The CCSA winds up its 2011 season this week as the region’s top athletes head to the NCAA Championships in Stowe, Vt. The centerpiece of the college skiing season, the event brings together the best skiers from across the county to compete in four days of Nordic and Alpine events.
Representing the Central Region this season will be 15 student-athletes. On the men’s side, the CCSA will be represented by Northern Michigan’s Martin Banerud, Andy Liebner, and Erik Soderman; Alaska’s Tyler Kornfield, David Norris, and Lex Treinen; Gustavus’ Jens Brabbit and Michigan Tech’s Mikko Harju.
The region’s seven-woman team, meanwhile, consists of NMU’s Marie Helen Soderman, Monica Markvardsen, and Christina Turman; Alaska’s Raphaela Sieber and Theresia Schnurr; Green Bay’s Carolyn Freeman, and Michigan Tech’s Malin Eriksson.
“We are going to be up against the best 39 skiers in the country,” Michigan Tech head coach and CCSA president Joe Haggenmiller said. “It’s going to be good competition. So we will see how things go.”
While the region may have a few less representatives than it has in years past, the skiers that did qualify represent the best of the best, as each one has a legitimate shot of making a real impact at the NCAA event this season.
On the women’s side, Sieber and Freeman have set the pace for the CCSA throughout most of the season. The two combined to take the region’s top spot in all but one event this season – Sieber topping the CCSA podium six times while Freeman did so five times. Neither one produced a finish lower than sixth in the region at any event this season.
The lone race not won by Sieber or Freeman, the classic event at the CCSA Championships, was claimed by Michigan Tech’s Eriksson; the freshman proving she is more than capable of popping a big race as well, taking two other top five finishes throughout the year as well.
Alaska’s Schnurr will make her third appearance at the NCAA Championships this season, earning first team all CCSA honors with 10 top five regional finishes this season, included a second-place CCSA finish at the U.S. National classical event.
Northern Michigan’s trio rounds out the women’s participants. Though Turman has yet to top the podium this season, she does have four silver medal finishes and eight top-fives to her credit, while Soderman and Markvardsen earned podium spots in the U.S National classic event and the MTU Supertour skate event, respectively.
“The girls have been training really well, and everyone is feeling good and ready to go,” NMU head coach Sten Fjeldheim said. “We try not to talk to much about specific outcome goals, but I think we have the talent on both sides to have a number of All-Americans.”
Indeed, few skiers finished the regular season hotter than the NMU men. Banerud, Liebner, and Soderman swept the podium spots in both the skate and classic events at regionals. Banerud has won four of the last six events he has competed in, while Liebner has finished on the CCSA podium in all but one event this season.
Soderman, though only a freshman, has enjoyed a stellar first season with the Wildcats, taking second at the CCSA skate race on his way to eight top-five finishes throughout the year.
“Nothing seems to faze Erik at all, even though he’s a freshman,” Fjeldheim said. “He’s just a really solid racer.”
Alaska’s trio of Kornfield, Treinen and Norris all impressed at U.S. Nationals, with Treinen and Norris winning the skate race and classic race, respectively. The three then jetted off to Europe to take part in international competitions, before returning to head into the NCAA’s.
Michigan Tech’s Mikko Harju has been a revelation in his first season with the Huskies, earning seven top-five CCSA finishes.
“Mikko and Malin both seem really relaxed and really excited about the chance to compete,” Haggenmiller said.
Gustavus’ Jens Brabbit rounds out the men’s field, as he returns to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year. Brabbit took fourth in the skate event at the Hilltop Invitational, and landed a fifth-place finish in his last time out, the skate race at regionals.
A substantial Sunday night snowfall has left the course with plenty of white stuff heading into the big races.
“It was kind of tricky even getting out of our hotel and up to Stowe for training [on Monday],” Haggenmiller joked. “But having plenty of snow is good: at least we are not dealing with a shortened loop or grass and rocks and things.”
The CCSA skiers hit the course Wednesday, March 9, for the freestyle events, which will be a 10K for men at 10 a.m., and a 5K for women starting at noon. The classic events will be held on Friday, with the women’s 15K starting off at 9:30 a.m. while the men’s 20K begins at 11:30 a.m. All events can be streamed live on the NCAA website at www.ncaa.com/sports/skiing/d1.