Of the 12 podium spots available at the NCAA Central Region Ski Championships Feb. 16-17 in Biwabik, Minn., Northern Michigan University and Alaska (Fairbanks) each claimed six. It's no surprise, therefore, that the Wildcats and Nanooks are each sending a full complement of six skiers apiece to the 2008 NCAA Skiing Championships.
The Central Regionals saw some exciting racing, as siblings Marius Korthauer and Aurelia Korthauer of Alaska handily took the freestyle crowns while Phil Violett and Laura DeWitt of NMU narrowly won the classic titles.
Violett’s win at Giants Ridge Resort was extra impressive because he ended Korthauer’s undefeated run through the Central Collegiate Ski Association season by edging the German in the mass-start race by fourth-tenths of a second.
"Marius just got beat, plain and simple," Alaska coach Scott Jerome said. "It was a good race. Violett has come a long way in a few years and he deserves all the credit for the win." Bryan Cook, a former NMU skier competing in the open class, actually crossed the line first 0.2 seconds ahead of Violett.
DeWitt, a sophomore who redshirted last year for medical reasons, edged teammate Morgan Smyth by 1.7 seconds.
At the regionals, NMU used superior depth to win the men's, women's and combined titles. Alaska was second overall, followed by Michigan Tech and Gustavus Adolphus College.
The second-place women's result for GAC was a breakthrough for the Division III school in St. Peter, Minn., that cannot offer ski scholarships. After having qualified just one skier to NCAA’s in its history (Chandra Daw in 2006), the Gusties are sending a trio of women this year — Laura Edlund, Kathleen DeWahl and Kelly Chaudoin.
"Qualifying three women is something we talked about doing at the beginning of last season," said GAC coach Jed Friedrich, the CCSA women’s Coach of the Year. "I knew I had a great group of women who had the desire and work ethic to make it happen. After being completely shut out last year and being so close, they went right back to work in hopes of achieving their goal this year."
Based on NCAA results the past two years, the Central Region earned 21 berths — 11 for women and 10 for men — for this year's NCAA’s. NMU and Alaska gained six each, GAC and MTU have three apiece, Wisconsin-Green Bay earned two spots and Saint Scholastica got one.
Ashley Pletcher of UWGB nabbed the final women's spot while Adam Airoldi of Michigan Tech was the final men's qualifier. Freshman Ray Sabo of Alaska barely clinched his spot when, after breaking a pole early in the classic race in Biwabik, teammate Einar Often (who was also still mathematically alive for NCAA’s) handed him one of his own poles, helping to save Sabo’s race.
The CCSA isn't merely content with competing at NCAA’s; it's looking for more hardware and All-American certificates. Marius Korthauer, a senior, has three NCAA podium finishes the last two years and could win it all if things fall right for him. Smyth, meanwhile, twice landed on the podium last year and has skied well this season despite being limited to upper-body workouts for 16 weeks after a knee operation last July.
Other CCSA skiers who are a threat include DeWitt, Maria Stuber, Violett and Martin Banerud, all of NMU; and Aurelia Korthauer, Anna Coulter and Vahur Teppan of Alaska.
While NMU won't repeat its 2007 historic women's feat of twice sweeping the NCAA podium (with Smyth and the since-departed Lindsey Weier and Lindsay Williams), the Wildcats are still a force. "We think the team is capable of placing in the top five Nordic teams at the NCAA Championships," longtime NMU coach Sten Fjeldheim said earlier this season.