A capsule preview of each Central Collegiate Ski Association conference school:
COLLEGE OF SAINT BENEDICT
Location: St. Joseph, Minn.
Head coach: David Johnson, 10th season
Assistant coach: Keir Stiegler
Top female returners: Sr. Christi Nowak, Sr. Anna Roessler, Jr. Stephani Seymour, So. Kelly Donahue
Top newcomers:Caitlin Goodman
Web site: www.csbblazers.com
2008-09 standings: 6th (Women)
2009-10 outlook: The Blazers finished as the sixth-place women’s team in the conference last year and look to improve upon that result this year. That improvement is a realistic goal, given the strength of CSB’s returning skiers. “We are returning our top 2 skiers, seniors Christi Nowak and Anna Roessler,” says 10th year coach Dave Johnson, “They both have competed for the top spot on the team since freshman year.” Nowak was the team’s top performer last year, when she put together the strongest individual campaign in CSB’s history. She was the CCSA alternate to March’s NCAA championships in Rumford, Maine.
Roessler, meanwhile, was the 2007-8 MVP for the Blazers, a year in which she placed in the top 15 in both races at the 2008 Central Region Championships. She had another successful season last year, which included a number of strong classic results. “I wouldn't be surprised if Anna is faster than Christi on some weekends,” Johnson said. They certainly push each other. My hope is that one will qualify for NCAA's.”
After losing senior Maggie Donahue to graduation, though, the Blazers’ team success this year may hinge upon the performance of the team’s third skier. The next best returning skier is junior Stephani Seymour, who she will be leaving at the end of January to study in South Africa, so the competition for the third slot is wide open. Senior Katelyn Engel as well as sophomores Kelly Donahue and Shannon McEvoy could compete for the next spot on what could be a hallmark year for the CSB Blazers. Among the first year skiers that could make an immediate impact is Caitlin Goodman of Eugene, Oregon.
Aiding Johnson as an assistant coach is Keir Stiegler, a 2009 graduate of nearby St. John’s University, where he was a member of the ski team.
The skiers at the liberal arts college in St. Joseph, Minn., also take their academics seriously: seven members of the team were names to the NSCA All-Academic Ski Team, requiring a 3.5 or above GPA. Competitively, the Division III program is looking to qualify a skier for the NCAA Championships for the first time. "I am hopeful that our current group of women will be writing new history," Johnson says. “I am expecting the team to be our strongest in history if we can find a 3rd skier,” Johnson declares.
COLLEGE OF SAINT SCHOLASTICA
Location: Duluth, Minnesota
Head coach: Chad Salmela (4th season)
Assistant coaches: Josh Tesch, Scott Kylander-Johnson, Sara Kylander-Johnson
Top male returners: Jr. Waylon Manske, Jr. Matt Nistler
Top female returners: Sr. Megan Holmes, Sr. Caroline Lund, Jr. Julia Curry
Top newcomers: Kasey Bacso, Mason Bacso (So.), Jake Morgan, Ryan Wright, Eleanor Magnuson, Lindsey Johnson, Sarah Johnson
Web site: www.csssaints.com
2007-08 standings: Central Region: 4th (Men), 7th (Women); NCAA: 22nd
2009-10 outlook: The fourth-year program enters the 2009-10 season after a strong campaign last season, and fourth-year head coach Chad Salmela is focused on improving this winter. The men’s team mixed it up with the top of the CCSA last year, finishing as high as 2nd in qualifying competition. NCAA qualifier Tyler Kjorstad, however, graduated this spring, leaving a gap at the top of the CSS men’s roster.
Coach Salmela, though, believes that his squad has made the improvements to stay competitive. Waylon Manske is the returning skier with the most success last season, and Salmela has high praise for the junior. “Waylon needs not external motivation,” Salmela said. “He knows where he needs to improve and he works diligently at it. I think on a good day, Waylon can mix it up with the top end of the CCSA and I think he will this season.” Salmela cited summer improvements in classic skiing as well as an unmatched desire to succeed as keys to whatever success Manske experiences this season.
