’Cats return home with National champion

Karly Ratzenberger

The Nordic ski team competed in the NCAA Championship March 7-9 in Bozeman, Mont.

The Wildcats had a nice showing over all, finishing in sixth place out of 19 teams.

The ’Cats had their best races on Wednesday, March 7 with three All-Americans and one National Champion.

Sophomore Erik Soderman finished in first place in the men’s 10k freestyle race with a time of 25:20.2, which not only made him an All-American, but a National Champion as well.

“Erik Soderman didn’t just win, he won by a landslide,” head coach Sten Fjeldheim said. “To win by 25 seconds was amazing. He did an awesome job. It is really pretty great for the university to have another National Champion.”

Soderman said, although he had a pretty good season, he didn’t expect to see his competition 25 seconds behind him.

“It feels really good,” Soderman said. “I think just a good deal of training and staying healthy just really paid off. It was a little bit surprising to win by that much. I had a really great season, so I knew there was a possible chance that I could get there but I was definitely a little bit surprised.”

Fjeldheim said Soderman was racing against some tough competition. He beat last year’s champion Sam Tarling from Dartmouth by 33 seconds and also beat University of Utah skier Miles Havlick, who has been winning all of the Western races.

Ingrid Fjeldheim said the 10k skate is an individual start for the men. While all the men are racing, the coaches give splits to the athletes on where they are within the field. Coaches didn’t have Erik on their radar.

“He skied into first with a 25 second lead,” Fjeldheim said. “For this kind of win it is a remarkable finish. When you race at altitude you need to ski very smart and at a more consistent pace, you can’t ever floor it, so Erik skied smart and just kept moving up each kilometer to take home the win.”

Freshman Kjell-Christian Markset finished the race on Wednesday in ninth place with a time of 26:10.9, which gave him an All-American ranking.

Fjeldheim said the team also had a good performance by junior Chris Bowler (27:40.2) who placed 33rd overall.

“The men’s team on that day finished third in the nation,” Fjeldheim said. “We are really happy with that.”

The Wednesday success for the Wildcats does not stop with the men’s team, however; the women had an impressive showing on day one of the NCAAs as well.

Senior Marie-Helen Soderman came in 10th place in the women’s 5k freestyle race with a time of 15:10.5. Being ranked in the top 10 gave her All-American status.

“Marie-Helen has competed for us in the NCAA championships before, but she finally got her top 10 and All-American ranking,” Fjeldheim said. “Her finish is really gratifying and satisfying for her, as well as the rest of the team. We are really excited for her and her ability to ski.”

Junior Monica Markvardsen also finished in the top 20. She finished in 18th place with a time of 15:34.8.

Sophomore Molly Burger made her first NCAA appearance and finished 26th with a time of 15:53.4.

“Molly has really come a long way this year and done a great job for us,” Fjeldheim said. “All in all, we are really happy with our first day and, as a team combined, were fourth in the nation after Wednesday.”

On Friday, March 9, the team hit a bit of a rough patch as the temperature in Bozeman rose from 27 to a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Markset finished first for the Wildcats in the men’s 20k classic in 25th place overall.

“It was a decent race, but we didn’t have as good skiing as we could have, due to the changing conditions,” Fjeldheim said.

Bowler had a concrete finish and placed 30th overall in Friday’s race.

“Chris had a solid race,” Fjeldheim said. “I am pretty impressed with his consistency.”

Soderman finished off the Wildcat roster and glided in at 38th palace overall in the 20k.

The women thrived in the warmer weather and topped the list of competitors in the women’s 15k classic mass start on Friday.

“We had a solid and impressive result from Marie Helen in 13th place,” Fjeldheim said. “It was a really solid race for her.”

Markvardsen finished 23rd overall and Burger finished in 37th place.

Fjeldheim said he is very happy with the team’s results considering the amount of tough competition in the races.

“We were competing against a lot of Division I schools like Denver, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Dartmouth, so overall we did an excellent job,” Fjeldheim said.

Assistant coach Ingrid Fjeldheim said overall, the championships were a very exciting and rewarding event.

“It was fun to watch Erik take home the NCAA title and his sister Marie Helen ski into 10th for an All-American,” Fjeldheim said. “This for any school is great results.”

Sten Fjeldheim said he is proud of the athletes and coaching staff. He said they worked hard, and finishing out with a National Champion couldn’t make the members of the program happier.

“We are extremely pleased that our athletes maintained a high GPA throughout the season ,and they are great kids to work with performance-wise as well,” Fjeldheim said. “We have met our expectations and goals for the year, so I know our team is excited with what we accomplished in the Championships.”

To finish off the year, the Wildcats will be competing in post-season races in the upcoming weeks.

Fjeldheim said, if there is snow, the team will have skiers competing in post season Distance Nationals. These races will take place March 24-31 in Craftsbury, Vt.