Last year, the Alaska Nanooks sent five Nordic skiers to the NCAA Championships and finished 10th as a team even though they, like Northern Michigan, competed with the handicap of no alpine squad. The Nanook also won the CCSA Championships team title for the first time, edging perennial powerhouse NMU.
This year, despite several key losses to graduation, the Nanooks expect to send a full complement of six skiers to NCAAs and hope to defend their CCSA title.
“Our team is good enough that we should be sending six,” said third-year head coach Scott Jerome.
The CCSA, which comprises the NCAA’s Central Region, sent seven women and six men to NCAAs last season. Because of the conference’s performance at NCAAs the last two years, and a one-skier increase in the region’s quota, the CCSA will be awarded 10 slots for women and nine for men in 2007.
“That’s huge for our region and big for our team,” said Jerome. The increase is likely to benefit schools like NMU and Alaska, which seek to qualify full teams, as well as the other 10 schools in the conference, which will have a greater opportunity to sneak skiers into the championships.
Though NCAA silver-medalist Johanna Turunen and qualifier Pavla Havlova have moved on, the Nanook women have a “Fab Four” of underclassmen ready to step in. And while the men graduated two consistent Scandinavians, All-Americans Marius Korthauer and Bart Dengel are back seeking more hardware while a pair of newcomer Estonians and local boy Anders Gillis are also expected to challenge for NCAA slots.
“I think our men are as good or better than last year,” said Jerome.
Jerome acknowledges NMU was shorthanded on the women’s side last year, but is far from conceding the 2007 CCSA title. “It’s going to be tough for our women. (NMU) is definitely stacked on the women’s side. The door was open a crack (last season) and we took full advantage of it,” said Jerome. “However, on the guys’ side, I think that just looking on paper we’re stronger than Northern, so it’s going to be close for the overall.”
The Nanooks have had one meet so far this season, edging rival Alaska Anchorage last month in a meet shortened to one day because of cold weather. And though the Fairbanks winter has thus far brought a dearth of snow, there has been enough to ski on since Oct. 25, providing the Alaskans with a healthy training advantage.
Korthauer, a junior from Bonndorf, Germany, is hoping to pick up where he left off last season, when he won silver at the NCAA classic race and placed seventh in the freestyle despite falling during a chaotic mass-start that relegated him to the back of the pack. Dengel, a senior, culminated last season by placing seventh at the NCAA 20K freestyle.
Meanwhile, junior Vahur Teppan and freshman Henri Soom, both from Tartu, Estonia, bring their supreme gliding ability to the squad. Gillis, from Fairbanks, used part of his redshirt last season to spend a semester in Sweden gathering Nordic skiing tips. His sister, Christina, is a freshman skier at NMU.
For the Nanook women, who won the school’s first CCSA title last year, twins Julia and Anna Coulter of Traverse City, Mich., Aurelia Korthauer (Marius’ sister) and Paula Daabach of Sweden form the Fab Four, but they have no established upperclassman to lead them.
“Everybody’s gotten fitter. I really have no idea how things are going to fall out,” said Jerome. “We just don’t have that leadership, that senior leadership that’s sort of setting the stride. As a result, the Fab Four are looking to each other for guidance, to push each other.”
Last season, Anna Coulter redshirted while Julia narrowly missed qualifying for NCAAs as the eight-ranked CCSA skier with seven earning berths.