The outlook for the rest of the Saints is also promising. The additions of first-year Kasey Bacso and his brother, sophomore transfer Mason Bacso. First-years Jake Morgan and Ryan Wright as well as junior Matt Nistler in the best shape of his career have Salmela thrilled about the Saints’ years to come. “They will be the basis of a strong future for our program,” Salmela said. “It’s very exciting.”
The women’s team does not reasonably have the expectations the Saints have on the men’s side, but still have a strong year in their sights. Returning from last year’s team is Julia Curry, a junior and former cross-country running standout who Salmela described as a hard worker. “She will continue to be at the top of our team,” he said, but Curry is not alone at the top. Eleanor Magnuson, a top regional junior, has transferred in and could be the strongest skier on the women’s squad. “I do think we will do better in the CCSA rankings on the women’s side,” Salmela said. “Overall, our women’s depth is improved with Lindsey Johnson and Sarah Johnson as freshmen, and we still have Megan Holmes and Caroline Lund who should fill out the main part of our varsity team.
Salmela joined the rest of the league’s coaches in lamenting the loss of NCAA qualifying spots, but has been encouraged by early season results at U.S. Nationals and regionally. What remains to be seen is how his Saints will fare, and which members from his team can contend for a spot in Steamboat Springs this March.
GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS COLLEGE
Location: St. Peter, Minn.
Head coach: Jed Friedrich (6th year)
Top male returners: Jens Brabbit, Anders Bowman, Andrew Poffenberger
Top female returners: Erin Eppler, Danielle Burgmeier, Cassandra Brady
Top newcomers: Blake Gust, Zach Wagner, Erica Hett
Web site: www.gustavus.edu/athletics
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 6th (Men) and 5th (Women)
2009-10 outlook: The Gustavus Adolphus men’s ski team enters this season looking to improve on a 2008-9 campaign that saw the Gusties finish in 6th place in the CCSA. The top two skiers from last year’s team, junior Jens Brabbit and sophomore Anders Bowman, return to lead the team. Jens barely missed qualifying for the NCAA championships last year, and 6th year coach Jed Friedrich expects more success this year. “I expect Jens to compete for a spot at NCAA's again,” Friedrich said. “He's a pretty serious bike racer and normally keeps the rollerskis on the shelf for the entire off season. He added some ski training into the mix over the summer and hopefully that will pay off.” For Brabbit to find competition, though, he need look no further than his own team, Friedrich pointed out. “Anders Bowman could challenge Jens in some races this year. He had a couple of top 15's last year in the region and has a lot of talent. He's extremely fit, but needs some time to transition from cross country running to skiing. I would not be surprised if he competes for a spot at NCAA's.”
With two established top skiers, the success of this year’s Gusties could depend on the success of their third skier. Last year that was Andrew Poffenberger, who looks to compete for that spot again this season. He may have competition, though, from first-year skiers Blake Gust, an all-state skier from Andover, Minnesota, and Zach Wagner, Michigan’s 2009 high school state champion. With many key parts returning from last year’s team and new skiers with promise, this could be a strong year for the Gustavus Adolphus men’s team.
The 2008-9 women’s team saw success despite graduating a strong class the year before and managed a 4th place finish in the region. This year the Gusties will again have to overcome the loss of a strong skier, NCAA qualifier Kelly Chaudoin. Coach Friedrich hopes that improvement from returning members of the team will ensure another strong year from his women’s team.
Erin Eppler is the Gustavus Adolphus skier with the most success last year, and returns for her senior season with high hopes. She showed particular success in freestyle races last year, but Friedrich hopes Eppler to compete in every race this season. “I think that she can contend with a handful of women for one of the highly coveted NCAA spots,” Friedrich said. “It will take four really strong races from her, but she showed glimpses last year that she is capable.”
