‘Cats skiers hitting full stride heading into Grand Prix Super Tour

Laura Conway

After coming off a very successful 2010-11 competition season, the Wildcat Nordic ski team is heading in the same direction this season.

Junior Marie-Helen Soderman said the momentum from last season is driving the team this year.

“Our motivation comes from a great season as a team last year,” Soderman said. “It’s easier for us to go into hard training knowing we’ll have a strong team all going for the same goal and knowing when we work hard, it pays off like it did last season.”

Both the men’s and women’s teams took the Central Collegiate Ski Association’s team titles last season. In addition, head coach Sten Fjeldheim received yet another coaching award; this time he was named the CCSA Women’s Coach of the Year.

Fjeldheim is responsible for 65 All-American skiers, four NCAA National Champions, and 10 Olympians all coming out of NMU since he started coaching in 1986. He also has coached Olympic, World, and Junior and Senior National ski teams. Sophomore George Cartwright said it is a privilege being led by such an acclaimed coach, but it also has its pressures.

“Sten is arguably one of the best coaches in the country,” Cartwright said. “He is world renown. When you come here in the first place, you’re skiing for Sten so you cannot mess it up.”

Cartwright said one of the team’s athletes that is having a breakthrough performance after a rough couple of seasons because of her and Fjeldheim’s hard work is sophomore Molly Burger.

“Despite of battling Lyme disease for a season and not being able to train, let alone compete, she and Sten worked hard together once she was back,” Cartwright said. “Now her first season back she already has a third place overall finish and just last weekend won her race.”

Soderman agrees that while everyone is doing well, Burger is giving the team aa additional boost for the upcoming season.

“Molly’s win inspired the rest of the team to work that much harder after seeing how hard she worked for her success,” Soderman said.

Last weekend the team competed in a race in Minnesota where the women’s team placed first on Saturday and third on Sunday. Soderman said these smaller tournaments are simply for qualifying for NCAA Nationals in mid-March where the athletes are really working to peak at.

“We have been getting good top results this season but the big goal for most of us is Nationals in Bozeman, Mont.,” Soderman said. “We want to qualify a full team; three guys and three girls from NMU should be going.”

The Wildcats have a legacy to defend because, while they are the dominating force in the region, they do have an ongoing rivalry with University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Cartwright said the team beat their rivals by a one point to take the CCSA title.

“Basically, NMU has been the dominating school in our region; it’s a prestige thing to hold onto,” Cartwright said. “We expect to win regionals and dominate.”

Once they take on regionals and conference, the team will then be competing individually and not necessarily as a team. Cartwright said once National qualifying times are set, that’s all they are focused on.

“The next couple months of races are going to be us fighting each other to see who goes to NCAA Nationals,” Cartwright said.

While Nationals is a few months away in the beginning of March, the Wildcat Nordic men’s and women’s teams will be looking for another victory at the Central Grand Prix Super Tour Jan. 21 and 22 in Minneapolis.