Skiers close out in third place overall

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Despite skiing in higher altitudes and bad weather conditions, the NMU ski team still finished as a top three Nordic team in the nation at the NCAA finals in Bozeman, Mont.

“To be the one Divison-II school sandwiched between two D-I schools, and two big heavy duty programs, I’m pretty proud of how we did,” head coach Sten Fjeldheim said.

First place went to Colorado University, with 387 points, while Denver University finished second with 290, NMU had 287, Dartmouth 286 and Utah 281.

Going Out In Style

In the individual scores, NMU had three athletes earn All-American honors. The top ten finishes in the freestyle and classic race for the men and women earn All-American honors. The top five earn first team accolades and the next five earn second-team laurels.

Sophomore Martin Banerud was just seconds off the podium with a fourth place finish in the men’s 20k classic, while fellow sophomore Laura Dewitt, at her first national competition, earned seventh in the freestyle.

“I think both Laura and Martin have potential to be national champions in the future,” Fjeldheim said.

DeWitt had another solid finish in the classic race with a 13th place finish.

In the freestyle race, Banerud had some trouble adjusting to the altitude in Montana, and it showed with a 16th place finish.

“The altitude just got to him – I mean he just crashed. I’ve never seen a crash like that in a short race,” Fjeldheim said. “You need to start a little easier than you think you need to in the altitude, because it feels so much easier than what you’re used to, but it kind of has this delayed effect – like a hangover. You’re having a great time, and then you really regret it.”

The third All-American to come out of nationals for the ‘Cats was senior Morgan Smyth. She earned a sixth place finish in the freestyle competition.

Last year, Smyth made the podium with two top-three finishes in both races, but this year’s climate would prove to a be factor for her, as she finished 16th in the classic race due to poor waxing conditions – a race she was ranked in the top three in the nation.

Before the classic race, the temperature was warmer, which made the

women use a wax that was more conducive to those conditions. Fjeldheim said, three minutes into the race, the sun went behind the clouds and the temperature dropped about six degrees.

“When her skis were not functioning and not working well, she handled it with a lot of class,” Fjeldheim said. “She threw her hands up in the air and said ‘Oh well, I did my best, and there’ll be other days and you and I both know that if I would have had skis, I would have been right up there.”‘

Northern brought three other skiers to Montana who competed at the race. Junior Phil Violett finished 20th in the freestyle race and 14th in the classic. Senior Maria Stuber crossed the finish line in 13th place in the freestyle and 36th place in the classic and senior Gus Kaeding placed 26th in the freestyle and 23rd in the classic.

This was the final race for seniors Tanya Cook, Bill Bowler, Smyth, Stuber and Kaeding. Fjeldheim said this senior group would be missed and they have done more than their fair share of hard work.

“The hardest part was knowing that for those seniors, it’s going to be their last race,” he said. “We’ve gone a long way with these kids – traveled many many miles and been in many many many situations. So it’s always hard to say goodbye to seniors.”

‘Gus was Gus’

Fjeldheim said he praised the work of Stuber and Kaeding, who competed in the NCAA national competition, but didn’t earn All-American status.

He added without a good second set of skiers to earn finishing points, there probably wouldn’t be a first set and no third place in the team competition.

“That’s the beauty of the chemistry around our team is that there’s no, ‘I’ve got, she’s got, I want, I did, she did,'” Fjeldheim said. “It’s more, ‘I have to perform’ attitudes. ‘I will work hard. I will Rollerski in the rain. I will run in the freezing cold subzero weather.’ There’s no question that they worked super, super hard and the top athletes just have the benefit of having these athletes like a support staff.”

One of those seniors who played an important role was Kaeding.

Fjeldheim said Kaeding has improved a lot since he came in as a freshman and now he is skiing as one of the top 10 Americans at the collegiate level.

“Gus was Gus. Gus is the most casual, relaxed athlete I’ve ever coached. I think his results were very respectable,” Fjeldheim said.

Kaeding said he tried to bring a positive, calm attitude to the team and teach them to finish hard, even if they’re far from winning.

“I was beat coming across the line, and I didn’t even have anyone to ski with, but I went for it just because there was no reason not to,” Kaeding said. “That is what I hope some of those other guys see in my skiing, that even if you’re not doing a good race, you might as well give it your all. I think there is some pride there.”

Fjeldheim added Kaeding helped with keeping the team attitude positive during the training and he led the team by example.

“First you form an attitude, and then that attitude forms you. And it is so important that your attitude is positive and the ‘I can’ attitude,” Fjeldheim said. “I have to thank all these athletes for that. It’s been a great year.”

Now, as the rest of the seniors and Kaeding go their separate ways, they can only hope their legacy will stay after they’re gone.

“I know I left them with a few good stories, and a few that they’ll go ‘What an idiot,'” Kaeding said. “I just hope that they recognize that I went hard every race and it wasn’t just for me. It was the rest of them.”