Other returning skiers that should contribute include sophomore Danielle Burgmeier and junior Cassandra Brady. They will be joined by first-year Erica Hett, a skier from Burnsville, Minnesota for whom Friedrich has high expectations. “She will be really tough in the next few years, as she has a lot of potential,” he said of Hett. “But she will be one of our top 3 skiers right away as a first year.” So while the Gustavus Adolphus women’s team could have a hard time measuring up to their success of the last few years, the Gusties will look to surprise some people with strong campaign this winter.
SAINT JOHNS UNIVERSITY
Location: Collegeville, Minn.
Head coach: David Johnson, 10th season
Top returners: So. Grant Cook, So. Bob Gerten, Jr. Jared Sundstrom, Sr. Trevor Drake
Top newcomers: Charlie Ward
Web site: www.gojohnnies.com
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 7th (Men)
2009-10 outlook: Coach David Johnson hopes that the return of senior Trevor Drake will solidify the top three men on the Johnnies squad. Drake, who was in France the first semester of last year and missed the season with an injury, should contend for the team’s top spot, according to the coach. Last year’s top skiers, though, are a strong group to contend with. Last year’s team was rich with talented underclassmen, and the development of that youth could translate to success this season. Sophomores Grant Cook and Bob Gerten as well as Junior Jared Sundstrom, with another season under their belts, have Coach Johnson expecting a strong season from the Johnnies. “I am looking forward to the season,” Johnson said. “My hope is that we are the top Minnesota college men’s team.”
Johnson added that despite disappointing results at last year’s NCAA’s, he has faith that the CCSA is strong region, and wants the St. John’s team to be a part of the region’s successes. “My hope for the region is that we are more competitive at NCAA’s,” he said. “It was hard to lose so many qualifying slots last year. I want the St. John’s ski program to be competitive enough to push the powerhouses in our region.” As with many of the regional coaches and athletes, however, Johnson is keenly interested in the development of skiing in the area and across the country. “I want to support the growth of college skiing,” the coach declared, “both in th quality of skiing and the number of skiers and ski programs.”
SJU is a men’s-only team. Located 10 kilometers away is the women’s-only College of Saint Benedict, which is also coached by Johnson. Both schools are in central Minnesota near St. Cloud and share an academic program but have separate athletic programs, campuses, residence halls and traditions.
SAINT OLAF COLLEGE
Location: Northfield, Minn.
Head coach: Mark Skildum, 2nd season
Top male returners: Jr. Tom Jorgenson, So. Brandon Piechowski
Top female returners: Sr. Caitlin Marine, So. Hillary Boyce, So. Sarah Fleming
Top newcomers: Brandon Piechowski, Anders Nienstad, Sarah Fleming, Hillary Boyce
Web site: www.stolaf.edu/athletics
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 8th(Men), 8th (Women)
2009-10 outlook: Coach Mark Skildum returns for his second year at the helm of the St. Olaf’s Nordic ski teams, each of which finished in 8th place in the CCSA last year. Skildum, a 2003 St. Olaf graduate, was the head ski coach for five seasons at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, Minn. He also founded the Cowboy Nordic Ski Club in 2005.
The men’s team will be looking to consistently compete for a spot in the middle of the pack of CCSA teams, and return some of last year’s stronger skiers. Junior Tom Jorgenson is the returner with the most collegiate success last season, and hopes to see competition from within his own team. Sophomore Brandon Piechowski could be the Oles’ second skier, and the third spot on the team is likely up for grabs. Sophomore Anders Nienstaedt, Junior Ian Gunsolus, and first-year Will Wright are among those who could contend for the team’s final scoring slot.
On the women’s side, the Oles have a strong crop of young skiers to go along with a few established returning skiers. Senior Caitlin Marine is the only upperclassmen on the women’s roster and will likely be the top competitor this season. Sophomores Sarah Fleming and Hillary Boyce should also be key contributors to the DIII squad, and lead a roster that is more than half first-years.
ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY
Location: St. Cloud, Minn.
