Championship season started this past weekend in Ishpeming, Michigan with the CCSA Conference Championship.
The races started Saturday with the freestyle mass starts. The women began the day with a boom, as Merle Richter (NMU) took her first CCSA win in the 15k, a big upset over Anabel Needham (MTU-2nd) and Henriette Semb (MTU-4). Hilde Eide snagged the last spot on the podium in a sprint finish with Semb, completing one of her best races of the season so far. Cheresa Bouley (SCSU) had a memorable finish in 7th, and Victoria Dybwad (CSS) continued her strong season in 12th. “I was really excited for the mass start”, said CSS’s Emma Stertz. “Head-to-head racing can feel completely different than interval start so I was excited to get more experience. I felt like I skied the race smart and had a lot of fun! Saturday’s race was my last CCSA race for the season as I’m heading out to Soldier Hollow for Junior World’s for Biathlon. It feels like the season has gone by super fast and I wish I had more time to race with my CSS teammates, but I’m also looking forward to some high-level racing in Utah.”
The men’s 20k was a close one- start to finish, with Kjetil Banerud (NMU) narrowly taking the win over Skylar Patten (MTU)- one of Banerud closest victories yet. Colin Freed (MTU) took another CCSA podium in 3rd, just under 6 seconds from the win. “I came into this weekend hoping for a win in the skate race”, commented Patten, “Kjetil has been racing so strong in the individual start races that I thought I would maybe be able to get him in a mass start if I raced tactically enough. My strategy was to sit in until the second to last climb of the last lap then attack and push all the way to the finish. I did this but pushed a little too hard too soon and was not effective enough.” CJ Young (UWBG) had one of his best results of the season in 7th, and Gus Schatzlein led the CSS men in 8th.
On Sunday, the men started the day with an individual start 10k classic race. Kjetil Banerud (NMU) took his 2nd win of the Championship, this time with over a 30-second gap on runner-up Skylar Patten. “I came into Sunday with a ton of confidence from Saturday’s race and I wanted to try and finish faster than I have been in previous races,” said Patten. “So I conserved more on the first lap to hit the second lap fast and more importantly the last 2k that is flat and full of transitions. Next week I hope to equal or better my results in the Duluth races. Then it is into peaking for NCAAs”. Xavier Mansfield took the top position for the NMU men’s team in 4th, John Schwinghamer led the deep CSS team in 7th, and CJ Young (UWGB) finished in 15th.
The women’s 5k had another upset for the weekend, with Nea Katajala (MTU) getting into her rhythm and taking the win by over 10 seconds. Teammate Henriette Semb continued her consistent season with a 2nd place, and Merle Richter (NMU) showed she was a force to be reckoned with as well, in 3rd. “I didn’t really have any expectations coming into the weekend and was just hoping to have a couple of good race efforts”, said Lauren McCollor (NMU) who finished the day in 7th. “For the 15k on Saturday, I just wanted to stay with the pack for as long as possible and see what I had left. Unfortunately, my left calf cramped up on the second big climb, I skied with it for a while but decided to drop out around 10k because it wasn’t worth hurting it more. I was pretty disappointed but excited about the race on Sunday. I went out pretty hard and just tried to hang on for as long as possible. I died a little on the last couple of shorter climbs. Overall super happy with the race! Probably the best race of my season! Excited for one last race weekend in Duluth and then probably heading to Junior Nationals in a few weeks!” Victoria Dybwad topped the CSS women’s team in 9th, and Cheresa Bouley finished the day in 16th.
There is not much rest left for these collegiate skiers as they head to Duluth, MN next weekend for the NCAA Central Regional Championships, and then a select few will compete at the NCAA National Championships in Soldier Hollow March 9th-12th.