St. Scholatica’s Anita Kirvesniemi and Fredrik Schwencke of Northern Michigan University won Saturday’s classic race at the Twin Cities Championships held at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
It was Northern Michigan University’s Felicia Gesior who initially led the women’s 10 kilometer classic mass start race. Gesior set a blistering early pace, dropping the rest of the field to take an almost 30 second lead by the halfway mark 5 kilometers into the race. Pursuing the junior Wildcat was St. Scholastica’s Kirvesniemi who led the chasing pack that included NMU’s Jordyn Ross and Sophie Schimpl.
“I could see [at about 5 km] on the big climb, that Felicia was looking labored,” noted St. Scholastica Head Coach Chad Salmela. “I think most people were thinking Felicia [Gesior] was going to win easily, but I could see Anita [Kirvesniemi] had been skiing with really even effort. So I told her right there she was 24 seconds back, but she looked better and should start to think about winning.”
Kirvesniemi then made a move to catch Gesior, dropping Ross and Schimpl. Gesior managed to hold on to her lead until the final kilometer when Kirvesniemi finally caught her. Gesior was unable to keep up with Kirvesniemi, who crossed the finish line smiling with a time of 30:29.6. Gesior cross the line 10.5 seconds later, in second.
“Felicia showed a gutsy effort,” said NMU Head Coach Sten Fjeldheim of Gesior’s race. “I think she just got tired.” Fjeldheim applauded her bold racing strategy, saying that he liked to see her “rolling the dice and risking it.”
In third place was NMU’s Jordyn Ross, 31 seconds behind Kirvesniemi. Finishing in 4th was St. Scholastica’s Sharmila Ahmed who skied up from 7th place at the halfway point to create a close race with NMU for team points. With Kirvesniemi in first and Ahmed in fourth the Saints were in close contention with the Wildcats.
“I started doing the quick math with 2 kilometers to go,” said Salmela, “and I started telling our ladies they can beat Northern (Michigan). NMU is always the biggest target in our region; always the goal.”
Yet Schimpl came in 6th, just ahead of St. Scholastica duo Allison Ternes and Elizabeth Evans in 7th and 8th, respectively, to foil the Saints bid to unseat powerhouse NMU in team points. In the end NMU took the day by a single point, 64 to Scholastica’s 63.
“This was perhaps the most fun race I remember watching as a coach of this team,” said Salmela.
Marit Sonnesyn of Gustavus also had an excellent race, finishing in 5th place. “She felt really good today; her strategy was to stay relaxed in the beginning and then work her way through the field,” said Gustavus Head Coach Jed Friedrich. “She was strong on the third lap and in general she got stronger and stronger throughout the race. She’s pretty determined to be as competitive as possible in the CCSA, and I think she’s showing that she can compete with the best in the region.”
Megan Edic of NMU took 9th, Michigan Tech’s Ulrika Axelsson took 10th, Nora Gilbertson skied to 11th for St. Olaf, and Kailey Mucha of UW-Green Bay finished in 12th.
St. Olaf Head Coach Tom Jorgenson praised Gilberston’s effort. “Nora had the race she needed to have,” said Jorgenson. “It showed how much her fitness has come around. We’re looking for more to come in the future. Overall it was a great day, the women did really well.” Laura Moore finished 21st for the Olies, while teammates Piper Bain was 25th and Amy Waananen 28th.
The men’s 15 kilometer classic mass start race was led off the start line by a trio of NMU skiers: Fredrik Schwencke, Adam Martin, and Erik Soderman. “The guys wanted to break away early,” said Fjeldheim. The three Wildcats soon did just that, and were left to contest the race among themselves.
In the end it was Schwencke, a sophomore from Oslo, Norway who had the finishing speed to win the race 3 seconds ahead of Martin with a time of 39:20.2. Soderman took third, less than 22 seconds after Schwencke for an NMU podium sweep. “I think either one of them could have won,” said Fjeldheim.
Haakon Hjelstuen, now eligible to compete for Michigan Tech, crossed the finish line in fourth, while St. Scholastica’s Reitler Hodgert took 5th. “Reitler and Jake [Richards, 11th] had really great races, Paul [Schommer, 7th] was solid, and we saw our depth skiers step up a notch,” said Salmela. “That always feels great.”
St. Olaf’s Jake Brown finished in 6th. “It was a great classic race for Jake,” said Jorgenson, “probably one of the best classic races of his career. It was the result he needed today, and it showed how much he’s improved his classic technique.”
Rounding out the top ten for the men were Sam Holmes from Michigan Tech in 8th, and NMU’s Krystof Kopal and Thomas Kendrick taking 9th and 10th respectively.
Full results can be found at www.endurancepromotions.com