Northern skiers glide to key victory

gordon.beedle

The winter break may have been a vacation for some NMU students but the men’s and women’s ski teams where hardly relaxing.

The team had only 10 days off before returning to training on Dec. 28 in order to prepare for the U.S. National Ski Tournament in Houghton, Mich. from Jan. 2-6.

The tournament is scored through two events with men’s and women’s freestyle and classic scores combining for an overall championship winner.

With the top score of 909, Northern Michigan won the tournament for the second straight year. Behind NMU was runner-up Middlebury, with 877, and third-place Dartmouth with 857.

Among the 27 teams and 450 skiers were some of the top skiers in the nation. The NMU women’s team finished second with a total score of 466 and for the first time, the NMU men finished first in the race with 443.

“We had some really good results and we had some results that we know can be better,” said head coach Sten Fjeldheim.

NMU skied to the top of the championship standings, as four skiers placed well in both the freestyle and classic events. Martin Banerud, a sophomore, was third among college athletes in each race.

While seniors Morgan Smyth and Maria Stuber both placed in the top 10 twice, Laura DeWitt, a sophomore ended in the top 15.

Also finishing well for the ‘Cats was senior Gus Keading, who finished 50th in the classical with a 45:14.

“Gus Kaeding, I think, had his best race ever,” Fjeldheim said.

Keading said these races were among his best finishes but that everyone was more focused on how the entire team did rather than on individual scores.

“It’s not the most important race for us, but it is the hardest and biggest,” he said. “It’s probably the most important race in the United States because this is how the world cup team is picked.”

Fjeldheim said the men’s and the women’s team had huge improvements and they’re pleased with the turnout.

“I think we did really well. We lost a lot of skiers (after last year) and we got a lot of young skiers so I think we did well but we also can do better,” Smyth said.

Smyth qualified for European competition in Poland later this month with the U.S. team at the U-23 World Championships along with teammate Kevin Cutts who was selected to the U.S. Junior World Championship.

“Qualifying was exciting for me. It was the highlight of the week,” she said.

Smyth went to the World Championships last year and finished eighth in the sprint race. This year, she is looking to finish in the top five, she said.

Also during the weekend, the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championship took place on January 6 in Houghton and former NMU skiers Lindsey (Weier) Dehlin and Lindsay Williams pulled off an upset victory in the sprinting race for the U.S. National Ski Team.

Just one year out of college Dehlin and Williams completed the six-lap team sprint where each skier alternated on the 1.3-kilometer course in 21:24.

The two beat Rossignol’s Karen Camenisch and Martina Stursova by six seconds.

Fjeldheim said that when Williams got the final exchange, she looked over and realized that she was neck-and-neck with the current national cup winner from Russia. Williams then pulled ahead.

“It brought a lot of team sprit. [Williams] trains with us all fall and summer so it was really inspiring,” he said.

The next race for NMU is the Supertour, which initially was to be held in Colraine, Minn. Due to a forecast of dangerously low temperatures, the event has been moved to Marquette.

Temperatures must be at least -4 degrees and the predicted high for Minnesota this weekend is -10, Fjeldheim said.

The race will now begin at the Forestville Trailhead of the Noquemanon trails on Jan. 19-20 at 1 p.m. and 10:30 a.m., respectively.

“Being at home is going to be a big advantage because we won’t have to travel. We’ll be able to sleep in our own beds and we know these trails,” said Fjeldheim. “But we are still going to try and compete to our best.”