It was a double delight for hosts Northern Michigan at the CCSA Championships in Ishpeming, Mich. as the Wildcats secured both the men’s and women’s team titles on Sunday.
Behind another set of brilliant performances from in-form skiers, Andy Leibner, Martin Banerud and Erik Soderman, the Wildcat men cruised to a 24-point victory over second-place Alaska. Leibner topped the podium in both Saturday’s skate race and Sunday’s mass start classic, while Soderman continued his outstanding freshman campaign with a second-place collegiate finish in the skate race and a fourth-place result in the classic.
It was a much tighter encounter on the women’s side, however, as the Wildcats nipped UAF by the slimmest of margins: just one point separated the CCSA powerhouses. Alaska actually outscored NMU in Sunday’s classic event, but couldn’t close the four-point gap the hosts had opened up on Saturday.
The final standings weren’t the only close race of the day either. Michigan Tech freshman Malin Eriksson earned her first career win in the most dramatic of fashions, edging Green Bay’s Carolyn Freeman at the line by three-tenths of a second.
“It was exciting to see Malin win,” Michigan Tech coach Joe Haggenmiller said. “She was in the lead pack, but actually fell back a bit in the second lap. She was able to fight and claw her way back up there, and it was great to see her be able to pull it out in a sprint at the end. Everyone on our team is pretty happy for her.”
Fresh snow and oscillating temperatures on Sunday made for tricky waxing ahead of the classic race.
“Today was definitely a day it would have been better to have a skate race,” Haggenmiller said. “I think everyone had some kind of frustration with their skis.”
Regardless, plenty of NMU skiers overcame the ski trouble and shot to the top of the leaderboard. Banerud followed closely behind teammate Liebner to finish his 20K in 57:55.1, good enough for second place. Alaska’s John Parry took third in 58:20.2, followed by Soderman in fourth.
Michigan Tech’s Mikko Harju, who has become a model of consistency for the Huskies, earned fifth-place finishes in both Saturday’s 10K skate as well as Sunday’s classic.
“Mikko has been a really nice addition to our team,” Haggenmiller said. “He is a really laid back leader. He knows how to keep the mood relaxed, but also knows how to get things taken care of when they need to be done.”
Alaska’s Ray Sabo and Alex Morris took sixth and seventh, respectively, while St. Olaf’s Tom Jorgenson, who seems to be getting stronger as the year goes on, took eighth in 59:27.7.
Gustavus skier Jens Brabbit (ninth) and MTU’s Matt Dugan rounded out the top ten.
On the women’s side, Erikkson topped a five-skier lead pack that included Freeman, Alaska’s Theresia Schnurr and Raphaela Sieber and Northern’s Christina Turman. Second-placed Freeman crossed the line just five seconds ahead of Schnurr, while Turman took fourth ahead of Sieber.
Northern’s Marie Soderman took sixth with a time of 50:38.2 over the 15K race, while Alaska’s Rebecca Konieczny turned in one of her best races of the season, placing seventh in 50:48.1.
The Wildcats’ third scoring skier, Monica Markvardsen, took eighth in 51:17.0, edging MTU’s Alice Flanders by just seven-tenths of a second. Northern’s Libby Ellis rounded out the top ten.
In the men’s final standings, Northern’s 173 points over the two-day event gave them a comfortable advantage over Alaska’s 149 points. Michigan Tech took third with 125, followed by College of Saint Scholastica (114), Gustavus (103), Green Bay (85), St. Olaf’s (79) and Saint John’s (60).
The women’s final standings saw NMU finish with 152 points, while Alaska earned 151. Michigan Tech captured third with 140 points, followed by Green Bay (114), St. Olaf’s (98), Gustavus (77), Saint Scholastica (73), College of Saint Benedict (57), and Saint Cloud State (56).
Next up, the CCSA skiers head to the NCAA Central Region Championships, hosted by Michigan Tech, in Houghton, Mich on Feb. 18-19.