Head coach: Jeremy Frost, 8th season
Top returners: Jr. Jenny Beckman, Diane Vezendy, Mariah Featherly
Top newcomers: Hannah Sanborn, Karyn Liebsch
Web site: www.stcloudstate.edu/athletics
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 9th (Women)
2009-10 Outlook: Coach Jeremy Frost returns for his 8th year as head coach at the women’s college of St. Cloud State. The team was extremely young last season, a year in which they finished 9th in the CCSA, and has a squad that is still relatively young this winter. “We have worked hard on increasing our fitness, technique, and mental toughness since last season,” Frost said. “We feel this hard work will allow our skiers to improve on last year’s results.
Also key in improving as a team will be the individual success of junior Jenny Beckman. Frost cited early season races as an indication that Beckman will have moved up into the next tier of skiers this season. The depth of the St. Cloud team, though, is evident from these same results. “We have had four different skiers lead our team in our first four races,” Coach Frost said. Diane Vezendy and Mariah Featherly join Beckman in the strong junior class and at the top of the team. Further depth and indications of a promising future lie in freshman Hannah Sanborn and transfer Karyn Liebsch—from the University of Wyoming—and the group should help St. Cloud State to an improved season.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-GREEN BAY
Location: Green Bay, Wisc.
Head coach: Butch Reimer, 14th season
Assistant coaches: Nate Balk (1st year) and Ashley Pletcher (1st year)
Top male returners: Sr. Santi Ocariz, Jr. Nick Maki
Top female returners: Jr.. Carolyn Freeman, Jr.. Lindsey Marshall
Web site: www.uwgbathletics.cstv.com
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 3rd (Men), 4th (Women); NCAA: 19th
2009-10 outlook: Wisconsin-Green Bay, the only Division I school in the CCSA, could see a banner year in 2009-10. After successful seasons on both the men’s and women’s squads last winter, many of the top Phoenix are still around. On the men’s side, Santiago Ocariz looks to qualify for his 4th NCAA championships and, beyond that, establish himself as a top men’s skier in the CCSA as well as nationally. Ocariz was the 4th CCSA qualifier for last year’s NCAA’s, but already this year has shown he can mix it up with the nation’s best. His top-20 results in both the classic and freestyle distance races were the top results from any collegiate skier in the country, and the Spooner, Wisconsin native has “started the season just the way I had hoped,” says coach Butch Reimer. “I want him to ski strong every race and to build toward NCAA’s.
Supporting Ocariz on the men’s team will be junior Nick Maki, for whom Reimer has high hopes. “Nick took a big step in the right direction and is skiing well in the early races,” he said. Senior Justin Young and Kyle Fredrickson, a sophomore who sat out last semester, could also contend for a top spot on the Phoenix, said Reimer. “Justin will add depth to the men’s team and Kyle will be welcome back.” Reimer added that Steve Gromataka is a first-year who has shown promise.
On the women’s side, the junior tandem of Carolyn Freeman and Lindsey Marshall should lead the Phoenix. “I expect the two to ski very well and to lead our women’s team,” Reimer said. Freeman, who was an NCAA qualifier last year, hopes to contend for a spot again this year. “It will be a battle because of only 7 spots and there are great skiers on the women’s side. Lindsey will also be in the hunt.” Sophomores Annie Demhlow and Brittany Drengler should fill in behind the Phoenix top two.
“Our goals are for the team to get better and for our region to do well at NCAA’s. We have great programs in the CCSA and great coaching. We just need to ski faster at NCAA’s.”
NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
Location: Marquette, Michigan
Head coach: Sten Fjeldheim (21st season)
Assistant coach: Jennifer Ryan (8th season)
Top male returners: Sr. Martin Banerud, Sr. Tim Cook, So. Kevin Cutts, Sr. Sindre Stokke
Top female returners: Sr. Laura DeWitt, Jr. Ingrid Fjeldheim, Jr. Christina Gillis, Sr. Anna Berglund
Top newcomers: George Cartwright
Web site: www.nmu.edu/sports
2008-9 standings: Central Region: 1st; NCAA: 12th
2009-10 outlook: After claiming the CCSA crown with 1st place finishes on both the men’s and women’s sides, the tradition-rich Wildcats again sent the maximum six skiers to the NCAA’s in Rumford, Maine. This year the teams hope to continue the program’s tradition of excellence with a number of strong returning skiers and improved others.
