The Central Collegiate Ski Association is comprised of men’s and women’s teams from eleven schools and is largely based in the Midwest. Of the eleven, six teams are from Minnesota (the College of Saint Benedict, College of Saint Scholastica, Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint John’s University, Saint Olaf College and St. Cloud State University), one from Wisconsin (the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay), three from Michigan (Michigan Tech University, Northern Michigan University, and Gogebic Community College) and one from Alaska (University of Alaska Fairbanks).
The 2008-9 year was largely successful within the Central Region, with contested races and relative parity throughout the league. Team results shifted from week to week, as did individual results, and although both the men and women’s teams from Northern Michigan University claimed first place in the region, no race was a foregone conclusion. Individuals from six schools qualified to represent the CCSA at NCAA’s in Rumford, Maine, to fill the conference’s allotment of 9 male and 11 female qualifiers.
It was at the NCAA races that the conference’s year took a turn for the worse. In the classic race, the CCSA had just 3 top-15 finishers and no All-Americans in the men and women’s races combined. Michigan Tech’s Jesse Lang picked up an All-American eighth-place finish in the freestyle race, but only one other man (NMU’s Martin Banerud, in 11th) joined Lang in the top 20. No female CCSA competitor placed in the top 15 in the skate race.
As a result, the number of qualifying spots available was slashed from 20 to 15. CCSA women sent 11 competitors to Rumford, but can send just 7 this year to Steamboat Springs, while the men’s number dropped from 9 to 8. This stretch of hardship may seem to indicate a decline in the competitiveness of the Central Region, but CCSA coaches are confident that is not the case. “We got thumped at NCAA’s last year as a region,” acknowledged University of Alaska-Fairbanks coach Scott Jerome, “and we now know what we need to do better. We all need to be better.”
Things are looking up for the region, though. Of last year’s top competitors, many have returned and still others are emerging as threats on not just regional but national levels. Four of the top five NCAA qualifiers return on the men’s side—Northern Michigan senior Martin Banerud, Michigan Tech sophomore Oskar Lund, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay senior Santiago Ocariz, and Michigan Tech senior Jesse Lang—indicating a competitive year for the CCSA men.
The women’s side is even more stacked returning for the 2009-10 campaign. The 10 women with the top qualifying points from last season all return, including 5 from a loaded Northern Michigan team, 2 from Michigan Tech, and 2 more from Alaska-Fairbanks. “There is no doubt that the CCSA is a strong region,” says St. Cloud State coach Jeremy Frost. Early season results seem to agree with him.
U.S. Nationals races in Anchorage from January 2-8 put on display the talent on both the men’s and women’s sides. NMU senior Laura Dewitt was among the top collegiate skiers in the classic race, in which she finished 16th overall. Aurelia Korthauer of Alaska-Fairbanks posted a strong result in the freestyle event at 21st to record the highest CCSA finish. NMU’s Christina Gillis, UAF’s Theresia Schnurr, and MTU newcomer Henna Riikonen-Purtsi also posted consistent and impressive results throughout competition.
The CCSA men showed up in full force. Santiago Ocariz of UW-GB was the top collegiate skier from any conference in both the classic and skate distance races with top-20 results in each. Alaska-Fairbanks may have put on display the most impressive team showing, with a 4th place finish from Tyler Kornfield in the freestyle sprint and a dominant showing in the classic sprint, with 3 of the top 5 overall finishers (Erik Soederstrom, Kornfield, and Einar Often). Consistent finishes from UAF in the distance races establishes them as a force to be reckoned with in the CCSA this season. The emergence of skiers like first-year George Cartwright of Northern Michigan is also encouraging for the region.
The teams at the top may not have changed this season—powerhouses Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, and Alaska-Fairbanks all have extremely strong teams, with UW-Green Bay at the edge of that group—but there are teams with chances to move up this season. College of St. Benedict, the College of St. Scholastica, and Gustavus Adolphus, among others, have strong crops of veteran and up-and-coming skiers to contend with the top individuals and teams. But the focus is clear for the conference as a whole this season: Race hard and competitively all season, with the goal of skiing as successfully as possible come March at the NCAA’s. “With a limited number of NCAA qualifying spots available,” Michigan Tech head coach Joe Haggenmiller declared, “I suspect our region's skiers going to NCAAs to be a "lean and mean" crew, in that with so few qualifiers, each one should be ready to ski in the top half or better of the NCAA field, as I know we have a region that is stronger than we showed last spring.”
The entire CCSA hopes that Haggenmiller’s optimism, shared by a majority of the conference’s coaches and encouraged by a strong crew of returning and emerging skiers, will be proven true in the months to come.
Most of the CCSA programs began their seasons in December, and several attended the U.S. National Cross Country Championships Jan. 2-8 in Anchorage, Alaska. The most important regular-season events this year, however, are the four sets of NCAA qualifying races that will determine which 7 women and eight men will participate in the NCAA Championships March 10-13 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.The qualifying races are Jan. 23-24 in Minneapolis, Minn.; Jan. 30-31 in Cable, Wisc.; Feb. 13-14 in Negaunee, Mich.; and Feb. 20-21 at the Central Region Championships in Houghton, Mich. Press releases will be distributed summarizing each of the qualifying events as well as the NCAA championships.
Tomorrow, read capsule previews of each conference school.