The men’s and women’s nordic ski teams will send six athletes to compete in the NCAA National Championship races this weekend.
The NMU squad is coming off its 12th Regional Championship victory in 15 years, and head coach Sten Fjeldheim said this win was especially important because it showed the athletes on his team what they are cable of.
“It helps a lot to win the Regionals, because it has left them with a lot of confidence,” he said. “They are very confident, and they are really ready to go.”
The ‘Cats are led by junior Martin Banerud on the men’s side, who placed fourth in the NCAA freestyle races the past two seasons.
Banerud also was the top finisher in the classic race at the Regional Championships two weeks ago. In that same race, NMU senior Phil Violett finished third and secured his spot on the NCAA championship roster. Violett also has five other NCAA race podium finishes this season.
Topping out the last spot was senior Justin Singleton, who has been an alternate at Nationals for the past two seasons.
“It is really cool for Justin-who is a fifth year senior-that he made it and he is more than ready to go,” Fjeldheim said.
The women’s team is headed by junior Laura DeWitt and freshman Marie Soderman. The duo finished a close one-two in the Regional classical race, with DeWitt edging out Soderman by just 30 seconds. DeWitt also finished third in the classic race for the tournament.
The final qualifier for the women is sophomore Ingrid Fjeldheim. She landed her spot after inching out fellow teammate, junior Christina Gillis, by .01 second in the Regional classic race.
Of the six racers, three of them competed in the NCAA Championship last year in Northern’s third place finish.
Fjeldheim said the leadership of the upperclassmen has been very supportive with athletes who are skiing at this level for the first time
“Martin is a two time All-American and Laura has been an All-American,” he said. “They are trying to remind them that it is just another race, and not to focus on that it is the National Championships, even though that is a really difficult thing to do.”
Fjeldheim added because of how his team has raced this season, and because of his past experiences at this level, that this team has the potential to be at the top again.
“Our goal is to be in the top five nordic teams in the nation. We were third last year and I think this team has the ability to be in the top five again for sure,” he said. “I think that they are getting it straight in their heads that this is just another race, and they are prepared well, and we are going to go out and do the best we can.”
The race is held in Rumford, Maine, and Fjeldheim said the warmer weather may play a factor in the final results.
“The weather has been kind of strange,” he said. “So what we’re doing is going through all the athletes’ skis and testing to make sure we get the right skis and the right wax.”
An interval-start classic event 10K for men and 5K for women will start the competitions on Thursday, March 12, while the mass-start freestyle races of 20K for the men, 15K for the women will be Saturday, March 14.