Nordic ski teams excel at Nationals

Drew Kochanny

The Northern Michigan nordic ski team concluded its season Saturday, March 13, at the NCAA National Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Three members each from the women’s and men’s teams competed in the four-day event in which

NMU took 14 out of a field of 22 teams, with 166 points.

The NCAAs marked the 21st time head coach Sten Fjeldheim made the trip to the National Championships as a head coach.

Fjeldheim walked away this year knowing this NMU team competed hard.

“This was the youngest team I’ve ever had there,” Fjeldheim said. “Overall, I thought they skied really well.”

NMU skiers competed in four of the eight events at the NCAAs, racing in the women’s 5K Classic and 15K Freestyle and the men’s 10K Classic and 20K Freestyle. Women Wildcat skiers included senior Laura DeWitt, junior Christina Gills and freshman Monica Markvardsen.

The skiers on the men’s side were sophomore Kevin Cutts, redshirt freshman Chris Bowler, and freshman George Cartwright.

DeWitt, an All-American in the 5K Classic, posted a time of 17:19.4, finishing eighth in the event. Markvardsen finished twenty-fourth with a time of 18:27.5 and Gills rounded out the trio with a time of 19:44.0. The women took eighth overall with 52 points in the event.

“I think I raced the best that I could have on that day,” said DeWitt, who ended up only 12 seconds off from the podium.

In the 15K Freestyle, the women tallied a total of 60 points to finish in sixth overall. DeWitt again led the pack with a time of 43:26.2, good for twelfth place. Markvardsen finished fourteenth at 43:36.5 while Gills finished thirty-fourth in 47:02.2.

“One of our goals was to stay in the top ten for Nordic,” said Fjeldheim, “which we did.”

The level of competition was noticeably higher for many of the skiers at the event who hadn’t faced a lot of the western teams in attendance.

“A lot of those D-1 schools, primarily their whole team, are comprised of older European skiers,” Fjeldheim said. “I think that the NCAA Championships can be just as hard as the U.S. Championships. It was one of the best fields I’ve seen.”

On Thursday, March 11, the men’s team competed in the 10K Classic. Cutts led the men with a time of 31:01.1, good for twenty-sixth place. Cartwright finished with a time of 31:16.1 for twenty-eighth with Bowler just behind at a time of 31:24.2.

“If your race was sub par, you’re going to be way down the race because of the level of competition that was there,” said Cartwright who was competing at the NCAAs for the first time.

In the 20K Freestyle events, the men tackled the course and  finished fourteenth overall. Cartwright led the men with a time of 51:43.4 for thirtieth, while Bowler and Cutts finished thirty-fourth and thirty-eighth respectably with times of 52:18.1 and 54:19.5.

“George was able to hang with the lead pack,” Fjeldheim said. “That’s something that’s difficult for a young skier to do.”
One of the biggest challenges for the skiers to get used to was the change in elevation.

Steamboat Springs ski area can exceed 10,000 feet, an elevation that can be dangerous if one is not fully prepared for it. The NMU team spent 18 days in Colorado preparing for the event.

“I think we were out there a perfect amount of time,” said DeWitt. “I think in some of the Eastern schools that weren’t out there as long, you could see that in them. Some of the times weren’t what we were expecting from the schools.”

Skiers found warmer temperatures as well on the classic race day, which made it a bit more difficult to apply wax to their skis.

“It made it extremely tricky,” said Fjeldheim, “In between 29 and 32 [degrees] makes it difficult to wax. They dealt with it well.

The times were really close so we were pretty happy with that day.”

For senior skier Laura DeWitt, the NCAA meet marked the last competitive NMU race in her career. Walking away with eighth and twelfth place finishes at the National championships wasn’t a bad way to go out.

“It was emotional,” DeWitt said. “I’ve been a part of the team for six years. It’s your life out here. I am definitely looking forward to my future, though.”

Fjeldheim was equally impressed with all of his skiers at the championships and was pleased to see DeWitt end her career on a great note.

“I was really impressed with everyone,” he said. “Laura, what a great way to end her career, she really skied well.”