This is the eleventh 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.
Located about a 10-kilometer jaunt apart are the College of Saint Benedict (for women) in St. Joseph, Minn., and Saint John’s University (for men) in Collegeville.
The central Minnesota schools near St. Cloud share an academic program – St. Benedict was founded by Benedictine nuns and St. John’s by Benedictine monks – but have separate athletic programs, campuses, residence halls and traditions.
They also share the mission of improving on the ski trails while getting a solid education at schools both ranked in the top three among Catholic liberal arts institutions in the nation.
“Our kids are here because skiing is something they love to do and they want to race in college,” said David Johnson, the seventh-year coach at both schools. “They happen to also be very bright so what they do in the classroom is also important for the future.”
Each school also happens to have talented skiers, including a foursome at St. Benedict comprised of senior Kelly Wubbels, sophomores Rebecca Mueller and Maggie Donohue and freshman Anna Roessler, an elite junior biathlete.
“I’m guessing that one of them may find their way to the top of the team,” said Johnson. “There’s 10 slots now (for the NCAA Championships), so there’s a shot now for somebody other than Northern (Michigan) and (Alaska) Fairbanks. I think some of the smaller schools have a chance.”
At the team’s first competition this season, the Grandview XC Classic Dec. 9-10 at Ironwood, Mich., Donahue and Roessler led the Blazers by both finishing in the top seven for the Older Junior division in sprint and 5-k classic races.
“It went very well,” Johnson said of the races that most CCSA schools attended. “We had four women in the OJ finals - one (of them) in the A finals and three women in the B finals in the sprints.”
The Blazers and Johnnies also now have NCAA-experience affiliated with the team as Chandra (Daw) Zeigler, who skied for Gustavus Adolphus last season and competed at the 2006 NCAAs, will be their assistant coach.
The men at St. John’s are a relatively young group led by Minneapolis-area seniors Tom Dehler and Erik Hendrickson. “We would like to break into the top 15 in the region,” said Johnson.
Seniors Seth Spencer (Duluth) and Keegan O’Hara (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) are also on the 12-man roster.
"We would like to gain the respect of the rest of the skiers,” said Johnson, who will bring a group to the U.S Nationals Jan. 3-7 in Houghton, Mich. “We’re working just as hard. Our mission is to be competitive.”