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Central College Ski Association 2007-08 preview

Part 1

Wed, Jan  2, 2008 - By Matias Saari

Matching its historic achievement last season of having a school twice sweep the podium at the NCAA Championships is highly unlikely, but the Central Collegiate Ski Association still has plenty of firepower and plenty to look forward to in 2007-08.

In addition to Michigan Tech again hosting the U.S. National Cross Country Ski Championships Jan. 1-6, the 11-school CCSA has earned extra spots for the 2008 NCAAs in Bozeman, Mont., where many conference skiers are capable of All-American performances and several should contend for a national championship.

Expected to lead the conference again are the Northern Michigan University Wildcats, the Alaska Nanooks and the Michigan Tech Huskies.

NMU’s women (the American-born Lindsey Weier, Lindsay Williams and Morgan Smyth) claimed the top three spots in both classic and freestyle races at the 2007 NCAAs, and though Weier and Williams have used up their eligibility, the Wildcats under longtime coach Sten Fjeldheim expect to again send a full six-member squad to NCAAs. The same can be said for Alaska, whose senior Marius Korthauer seeks an NCAA crown (he won bronze twice last year). MTU, meanwhile, boasts an especially deep men’s squad.

As a result of its performances at NCAAs the past two seasons, the conference will send 11 women and 10 men to the championships this year, and increase of one for each gender.

"It guarantees that at least four men’s and four women’s institutions will be represented," MTU coach Joe Haggenmiller said.

Schools like Wisconsin-Green Bay, the College of Saint Scholastica and Gustavus Adolphus College are vying for those coveted extra spots, while Saint Cloud State, Saint Olaf, the College of Saint Benedict, Saint John’s and Northland College also strive to be in contention in the highly competitive conference.

The season is about much more than NCAAs, however. Many schools have raced in smaller meets in December to begin preparation for the U.S Nationals, SuperTour events in Coleraine, Minn., and Cable, Wisc., and the NCAA Central Region Championships (hosted by CSS) Feb. 16-17 at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn.

Points tallied at those four events will determine who qualifies for the NCAAs March 5-8 in Bozeman, Mont.

Listed below are capsules about each CCSA program, in the order of their placement at the 2007 Central Region Championships.

NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY

Location: Marquette, Michigan
Coach: Sten Fjeldheim, 21st season
2007 Central Region result: 1st

Top returning men: Sr. Martin Banerud, Jr. Phillip Violett, Jr. Bill Bowler, Jr. Justin Singleton, Sr. Gus Kaeding, So. Tim Cook Top returning women: Sr. Morgan Smyth, Sr. Maria Stuber, So. Laura DeWitt, So. Tanya Cook, So. Anna Berglund, So. Ingrid Fjeldheim (redshirting), So. Christina Gillis (redshirting).

Top newcomers: Maria-Helen Soderman, Fr. Kevin Cutts (redshirting) Key departed skiers: Lindsey Weier, Lindsay Williams

2007-08 outlook: Replacing Weier, a two-time Olympian who was named the 2007 College Skier of the Year by Ski Racing magazine after winning both the 15K classic at NCAAs and the 5K classic at U.S. Nationals, is practically impossible. The same goes for Williams, the NCAA 5K freestyle champion.

But the Wildcats return plenty of depth, led by Morgan Smyth (Vernon, Vt.), whose second in freestyle and third in classic last season helped NMU become the first women’s team in NCAA history to sweep back-to-back races at the same NCAAs. Smyth is showing she’s still in fine form by winning three of the five races NMU has competed in this year, remarkable considering she had a knee operation in July and spent 16 weeks thereafter focusing on upper-body exercises.

Maria Stuber, a sixth-year senior, has won the other two early-season races and looks to reach her first NCAAs. DeWitt, who redshirted last year for medical reasons, has also been skiing well so far.

For the men, the Norwegian Martin Banerud, with his two All-American performances at NCAAs last season (fourth in freestyle, seventh in classic), anchors the squad. NCAA-qualifiers Phillip Violett (the winner of two races already this season) and Bill Bowler also return, while Justin Singleton and others will challenge those three for a ticket to NCAAs.

All in all, the Wildcats will be a force to contend with.

"We think the team is capable of placing in the top five Nordic teams at the NCAA championships," Fjeldheim said.

ALASKA

Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
Coach: Scott Jerome, fourth season
2007 Central Region result: 2nd

Top returning men: Sr. Marius Korthauer, Sr. Vahur Teppan, So. Ray Sabo, So. John Parry, So. Henri Soom (redshirting) Top returning women: Jr. Aurelia Korthauer, So. Anna Coulter, Jr. Elisabeth Habermann, Jr. Julia Coulter (redshirting) Top newcomers: Fr. Zach McGill, So. Einar Often, Fr. Robert Pakk, Jr. Andreas Schnitzer

2007-08 outlook: The men’s team is led by Marius Korthauer, who placed third in each NCAA race last season and has expressed a desire to become the Nanooks’ first male NCAA champion. Also returning is Vahur Teppan, an especially strong classic skier who, slowed by a bacterial infection, finished a disappointing 30th in the 20K classic last year at NCAAs. Though NCAA qualifier Henri Soom is redshirting, coach Scott Jerome pegs no fewer than six skiers as being in the hunt for the team’s third NCAA slot – Ray Sabo, John Parry, Zach McGill, Einar Often, Robert Pakk and Andreas Schnitzer. Incidentally, six is also the number of countries represented on the men’s squad: Germany, Estonia, Austria, Norway, Canada and the United States.

For the women, Jerome was faced with the enviable challenge of having four capable skiers vying for three NCAA spots. To solve the "problem," Julia Coulter, an All-American for her ninth in the freestyle last year, is redshirting. That leaves Aurelia Korthauer (fifth in the NCAA classic in 2007), NCAA qualifier Anna Coulter and Elisabeth Habermann, who redshirted last year and instead qualified for the World Junior Championships in Italy, as a formidable trio.

In Part II and III, we'll cover more of the CCSA member schools.