The men’s team must deal with the loss of senior NCAA qualifiers Phil Violett (#2 CCSA qualifier) and Justin Singleton (#7) but have more than enough talent to do so. Last year’s top CCSA qualifier and Central Region Athlete of the Year Martin Banerud of Oslo, Norway, is now a senior for the Wildcats, and looks to qualify for his 4th consecutive NCAA championships this season. It’s not clear who else from NMU will join him in Steamboat Springs this March, but it is likely that he will not be the only one. Seniors Tim Cook and Sindre Stokke are the next two fastest skiers from last year’s team, but may be challenged by younger Wildcats this year. Sophomore Kevin Cutts returns after a strong first year and posted impressive results at Nationals already this year. First-year George Cartwright, a top junior skier out of Lander, Wyoming, will join Cutts and Banerud in seeking to become one of the top college skiers not just in the CCSA but in the entire country.
On the women’s side, every top skier returns from last season’s first-place team. This season, in fact, the fiercest competition may come from within the team. Last year Christina Gillis missed qualifying for the NCAA’s by just one-tenth of a point because three teammates had qualified in front of her—although she was the sixth-ranked woman in CCSA competition. Gillis was among the top collegiate competitors at U.S. Nationals and in her junior season will be in the mix for a coveted NCAA spot.
Also returning to the NMU squad this year are the top two CCSA competitors from last year. Central Region Athlete of the Year Laura DeWitt and runner-up Marie Helen Soderman, a senior and a sophomore, respectively, should be among the top CCSA skiers again this year. NCAA qualifier Ingrid Fjieldheim and senior Anna Berglund should also be in contention for a top spot on a team whose sights are set high individually, regionally, and nationally.
MICHIGAN TECH UNIVERSITY
Location: Houghton, Michigan
Head coach: Joe Haggenmiller (7th season)
Assistant coach: Jason Cork (2nd season)
Graduate assistants: Karl Walczak (7th season), Adam Airoldi (2nd season), Ryan Tervo (2nd season)
Top male returners: Sr. Jesse Lang, Sr. Oskar Lund, So. Petter Sjulstad
Top female returners: Sr. Jenna Klein, Sr. Elizabeth Quinley, Jr. Jill Smith
Top newcomers: Henna Riikensen-Purtsi
Web site: www.athletics.mtu.com
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 2nd (Men) 3rd (Women); NCAA: 17th
2009-10 outlook: After an impressive 2009-10 season that saw the Michigan Tech women play a factor in the top of each CCSA event, Coach Haggenmiller has every right to be confident heading into this year. MTU qualified a full slate of three skiers for the NCAA championships last year, and return all three. Yet this year’s team is strong enough that Tech’s top skier may not be any of those three. With a reduced number (seven on the women’s side) of NCAA spots this year, though, nothing can be taken for granted. “We should have our women competing with NMU and UAF for the top spot in the CCSA week in and week out,” Coach Haggenmiller said. “But things in the CCSA will be tight this year.”
MTU’s top skier may be Finnish graduate student Henna Riikenen-Purtsi, who not only brings strong individual talent as well as an ability to contribute to the rest of the team. “She comes to our program with a number of top 25 finishes at the Finnish National Championships,” Haggenmiller declared. “Elizabeth Quinley and Jenna Klein consistently ski well in our classic races, and are working on bringing their skating up to the same standards. Having Henna training with them for the year should help them, and the rest of our women’s team make improvements.”
On the men’s side, MTU similarly returns a strong crop of skiers. All three of last year’s NCAA qualifiers returns this season. “With another year of training under their belts,” Haggenmiller said of his men’s team, “we should again challenge week in and week out for the top CCSA men's team spot on the weekend. Hopefully, we can build on last year's experience and turn some of the close seconds into first place team finishes.”
