This is the seventh of a 12-part series profiling the schools in the Central Collegiate Ski Association. Schools from Michigan, Wisconsin and Alaska and Minnesota makeup the CCSA.
Last season Gustavus Adolphus made school history when Chandra Daw became the first skier – male or female – to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
This year the Golden Gusties of St. Peter, Minn., who tied for fourth in the CCSA in 2005-06, are hungry for more.
“It was huge to get the first qualifier because it gave confidence to a lot of our other skiers that they can do it (too),” said third-year coach Jed Friedrich. “I think Chandra gave a positive message to the rest of our skiers, and it motivated the rest of the team for summer training.”
Daw, since graduated and now coaching at St. John’s and St. Benedict, impressively qualified last season when the Central Region had just seven available NCAA spots for women. With 10 berths to be earned for 2007, the Gusties’ prospects are even better this season, especially with eight capable women.
“It definitely improves our chances because in the past couple years we’ve had skiers in the bubble area,” said Friedrich, a 2003 graduate of Northern Michigan University. “(But) it’s going to get tougher because all of the skiers in the Central Region are getting better.”
The GAC women finished third at the 2006 CCSA Championships, trailing only powerhouses NMU and the Alaska Nanooks and ahead of larger schools such as Michigan Tech and Wisconsin-Green Bay. They hope to repeat that podium position this season.
The all-Minnesota women’s roster consists of senior Ritva Taipale, juniors Sarah Willis, Kathleen DeWahl and Laura Edlund, sophomores Allison Bohn, Kelly Chaudoin and Kathryn Ladig and freshman Brynden Patzoldt-Manbeck.
“I see all of those ladies contending for (NCAA) spots,” said Friedrich, who in 2004-05 replaced Scott Jerome, now the coach at Alaska Fairbanks. “It’s going to be really tight. We have some good competition intrasquad. At this point I don’t want to rule out anyone.”
Brynden may miss most of January, however, to compete at the World Junior Biathlon Championship in Italy and possibly other events in Europe.
“She’s the top junior biathlete in the country right now,” said Friedrich.
Brynden’s brother, Kevin, is also a highly ranked biathlete for the Gusties. Kevin, a junior who took the last two seasons off to focus on biathlon, will compete with nine GAC teammates at the U.S. Nationals Jan. 3-7 in Houghton, Mich., then also will spend most of January in Europe for World Cup level biathlon races.
Friedrich’s goal for the five-person men’s team is to be the best Division III team in the conference.
“The guys are young and a little bit less experienced, but they’re dedicated,” said Friedrich. “They’ll be competing well against the other small schools in our region.”
Due to the lack of snow in Minnesota, the team has mostly been rollerskiing so far this season, though they have road-tripped to the Minneapolis area a couple times to ski on man-made snow. They also traveled north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the Grandview XC Ski Challenge Dec. 9-10.
Though Friedrich has no scholarships to award because GAC is a Division III school, he said the academic reputation of Gustavus Adolphus sells many prospective skiers on the school.
“Gustavus is nice because we’re one of the top academic institutions of all the ski schools,” said Friedrich.