The Central region historically has been dominated by the Michigan schools (Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech), but as the CCSA grows, one team starts to stand out as another challenger. Earlier this month at the U.S. National Championships, the Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech men’s teams both had strong team finishes with 2nd and 4th respectively in the College Cup. One team that took everyone by surprise was the College of Saint Scholastica. Their men’s team placed 6th, putting the three CCSA teams in the top 6 of all college teams across the nation. This drive from CSS has not stopped, with a huge surge this past weekend in Cable, Wisconsin. The men’s team pulled off the biggest upset so far this season, beating Michigan Tech by 4 points.
On Sunday, CSS’s top three strong performances pushed them to their 2nd place team finish. Emil Book Bratbak, who has been a vigorous force all season nearly pulled out a win in Mt Itasca, and had another strong day this past Sunday with 3rd place in the classic individual start. Nick Matelich placed an impressive 7th, and Tamer Mische-Richter finished the deal in14th place. What makes this such a remarkable accomplishment for CSS is that, as a Division III school, none of their student-athletes receive athletic scholarships (NMU and MTU are both DII with athletic scholarships). “Our student-athletes are the most special thing about this program” Stuber expressed, “Something about St. Scholastica attracts the best people. Our student-athletes are hard-working, smart, and compassionate”.
CSS is the also the largest ski team in the NCAA fielding a roster of 15 women and 22 men. “Maria has set up a program that is unique for U.S. Skiing because we have a development team along with our varsity team,” explains Junior Samantha Benzing. “Every athlete on the ski team works towards our program goals and plays a part in team success, even if they are not starting the CCSA races.” With 21 freshmen this season, CSS is continuously working on building their team successes. “I think our team develops a strong connection to each other and to the school because they are really proud of what we do and who we are,” Stuber wrote, “We do a good job of showing our freshmen right off the bat (what we do and who we are). Our team’s success depends on our athletes helping each other and understanding each other.”
Maria Stuber not only is pushing her athletes, but she also is the founder of the Women Ski Coaches Association, which is pushing to bring more women into ski coaching. Stuber is one of five NCAA head nordic coaches in the NCAA and in recruiting, this can be a big selling point. “As soon as Maria was hired, I knew that St. Scholastica was at the top of my list,” wrote Benzing, “Skiing for a female-led program is an experience that is unfortunately too far and few and I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of. Skiing on such a large team at the NCAA level is a unique experience that allows us to compete at the high level of the CCSA and create a team of developing athletes that will positively influence the U.S. Skiing scene for years to come”.
Recruiting for a team that does not have scholarships can be tricky, but for CSS, the culture of the program speaks for itself. “I do my best to recruit student-athletes bursting with potential, ” Stuber explained. “For the most part is an attitude. Regardless of how fast you are when you get here, I want everyone on our team to be striving to get A LOT better. We don’t compete for spots on the team or to improve a couple of places, we are looking to be the best athletes we can be, big picture. Potential can also be physical. We have a ton of people on our team that have been exceptional at something else in their life, and I find that this type of person is more likely to be exceptional at another thing if given the chance, regardless of their experience. We had lots of great runners, we have a nationally competitive sailor, Irish dancer, and road biker. If you understand the process it takes to be nationally competitive at something, I don’t care if it’s basket weaving, I will gladly take a chance on you. Most importantly, I am looking for people who love to ski. At the end of the day, we need to be doing this because skiing is fun.”