Michigan Tech’s Women’s Nordic Ski Team has been on the rise over the last couple of years. While historically, they have a record of having one or two strong women who qualify for NCAAs each year, the depth of this year is one that has not been seen before in the program’s history. This was confirmed with the win of the College Cup at the U.S. Cross-Country Ski National Championships, as the MTU Women’s team grabbed the top spot for women’s collegiate programs.
When coaches, Tom and Kristen Monaham Smith started at MTU three years ago, the team looked much different. “The team has changed dramatically since I was a freshman,” says senior Amanda Kauzter, “That year, our women’s team consisted of Sarah [Goble], Erin [Lipp], and I”. Michigan Technological University, in Houghton Michigan, is known for its world-class ski trails on campus, along with the large gender gap within the school- the university states that only 28.9% of the student population is female. While this was once reflected in the ski team, Tom Smith is trying to change that. “The women that we did have were tough as nails and every single one of them competed in every CCSA race in the 2017-2018 season. This was huge for us as a team to simply have all of our women healthy to compete knowing we needed three student-athletes to produce a team score for every race. The fact that they had no choice but to race for their team in every for us to count as a team really fostered just how much it meant to compete as a team and not just for themselves”. Despite only having three women, Goble and Kautzer qualified for NCAAS that year, with Lipp close behind, finishing in the top 20 of the CCSA season points list. Since then, the team has just been building on those successes.
“[Amanda and Sarah] have really added fuel to the fire that we needed to make our Women’s Team into what it is today. For us, the recruitment has really been about selling the successes our current athletes have as a member of our team and the continual improvement they’ve all shown through their tenure as a student-athlete on the MTU Nordic Ski team,” wrote Smith. There was no doubt at the beginning of January when Tech’s Women’s team showed their growth at the U.S. Cross Country Championships, making a statement that as a team, they should be taken seriously. On their home course, the MTU women really stepped up, and their consistency and teamwork showed through. “Sarah and I had some of our best sprint races, and even though I was not feeling it for the skate distance, we had Anabel [Needham] really stepping it up for our team. Then in the classic mass start, Sarah had some equipment malfunctions and Henriette [Semb] and I managed to score some solid points for the team”.
Winning the College Cup puts a bit of a spotlight on the team for the rest of the season. The Michigan Tech Women’s team has only had one All-American (Kristina Owen 2004-2007) and hasn’t had three women qualify for NCAAS at the same time since 2009. Despite this, Kautzer and Goble came in 3rd and 4th in the overall CCSA season points list last season, making them the top returners on the women’s side this year. And, the rest of the women’s team should not be underestimated. “This is the first year now that we truly have a championship team with 8 women that can all ski in the top 10 in the CCSA on any given day,” Smith said, “Building our team to this point was the biggest challenge, now is the fun part where the athletes have the championship team environment we’ve been building for these past three years, and we believe the student-athletes themselves will really continue to fuel our success as a team from here as they have such a solid group to continue with.”