Michigan Tech is getting noticed both for its performance on the ski trails and for the high-profile events it’s been hosting.
Led by two-time NCAA All-American Kristina Owen, the Huskies placed third in the CCSA last season. And the Michigan Tech Nordic Training Center, also known as the “Tech Trails,” last year hosted the U.S. Junior Nationals, the CCSA Championships and coming up Jan. 3-7 will feature its biggest event to date, the US Nationals, where many CCSA schools will face off against the top skiers in the nation.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not cooperated so far this season, and minimal snow forced the cancellation of the MTU Christmas Classic Dec. 16-17.
Michigan Tech coach Joe Haggenmiller is confident the trail will be in good shape for the US Nationals just three weeks away, though making snow artificially may be necessary. “We also got a snow gun this year,” said Haggenmiller, adding that Tech will also host the event in 2008. “I’m pretty sure we’ll make it through this little (warm) spell. I know it’s going to get cold between now and Jan. 1.”
After being renovated five years ago, the 15-kilometer Tech Trails feature top-notch grooming and a converted pole barn for a waxing center, said Haggenmiller, MTU’s fourth-year coach. “People are going to come here and see what fantastic trails we have,” said Haggenmiller, who competed at Northern Michigan from 1988-91. “I’d stack Michigan Tech up against any of them. Our terrain is just outstanding. The trails are laid out really nice.”
One skier who will benefit from a home-course advantage is Owen, last season’s CCSA 5-k classic champion, who placed ninth in classic and 17th in the freestyle race at the 2006 NCAAs in Steamboat Springs, Colo. She’s also seeking a spot at the Under-23 World Championships in Italy in late-January. “She comes from pretty good roots,” Haggenmiller said of his engineering student from East Wenatchee, Wash. “Her mom was an NCAA All-American (skier) and her father was a runner at Western State (Colo.). The last three or four years she has started to train with the elite women in the country and her results are there.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Quinley of Anchorage, Alaska, is capable of having a breakthrough year, said Haggenmiller. “I’m cautiously optimistic that she can contend for the Junior Worlds trip (in Italy) and hopefully be an NCAA qualifier and be competitive when she gets there,” said Haggenmiller.
Jenna Klein, a redshirt freshman from Ely, Minn., freshman recruit Kristen Monahan (St. Louis Park, Minn.) and freshman Hanna Stadem (Baxter, Minn.) could also contend for NCAA slots, said Haggenmiller.
At the season-opening meet Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich., Quinley won the women’s Older Junior division for the 5k classic, while Stadem placed sixth and Monahan 10th. Owen and Klein placed sixth and eighth, respectively, in the women’s division.
The talented men’s side has depth but no clear frontrunner. “We have a group of five, maybe six, guys that each could be challenging for NCAA berths,” said Haggenmiller. Senior Aaron Ditty of Brooklyn Park, Minn., made the NCAAs last season and aims for a repeat visit. Junior Chris Harvey and sophomore Jesse Lang, both from Minnesota, have fared well at past Junior Olympic races, while juniors Adam Airoldi (Everson, Wash.) and Kevin Heglund of Andover, Minn., also are capable. Sophomore Ben Beard is a skating specialist. Lang led the group by placing eighth in the classic and sixth in the sprint at Ironwood.
Haggenmiller says Tech is striving to join what is considered the CCSA’s elite – NMU and Alaska-Fairbanks. “We’re working hard to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak,” he said. “We’re moving from the second tier up to the first tier.”