Creating a varsity sport for Nordic skiing at Northland College has been a group effort involving students, administrators and the community.
Sara Domek was a leader of that effort, and now the junior from Cora, Wyo., is a leader for the Lumberjills (and Lumberjacks). That’s because Northland, a 750-student Division III college on the shore of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wisc,, has joined the CCSA this season.
“We’ve had a ski club for awhile. (Domek) was really the spearhead of that club,” said Northland coach David Beeksma. Domek also spearheaded the idea of promoting skiing beyond the club status, said Beeksma. A group of students met with the school’s president to get the ball rolling down the ski hill, and once startup funding was secured, the school’s Board of Trustees approved the proposal.
Last May, Beeksma was promoted from part-time cross country running coach to full-time running and skiing coach. Since then he’s put together a group of 15 athletes – a handful with skiing backgrounds and others who have the interest and desire but lack experience.
“I had four who I knew had experience and were going to join the team.The other 11 are brand new to the sport, especially from the competitive side,” said Beeksma. “Some of them have never been on skis before. It’s been a lot of teaching and patience. It’s been an interesting bag where I have a couple of athletes who are fit, and I’ve got to spend a lot of time with the first-timers so they can get around a lap without breaking a leg.”
The school’s first meet was the Grandview XC Challenge Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich., where senior Justin Brewster and freshman Kerry Soltis made school history as the first varsity athletes to finish a Nordic ski race.
“The best way to sum it up was everybody was ecstatic just to get out and get their feet wet,” said Beeksma of the five student-athletes who competed in Ironwood. “They’re just glad to have the opportunity. There’s no pressure or expectations. There’s just enjoying the sport.”
In addition to Domek and Soltis (Elk River, Minn.), freshman Natalie Morse-Noland (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) comes to the Lumberjills with prior skiing experience. For the Lumberjacks, joining Brewster as leaders are sophomore Shannon Flynn from Spooner, Wisc., and senior Jeremy Voss.
As the team gains experience, their expectations will also rise. “Every year the goal will be as we grow the program, we’ll have less and less of the beginners and (field) a team of competitive skiers coming out of high school,” said Beeksma.
Snow conditions permitting, the team will host the Northland Invite Jan. 7 against budding CCSA programs Finlandia University and St. Cloud State.
Beeksma is assisted by a trio of volunteer coaches – Dr. Kathy Gang plus Northland alumni Ray Wise and Blaise Sopiwnik.
The ski team’s creation has created a buzz around Ashland. "The campus is very excited and the community has been extremely supportive,” said Beeksma. “People are asking “What can we do to help the program grow and succeed?’”