Northern Michigan University’s Felicia Gesior and Fredrick Schwencke took the top honors in Friday’s classic mass start race at the CCSA Distance Championships held at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
The women’s 15 kilometer race was initially led by Michigan Tech’s Ulrika Axelsson who pushed the pace early on in the five lap race. Axelsson was joined in the lead on the first lap by Nicole Bathe of Alaska Fairbanks before the NMU duo of Felicia Gesior and Jordyn Ross skied to the front of the race.
From then on the trio of Axelsson, Gesior and Ross led the race, staying 10 to 15 seconds ahead of the chasing pack. “She [Axelsson] was kind of the person pushing the pace throughout the race,” said Michigan Tech Head Coach Joe Haggenmiller. “She animated the race.” Haggenmiller added, “It was fun to see her out there making everyone work hard.”
At the start of lap 4 St. Scholastica’s Allison Ternes took the lead of the chasing pack. “I think Allison just was feeling good and had no real experience beyond lap 3,” said St. Scholastica Head Coach Chad Salmela. It was Ternes first race of more than 10 kilometers, and as Salmela put it, “she got excited, but tired a bit down the stretch.”
Late in the final lap of the race Gesior made her move, pulling ahead of Axelsson and holding her off in a close race to the finish line. Gesior won with a time of 44:32.9, 1.8 seconds ahead of Axelsson.
Gesior’s victory came in part from a change in strategy for the junior Wildcat. “Felicia learned from last time we were here not to lead the whole race,” said NMU Head Coach Sten Fjeldheim referring to the Twin Cities Championship mass start classic race held at Wirth Park in late January. In that race Gesior broke away early to lead by a wide margin before tiring late in the event to take second. Gesior made no such mistake in Friday’s race.
“Both Jordyn [Ross] and Felicia skied smart races today,” said Fjeldheim. “Our whole women’s team was in the top 15.”
“It was down to Ulrika [Axelsson] and Felicia [Gesior] on the last lap, and Felicia had a little more left for the last half a lap,” said Haggenmiller. “Credit to Felicia for being able to hang on and win a fairly tight sprint.”
In third place was NMU’s Jordyn Ross, 8.4 seconds behind Gesior and in fourth was Anita Kirvesniemi of St. Scholastica. “She was super savvy today to get fourth, despite hitting a rough patch,” said Salmela. “That’s just really smart racing that gets you there under the circumstances.”
In 5th place was Marit Sonnesyn of Gustavus, and in 6th was Anne-Tine Markset of Alaska Fairbanks. “Anne-Tine skied a great race,” said UAF Interim Head Coach Christina Turman. “It’s been exciting to watch Anne-Tine throughout the season. It’s fun to watch her race.”
Taking 7th was Allison Ternes of St. Scholastica. “To be 7th in this field as a freshman in your first 15 kilometer race is just super impressive,” said Salmela. “I think race of the day goes to Allison.”
In 8th was Nicole Bathe of UAF, and in 9th Rebekka Shueder of NMU, a freshman from Sparneck, Germany. Rounding out the top ten was NMU’s Sophie Schimpl.
The men’s 20 kilometer mass start classic race was led early on by St. Scholastica’s Reitler Hodgert before Northern Michigan’s Fredrik Schwencke, Adam Martin, and Erik Soderman took over the front of the race along with UAF’s Jonas Loffler. The four leaders skied ahead of the rest of the men’s field with Hodgert and St. Olaf’s Jake Brown leading the chase.
UAF’s Loffler hung on to the three Wildcats until the final lap of the race when the NMU trio began to vie for the top honors. In the end it was Schwencke who had the closing speed to win the day, crossing the finish line with a time of 45:03.3. Martin took second, 5.2 seconds behind, and Soderman third, 1.6 seconds later.
“It was good to see the boys staying fit and fast,” said Fjeldheim. “They were challenging each other throughout the race.”
Loffler of UAF took fourth, a performance that pleased Turman. “Jonas [Loffler] was the highlight in a day where the men’s team really shined,” said Turman. “We had 5 guys in the top 15 and we’re sitting comfortably in second place as a team.”
“I’ve known all season that we can ski at this level,” said Turman, adding, “Jonas skied to his potential today, and there’s nothing quite as satisfying for a coach as seeing someone reach their potential.”
In 5th was St. Olaf’s Jake Brown. “It’s his second good classic race of the season,” said St. Olaf Head Coach Tom Jorgenson. “That puts him in a good position for making NCAA’s.” Brown, known for his skating prowess, has sharpened his classic technique this season. “It helps that the classic races are mass start and longer distances,” said Jorgenson. “The longer the distance the better Jake does.”
Taking 6th was Reitler Hodgert of St. Scholastica. “Reitler was really on today, you could tell,” said Salmela. “He was so on that it was a little much at the start. I think without realizing it, he used up a bit of energy in the first 6 kilometers that would have come in handy about the time Jake Brown made a surge. But that’s how you learn—from experience, and Reitler had a great one today.”
7th went of Alexander Eckert of UAF, and in 8th place was Kristof Kopal of NMU. A sophomore from the Czech Republic, it was Kopal’s first top ten performance.
9th and 10th went to Michigan Tech’s Kyle Hanson and Thomas Kendrick, respectively. “The guys raced really well,” said Haggenmiller, “they raced their way up.”
The CCSA coaches praised the race organization at Wirth, noting that the course was both fast and fair.