Oskar Lund was the Michigan Tech men’s skier with the most individual success last year, and returns for his senior season with high expectations. “We’re looking for big things from him each time he races,” Haggenmiller said. “If things fall right for him he should have significant improvements upon his two top 20 NCAA performances last year.” Lund, though, will see significant competition from within his own team. Senior All-American Jesse Lang was among the CCSA’s lone bright spots at last year’s NCAA championships, with an 8th-place finish in the freestyle race, and has already posted strong results in the early going this season.
Petter Sjulstad returns after an NCAA qualifying season to round out Tech’s “big three,” but Haggenmiller acknowledges other men’s skiers could move into the mix. “We have a lot of men’s depth, so you never know what wild cards may produce results throughout the year.” So much depth, in fact, that MTU’s entire crop of first years will likely redshirt this season and focus on the Junior National championships.
GOGEBIC COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Location: Ironwood, Michigan
Head Coach: Will Andresen
Gogebic Community College is a new entrant in the CCSA for the 2009-10 season. This is the first year that the Ironwood, Michigan school will have a ski team and it comes under the direction of accomplished racer Will Andresen. Andresen, a competitive athlete to this day, was a successful runner and skier throughout high school and then went to Northern Michigan University, where he was the captain of the ski team and qualified for NCAA’s. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to coach this new team,” Andresen said in a statement on the GCC website. “My coaching philosophy will be to create individual training and racing programs to meet the specific background, talents and goals of each athlete.”
Ironwood is among the first places in the Midwest to have enough snow for reliable skiing and is therefore a popular place for Nordic racers to travel in the early season. The college itself is built on a ski hill with its own small Nordic ski trail on campus, and all-in-all should provide athletes with a good chance to ski competitively. “I am very pleased to hear that GCC has started a Nordic ski program,” NMU head coach Sten Fjeldheim added in a statement. “this will serve as a great development tool for those skiers trying to improve their chances to become a serious recruit for the four year D1 and D2 college ski programs.”
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
Head coach: Scott Jerome, 5th season
Top male returners: Jr. John Parry, Jr. Ray Sabo, Jr. Einar Often, So. Robert Pakk
Top female returners: Sr. Anna Coulter, Sr. Julia Pierson, So. Theresia Schnurr
Top newcomers: Tyler Kornfield
Web site: www.alaskananooks.com
2008-09 standings: Central Region: 5th (Men) 2nd (Women); NCAA: 15th
2009-10 outlook: The UAF team and Head Coach Scott Jerome are optimistic heading into this season, with ambitious goals and a strong crop of returning skiers. “We always have a goal to win the regional championship,” Jerome said. “Basically, I have no expectations, but our team does have goals. We have a goal of winning regionals and sending a full squad to NCAA’s.”
The men’s team lost last year’s top performer, Oeyvind Watterdal, but looks to fill his shoes with youth and depth. The men’s team was young last year, and is without a single senior this year. Sophomore Erik Soederstrom is the returning skier with the most success last year, when he posted especially strong classic results. He will face heavy competition from a team that is hungry for success this year. True freshman Tyler Kornfield, off some strong results at U.S. Nationals, could be UAF’s top skier, as could several other skiers in any given race. Redshirt freshman Henri Soom from Tartu, Estonia should be in the mix for a top spot on the team. Junior Ray Sabo of Canada skied at NCAA’s as a freshman and hopes to return to the top this season, as does classmate and countryman John Parry. Junior Norwegian Einar Often and sophomore Alex Morris round out a solid group who hope for a successful and competitive year.
The Nanook women return a number of skiers who have had success in the past, including their three NCAA qualifiers from a year ago: Seniors Anna Coulter and Julia Pierson as well as sophomore Theresia Schnurr. Past qualifiers include seniors Elisabeth Angeles and Aurelia Korthauer, who could surge toward the top of the team in their final year. “The experience is excellent,” Coach Jerome said, “but this is a new season. We have goals, but everyone else has new skiers and is training hard.” Jerome, along with Assistant Coach Matt Dunlap, will try to keep the team on this track to success especially given the conference’s disappointments last season. “We all need to be better,” Jerome said, “UAF included.”