Jackson, N.H. - The women’s podium was filled with Wildcat green and gold Wednesday at the NCAA Skiing Championships in Jackson, N.H.
Northern Michigan University seniors Lindsay Williams, Morgan Smyth and Lindsey Weier swept the top three spots in the 5-kilometer freestyle, a first among Nordic women at the NCAA’s in at least 20 years, and possibly ever.
"I know that our team is really strong, so it doesn’t surprise me that much, but it’s just awesome that this really did happen," Williams said Wednesday on the Web site for the University of New Hampshire, which is hosting the championships.
Williams became NMU’s first female NCAA champion, finishing in 13 minutes, 50.4 seconds, a fair amount faster than Smyth (14:06.6) as well as Weier (14:08.3), who raced last week at the World Nordic Ski Championships in Japan.
"We just raced hard as a team. We went into it with a positive attitude, and left it all out on the course," said Williams, who last month also won the Central Region freestyle title, with Weier second and Smyth third. "I was pushing hard the whole way, from the very beginning to the very end."
Williams said the interval-start course, which featured a climb of nearly 2.5 kilometers followed by a descent of the same distance, suited her well. "The first half is a climb and you get to the top of the course, then it’s fun downhill," said Williams, a Hastings, Minn., native and a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s "B" squad along with Smyth and Weier. "When you get to the stadium again you hammer it to the finish line."
Though Denver University swept the men’s classic podium in 2001, there has been no women’s NCAA sweep in the 20 years that NMU coach Sten Fjeldheim has coached the Wildcats.
"It’s unbelievable, not only 1-2-3 but all three are U.S. citizens, which is almost unheard of from any team," said Scott Jerome, a former NMU assistant coach who now leads the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
There’s no secret to NMU’s success, just hard work. "Nobody wanted to say it out loud, I think, but we knew on a good day all three of our girls would be hard to beat," said Fjeldheim. "The girls pulled it off basically from training May, June, July, August all the way through."
The women’s trio was joined in the finish area by four Wildcat teammates who drove to New Hampshire to watch the races, said Fjeldheim. A party ensued when well-known Nordic announcer Peter Graves announced the results.
"They’re really excited. They were just going nuts," said Fjeldheim via cell phone. "They were all just celebrating, having a good time."
While intrasquad competition can be fierce, the Wildcat women also work together. "They’re really supportive of each other. That’s one of the key things among our team," said Fjeldheim. "They’re such an easy-going but hard-working team."
Only three skiers of each gender can represent a school at NCAA’s. "It’s very competitive just to be on our team," said Fjeldheim. "Quite a few girls at home could be in the top 10 (at NCAA’s)."
Williams joins Wildcat men’s champions Chris Cook (2003) and Pete Vordenberg (1993), now the U.S. Ski Team’s head coach.
Buoyed by the women’s sweep and a fourth place by Martin Banerud for the men, NMU, of the Central Collegiate Ski Association, leads the team standings with 189 points. Dartmouth is second with 166 and the University of Denver is third with 146. CCSA-school Alaska Fairbanks is sixth (106) while Michigan Tech is 13th (42).
The Wildcats’ team lead will be short-lived, however, because NMU fields no Alpine team, and the NCAA ski champion comes from a combined result of Nordic and Alpine races. NMU still can shoot for the bragging right of landing atop the Nordic standings, however.
Other CCSA skiers also fared well: Julie Coulter of Alaska Fairbanks earned All-American honors in ninth, while twin sister Anna placed 13th and Kristina Owen paced Michigan Tech in 15th among 39 starters.
Aurelia Korthauer of Alaska Fairbanks (33rd), Linn Dale from St. Olaf (34th), Jenna Klein of MTU (36th) and Elizabeth Quinley of MTU (39th) rounded out the CCSA women.
While snow conditions were excellent for the races, chilly temperatures delayed the start an hour. Temperatures early Wednesday morning were minus 20 Fahrenheit, but warmed to around 0 for the men’s race at 10 a.m. and into single digits for the women’s start two hours later, said Fjeldheim.
On the men’s side, German Rene Reisshauer of Denver took the 10K title in 24:52, almost 30 seconds faster than Utah’s Snorri Einarsson.
Marius Korthauer of Alaska Fairbanks, on his 22nd birthday, placed third in 25:43, just 0.8 seconds faster than Banerud, who briefly got tangled with teammate Phil Violett while passing him late in the race. "Classic has been his strength, so for him to be on the podium in skating is a feat," said Jerome of Korthauer.
Was there a birthday celebration planned for Korthauer, whose parents traveled from Germany to witness the competition? "We’re not celebrating," said Jerome, who arrived at the waxing area at 6 a.m. Wednesday, four hours before the men’s race start. "We’re going to bed early, that’s how we’re celebrating."
Vahur Teppan of Estonia, Korthauer’s highly touted teammate, did not race due to a bacterial infection for which he is taking antibiotics. He expects to race in Friday’s 20K classic, however.
Other CCSA results were: Bill Bowler, NMU, 15th; Violett, NMU, 26th; Kevin Heglund, MTU, 30th; Santiago Ocariz, Wisconsin-Green Bay, 35th; Henri Soom, Alaska, 36th; and Jesse Lang, MTU, 38th.
The Nordic competition concludes with mass-start classic races on Friday, while Alpine features a giant slalom on Thursday and a slalom on Saturday.
Could NMU repeat the sweep?
"I don’t want to jinx them, but it’s definitely possible," said Fjeldheim. "A lot of weird things can happen in a mass start. The key will be to get out (of the stadium) clean and into the woods."