At the top of the penultimate climb on Sunday in Houghton, Mich., five Nordic skiers were still grouped together and in contention for the NCAA Central Regional Championships women’s freestyle title.
At the crest of the final climb, Julia Pierson of the University of Alaska Fairbanks made sure there was only one. Pierson, a junior who redshirted last year, broke away between 8-9 kilometers and won the 10-kilometer mass-start event at the Michigan Tech Trails in 33 minutes, 17 seconds.
Her twin sister, Anna Coulter, then outsprinted Laura DeWitt of Northern Michigan University to finish one second ahead of her in 33:27.
Kelly Chaudoin of Gustavus Adolphus College (33:35) and Ingrid Fjeldheim of NMU (33:37) rounded out the top five.
The result was redemptive for Pierson and Coulter, who placed just 12th and 19th, respectively, in Saturday’s 5K classical technique race won convincingly by DeWitt. But it wasn’t a total surprise, as the pair typically excel in freestyle races and have each been NCAA All-Americans.
The event, held at a temperature of 15 degrees, also featured a handful of elite club skiers who claimed the first four spots. Olympian Lindsey Dehlin won easily in 31:53 followed by three skiers from team CXC.
The race was last of nine qualifying events used to determine which 11 women and nine men will earn berths at the NCAA Skiing Championships March 11-14 in Rumford, Maine. That team will be named Monday.
In the men’s 15-kilometer race, Santiago Ocariz, a junior from Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Jesse Lang of Michigan Tech waged a good battle. Ocariz, who was sixth in the same race a year ago, won in 42:52, with Lang 11 seconds back. Sindre Stokke of NMU was a distant third, followed by Oskar Lund of MTU and NMU’s Justin Singleton. NMU’s Martin Banerud, who edged Lund by a mere 0.4 seconds on Friday in the 10K classic, did not start Saturday’s race.
CXC skiers Brian Gregg and Bryan Cook took the top two overall spots, with Gregg 20 seconds ahead of Ocariz.
In the team standings, Michigan Tech edged NMU by one point in the men’s freestyle race, but NMU prevailed for the two-day men’s title, 181-178. UWGB was third in 134.
For the women, UAF won the freestyle Sunday with 92 points to 88 for NMU.
NMU, however, claimed the overall championship with 183 points. UAF was second with 163, followed by MTU with 152.
NMU (364), MTU (330) and UAF (288) took the top three spots when combining men’s and women’s team scores.
Listed below is the men’s and women’s combined team score, with the top individual result from each school during the two days of racing:
Complete results (PDF):