from 9 to 8. “We got thumped at NCAA’s last year as a region,” acknowledged University of Alaska-Fairbanks coach Scott Jerome entering this season. “We now know what we need to do better. We all need to be better.”
Still, all signs point toward better results this season. Of last year’s top competitors, many have returned and still others have emerged as threats on not just regional but national levels. The U.S. Nationals races in Anchorage Jan 2-8 were a step in the right direction, as some of the nation’s top collegiate finishers were CCSA skiers.
Now, though, the region’s 15 representatives have a chance to erase last year’s underperformance with what looks to be a good year for the conference. Skiers from 5 schools will represent the region.
Northern Michigan University is sending a full squad of 3 women, women who will be representing a strong team that finished 1-2-3 on each day of the Central Region Championships. Laura DeWitt and Christina Gillis were the region’s 2 top qualifiers, and teammate Monica Markvardsen could be near the top of the results page as well. Alaska qualified 2 women for NCAA’s, Aurelia Korthauer and Theresia Schnurr. Korthauer could contend in either race, and also brings experience, as this is her 3rd trip to NCAA’s. Schnurr, meanwhile, produced top-5 results at U.S. Nationals to show she can also rub elbows with the nation’s best. Michigan Tech’s Henna Riikonen-Purtsi, her school’s top skier in every race this year, will represent the Huskies. Carolyn Freeman, a junior from Wisconsin-Green Bay, will ski for the Phoenix in her second NCAA competition.
The Northern Michigan men also qualified a full team of 3 skiers. First-year George Cartwright leads the team and is backed by Kevin Cutts, a sophomore, and Chris Bowler, a redshirt freshman. Cartwright, winner of the freestyle race at the Central Region Championships, should be especially competitive in the 20k. The three Wildcat underclassmen also show impressive promise for the future. Alaska was the only other school to qualify more than one male skier, with Tyler Kornfield and John Parry traveling to Steamboat to represent the Nanooks. Kornfield was the sprint champion at U.S. Nationals and has impressive speed to go along with Parry’s strong classic ability.
The top CCSA threat may be Santiago Ocariz of Wisconsin-Green Bay. This will be the fourth NCAA Championship for the Phoenix senior, who was the top collegiate skier at Nationals and is the top-ranked freestyle and classic male from the Central Region. Michigan Tech qualified Oskar Lund and narrowly missed qualifying 2 more skiers, the first and second alternates. Lund, the winner of 4 races this season, gives the Wildcats potential near the top. Jens Brabbit rounds out the team as the lone representative from Gustavus Adolphus. The junior was the fourth overall qualifier on the men’s side. Complete list of qualifiers is below: