The record-setting Northern Michigan Nordic ski team returned to the snow this past weekend. And although the Wildcats lost two out of the three women skiers that swept the podiums at last year’s NCAA Championships, they still dominated the Husky Open in Houghton.
The NMU women scored 24 points and won the team title over Michigan Tech (11) and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (10). The Wildcat men claimed their team title with 20 points, ahead of UW-GB (14) and Michigan Tech (9).
“We had a good weekend, but it’s what I expected after a summer and fall of training,” said NMU head coach Sten Fjeldheim.
In the women’s 5K, the top three scoring positions-and the top four positions overall-went to Wildcat skiers. For scoring purposes, the three top finishers were senior Maria Stuber (15:51.5), senior Morgan Smyth (15:53.7) and sophomore Laura DeWitt (16:32.2). NMU sophomore Christina Gillis was an open racer and finished third with 16:28.6.
Fjeldheim said the competition was an all-around success, but that the best part of the day may have been the second-place finish for Smyth, who finished second and third at the NCAAs last year and then had a knee operation in July. Smyth spent 16 weeks doing arms-only exercises over the summer and was a bit concerned about her first race.
“She was very tentative and nervous going into this race, worried about how her knee was going to feel when she was really cranking on it hard and I think [her performance] was really one of the highlights of the day,” Fjeldheim said. “This was her senior year and that would have been such a sad thing if, coming back from NCAAs last year, she wouldn’t have been able to race again. She’s looking really good.”
In the men’s 10K, sophomore Martin Banerud finished first overall with a time of 26:52.8. The next Northern skiers finished in a group, as junior Bill Bowler (28:31.1), junior Phill Violett (28:33.1) and sophomore Timothy Cook (29:01.3) rounded out the top-10.
“On the men’s side, I’m equally as pleased,” Fjeldheim said. “Martin Banerud-he won and he looked great. He’s been working really diligently on his technique and perfecting his technique. He’s very professional and it’s been fun working with him.”
After the strong season-opening performance, Fjeldheim said that more good things should be expected from his team.
“I expect [NMU] to be one of the dominant teams in the region and I expect our men and women to combine to be top-five in the nation, as far as the Nordic program goes,” he said.
The team will carry their high expectations into their next race, the Wildcat Open. The Open was originally scheduled for Dec.1, but was cancelled due to lack of snow.
The rescheduled race will now take place on Saturday, Dec. 8 and starts at 11 a.m. at Noquemanon’s Forestville Trailhead.