This is the ninth 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.
After four years of skiing at St. Olaf, Ollie Garrison graduated from the liberal arts college last spring and headed home to Massachusetts, unsuspecting of what was about to happen. A few months later, the 23-year-old boomeranged back to Northfield, Minn., as the Oles head ski coach and the youngest mentor in the CCSA.
“I had no idea (I’d be back). I really didn’t. I made my peace with the school and went home,” said Garrison, who replaces Kevin Brochman. “I’m so glad I got the position and I’ve been happy with it so far. It’s a great opportunity to be able to do this.”
Despite his youth, Garrison said being a St. Olaf alumnus is a major plus.“It’s a really big advantage. A lot of coaches spend the first year just getting to know the school,” said Garrison. “That’s what I already have under my belt - just knowing the athletes, knowing the school, where to train.”
One former standout teammate he won’t have around any more, however, is Karl Nygren, who qualified as the lone Ole for the 2006 NCAA Championships as a freshman but then decided to transfer to the University of Colorado. Nygren will be missed; he was the school’s first NCAA participant in five years.
In addition, the team lost Garrison, at least as a competitor, so the men need to rebuild.
“For the guys, it’s definitely looking to be a developing year,” said Garrison. “We have a bunch of new skiers coming in who need to take leadership roles. They’re anxious to do it.”
Senior captain Nels Dyste spent the fall semester in Germany on an exchange program but has returned and will be looked to for leadership.
Meanwhile, the anticipated number two skier, Jim Vaillancourt, came down with mononucleosis and will require time to return to full strength, said Garrison.
“The guys I’ve got are committed and they’re good athletes,” he said. “We can get somewhere with hard work.”
For the women, senior Linn Dale heads the team. “She’s Norwegian but has been going to school here the past four years. She went to high school in Bloomington,” said Garrison. “She has a definite shot at qualifying for NCAAs this year. I really think she can crack in there.”
Sophomore Shaina Short (Plymouth, Minn.) and junior Jennie Hedberg (Eden Prairie, Minn.), a proven runner, will try to help compensate for the loss of 2006 standouts Audrey Weber and Bria Schurke.
The Oles have not yet competed this season but did conduct a week long training camp over Thanksgiving in West Yellowstone, Mont. And the team will send six men and six women to the first two races at the U.S. Nationals, which begin Jan. 3 in Houghton, Mich.
“My goal as a coach in the next couple years is to be the best in Minnesota,” said Garrison. “After that I’m planning to put someone in the NCAAs on a yearly basis.”