Ski team sends six to national meet

John Becker

The NMU men’s and women’s Nordic ski teams both came home with laurels, each having earned first place at the NCAA Central Regional Championship last weekend. The teams will now look forward to the NCAA Championships being held March 10-13.
On Feb. 20, the women’s team swept the podium for the classic 5K with senior Laura DeWitt crossing the finish line first in 16:59.1. Junior Christina Gillis and freshman Monica Markvardsen were hot on DeWitt’s tail with times of 17:00.1 and 17:01.4, respectively.

Wildcat sophomore Kevin Cutts (No. 73)was one of three NMU men who qualified for the NCAA national meet, to be held March 10-13 in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Teammate George Cartwright is in the background. // Trevor Pellerite/NW

The men’s team had two of the top three skiers in their 10K classic race with redshirt freshman Chris Bowler in second place at 29:58.9, followed very quickly by freshman George Cartwright at 29:59.2. Freshman Kevin Cutts was also in the top 10, finishing in eighth at 30:32.4
The women’s team scored a combined 174 points from classic and freestyle, and they once again dominated the 10K freestyle race by taking the top three places on Sunday, Feb. 21. Gillis finished first with a time of 30:20.8, followed by Markvardsen at 30:25.6 and DeWitt at 30:26.1. The men’s team was victorious with a combined 159 points, and Cartwright won the freestyle with a time of 39:42.8. Bowler finished sixth at 40:06.6, and Cutts finished seventh just a slice behind at 40:06.9.
NMU head coach Sten Fjeldheim said he was really proud of the effort on both fronts, but the women’s team was truly exceptional.
“The women swept the podium both days, which I don’t think has been done at the NCAA Regionals. We might have done it once in the last 20 years, so that’s pretty outstanding,” he said.
Gillis, DeWitt and Markvardsen are going to be in the championships for the women, and Cartwright, Bowler and Cutts will represent the men’s team. The Nordic ski teams are taking a full cohort to the NCAA Championships, which Fjeldheim said is a great achievement.
“We qualified a full team and there are very few slots available; there were only eight men’s slots and seven women’s slots available for our whole region, so we’re really happy,” he said.
The NCAA Championships will be held March 10-13 in Steamboat Springs, Colo., which Fjeldheim said will bring an interesting challenge to the table.
“We’re going to be racing at 6,200 feet, and I want them to get used to what that feels like because this is an endurance sport,” he said.
Fjeldheim also said both freshman contenders have some experience at higher altitudes as Cartwright is from Wyoming and Markvardsen is from Washington.
Luckily for the team, the week of Spring Break precedes the championships, which Fjeldheim said offers a rare opportunity for the team to prepare for the higher altitude which can take up to two weeks.
“We don’t have quite that much time but I feel we’ll have adequate time to acclimate to the new altitude if we do it right,” he said.
Senior Laura DeWitt agreed with Fjeldheim that the process takes some time and she is glad the team will be able to get out there early.
“You have to race differently than at sea level. You can’t go out super hard because you can blow up a lot easier and it’s a lot harder to recover at a higher altitude,” she said. “You have to know how to pace yourself out there.”
Still, DeWitt said it’s nice to travel out West, specifically to Colorado, because it’s less humid which makes skiers glide easier over the course. She also said her goal is to be in the top 10, which is a hope she shares for the team as well.
“I really think anyone on the team could be [top 10] if we’re feeling good and we hit our peaks at the right time,” she said.
This is DeWitt’s final race and she said she doesn’t want to put pressure on herself.
“I’m just going to go out there and do my best and enjoy myself while I race,” she said.