Northern Michigan University swept the NCAA Central Region skiing awards for 2015. After dominating the regular season schedule, the Wildcats went on to win the NCAA Central Regionals for both genders, then claimed an individual NCAA championship title and three All-American awards at the 2015 NCAA Skiing Championships. Those achievements landed the Wildcats male and female athletes of the year as well as men’s and women’s coach of the year for head coach, Sten Fjeldheim.
2015 NCAA Central Region Awards
Male Skier of the Year: Fredrik Schwencke, NMU
Female Skier of the Year: Felicia Gesior, NMU
Men’s Coach of the Year: Sten Fjeldheim, NMU
Women’s Coach of the Year: Sten Fjeldheim, NMU
Fjeldheim, who has established and maintained a program that is among the best in NCAA Skiing since taking over the program in 1986, said he was “honored to receive the Regional coach of the year award,” and underscored that it means a lot to him to be voted coach of the year by the region’s tight-knit group of coaches.
The Wildcats men’s team set a high bar for the region and the nation with impressive results at the US National Ski Championships in Houghton, MI, in January. From that point to the final race of the central region schedule, no men’s race was won by any other program when the Wildcats were in attendance. The Wildcat women also won the lion’s share of the team events for the season including the top spot at the NCAA Central Regionals and best performances by Gesior at the NCAA Championships.
Schwencke won every NCAA classic discipline race he entered except the first one of the season where he placed second. It was the final race, however, that put Schwencke in the record books, winning a thrilling four-way sprint finish in the NCAA Championship 20km classic, by 0.6 seconds over Colorado’s defending NCAA 20km mass start champion, Mads Ek Stroem, of Colorado. With that gutsy performance, Schwencke became the sixth Wildcat in program history to win an NCAA Championship individual title.
He was quick to credit his teammates and coaches for making the award possible, saying teammate Kyle Bratrud’s season “was very impressive as well so it must have been a close call” on the skier of the year vote. Bratrud, won the US National Championship 15km freestyle and represented the United States at the World Championships in Falun, Sweden. Schwencke cited a men’s team that “pushed the limits every single day at practice” and a coaching staff that did “everything right to make sure we performed at the highest possible level with top fitness and top skis.” He particularly thanked outgoing Norwegian assistant coach, Haakon Banerud, as being a big reason why he came to NMU from Norway.
According to coach Fjeldheim, Schwencke had to reduce his training over the summer to accommodate a tonsil surgery. “He trained diligently this fall knowing that he had lost some training base this summer,” said Fjeldheim. But it is Schwencke’s competitive savvy that Fjeldheim feels set him apart this season. “I feel that his biggest strength is his ability to race,” said Fjeldheim. As his dramatic NCAA Championship victory proved, Schwencke “is a very focused and smart competitor. He has a good head for racing,” according to Fjeldheim.
Gesior took her skiing to a new level in 2015, and she was recognized by the region for her efforts. Gesior emerged as the leader of the Wildcat women’s efforts among a team with incredible depth. She used consistency in both techniques to earn her first trip to the NCAA Championships where she was the top central region performer, finishing 16th in the 5km freestyle and 13th in the 15km classic mass start.
Gesior expressed gratitude for the honor, and said that it was “a great surprise on top of a wonderful season.” She credited her great personal season to the work of her coaches and being on a great team. “I want them to know how thankful I am for their hard work and for always pushing me.”
Coach Fjeldheim noted that Gesior “focused her training a little more this past summer and it showed,” adding that she also learned this season how to “go for it…and live with the results.” He underscored that Gesior’s performance was quite strong for her first NCAA Championship appearance.