Northern Michigan University displayed a dominating performance on the opening day of US Nationals and NCAA qualifying in Houghton, Michigan. Cold and gusty winds made for difficult conditions but easy waxing in what would be an excellent showing for the CCSA.
Kyle Bratrud led the way, crushing the men’s 15 kilometer freestyle field with a time of 42:01.6, an incredible 50 seconds faster than second place Kris Freeman. The victory marks the first national title for the Minnesota native, and a key step toward securing a place on the U-23 National Team to compete at World Juniors in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
NMU coach Sten Fjeldheim didn’t expect Bratrud to win, but he said, “I knew it was a possibility, and not just him: we have Adam Martin, Fredrik Schwencke, and Erik Soderman. We have four guys that have all been pushing each other. I knew we had four guys in the corral who could be in the top ten if they had a good day. So it was just a pleasant surprise to have someone who won.”
“Kyle has definitely been one of our better skaters this year,” said Fjeldheim, “I guess it was a little bit of a surprise that he won by so much.”
While Bratrud led the Wildcats, his teammate Schwencke enjoyed a great day in Houghton, placing fifth overall. Rounding out third place in the CCSA was Logan Hanneman of Alaska Fairbanks who finished eleventh overall.
UAF assistant coach Christina Turman called Hanneman’s race “great and well-deserved. He went hard from the start and put in a gutsy performance in poor racing conditions.”
NMU’s Adam Martin skied to thirteenth overall, and his freshman teammate Ian Torchia placed sixteenth. St. Olaf’s Jake Brown was twentieth overall—the sixth CCSA man to place in the top twenty at US Nationals.
“I’ve got seven guys on the team and they all train together,” said Fjedheim. “There’s been a lot of good camaraderie on the team, and a really healthy atmosphere. On interval days the slowest guy and the fastest guy—they’re just trying to push each other. I think Kyle’s been fortunate this year: Adam’s been super fit and challenging him in the running workouts, and Fredrik and Erik have been challenging him in the rollerski workouts.”
“It’s all about having a group of athletes that are motivated and want to win. You put them all together and give them a little direction, and a lot of things are possible.”
The CCSA women also enjoyed a great opening day at US Nationals, with six women in the top thirty. Jordyn Ross of NMU was the top skier for the CCSA in the women’s 10 kilometer freestyle, finishing sixteenth overall with a time of 32:06.9.
She was followed closely by teammate Kristen Bourne, just 7.1 seconds off of Ross’s pace.
Taking third for CCSA was Alice Flanders of Michigan Tech, in 20th overall. “I’m pretty excited about the results today,” said Michigan Tech coach Joe Haggenmiller. “Alice [Flanders] had a super day, and Tom [Bye, 32nd] put himself in a legitimate contending spot for the World Junior Championship.”
Rounding out the top for the CCSA were three more skiers from NMU: freshmen Vivian Hett, 23rd overall, and Caroline Brisbois, 26th, and junior Felicia Gresior in 30th.
Fjeldheim credits the arrival of four new freshmen this fall to being instrumental in the success of his women’s team this season. “On the women’s side we had four new freshman women…they mixed in real well with the other group [of senior skiers] and ran a few cross country races. They are three of the four top cross country runners at NMU.”
The freshmen elevated the quality of the dryland workouts. Fjeldheim said, “Jordyn [Ross] had this group of girls pushing her and I think that was really healthy for her. They worked well together, they were really ambitious [in dryland].”
Said Fjeldheim of his women’s team, “I was really pleased with how they skied today. I think our young skiers have the potential to do what Kyle Bratrud did today. When he came in as a freshman he wasn’t one of our top guys, but he had some really good upperclassmen to push him and to learn from, and I think that creates a healthy program.”
Fjeldheim said the plan for the rest of the Championships was to “stay healthy and just prepare our skis for the next race and keep fighting.”
Full results can be found at www.myrace.com