As the final week of the CCSA season kicks off, fifteen of the region’s top skiers prepare to go against the best the college world at the NCAA Championships in Bozeman, Mont.
The Nordic events, being staged at Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center, start on Wednesday, March 7 at 9 a.m., with the freestyle events: a 5K for women and a 10K for men. After a day off, the skiers return for a mass start classic event (15K for women, and a 20K for men) on Friday, starting at 9 a.m.
Representing the CCSA on the women’s side this season will be Northern Michigan’s Monica Markvardsen, Marie Helen Soderman and Molly Burger; Alaska’s Raphaela Sieber, Marit Rjabov and Crystal Pitney and Michigan Tech’s Deedra Irwin.
On the men’s side, Northern Michigan’s Chris Bowler, Kjell-Christian Markset and Erik Soderman; Alaska’s Logan Hanneman and Tyler Kornfield; Michigan Tech’s Mikko Harju and Saint Scholastica’s Jeremy Hecker and Paul Schommer will all take the course from the Central Region.
“We are looking forward to the races and are excited to have a chance to see where we stack up,” Michigan Tech head coach and CCSA president Joe Haggenmiller said. “We’ve got some talented skiers, but you never know where you stand against other regions. We saw a little bit of the firepower they had at U.S. Nationals, but there’s a big difference between racing in January and racing in March.”
This year’s CCSA field sees a good mix of fresh faces and experienced racers: of the 15 student-athletes, seven have appeared in previous NCAA Championships. Markvardsen, Soderman Sieber, Soderman, Kornfield and Harju all competed in the 2011 NCAA event, while Bowler participated in nationals in 2010.
The other eight student-athletes will be taking college skiing’s biggest stage for the first time this season, but it’s not likely anyone will be taking them lightly.
“As I’ve told Jeremy and Paul, they should think of it as an opportunity,” Saint Scholastica head coach Chad Salmela said. “They may have flown under the radar a little bit to get here, but now that they are here, they’ve got a chance to show what they can do and really turn some heads.”
“There’s just no room for error at this level,” he added. “It’s a very high level of competition. If you miss just a little thing, you pay for it.”
Apart from the competition, perhaps the biggest challenge will be overcoming the thin air of Bohart Ranch – the trailhead sits 6,100 feet above sea level.
“There’s a little trepidation on our part because neither Deedra or Mikko have much experience racing at altitude,” Haggenmiller said. “You just can’t use the same tempo that you normally would in a race.”
“Adapting to the lower oxygen level is everything,” Salmela said. “You can train as hard as you want, but it’s all about how your body is able to adjust.”
This year’s NCAA Championships will be broadcast live from Bohart Ranch – to follow along with the action, go to www.ncaa.com/liveschedule/.