Northern Mich. claims region crowns
Wildcats earn men's, women's and overall championships
ISHPEMING, Mich. -- Host Northern Michigan completed a clean sweep of the NCAA Regional titles on Saturday, taking home the men’s, women’s and overall championships by comfortable margins after taking five of the six podium spots in the classic races at the Al Quaal Ski Trails.
NMU’s Erik Soderman made a late charge to nip past Alaska’s Jonas Loeffler and win the men’s 15K mass start event by less than a second, while the Monica Markvardsen led a Wildcat sweep of the women’s 10K podium.
“I’ve just been really impressed with my skiers all season,” NMU head coach Sten Fjeldheim said. “They’ve just had a great attitude, and been really professional. You can tell they just really want to work and become better skiers.”
In Soderman, the Wildcats seem to have a skier who is peaking at the right time – in addition to his regional title in the classic race on Sunday, Soderman also claimed the freestyle crown a day earlier. Trailing Loeffler with 400 m to go, Soderman switched tracks and, with 100 meters left, made his move, besting the Nanook skier by seven-tenths of a second.
“I guess Erik just had a little more left in the tank for double poling at the end,” Fjeldheim said.
Loeffler did claim a podium spot, taking second in one of his best races of the year. A trio of Wildcats soon followed, as Kyle Bratrud earned the final podium spot with his 40:49.1, crossing the line just two-tenths of a second ahead of teammate Kjell-Christian Markset.
NMU’s Chris Bowler took fifth in 40:49.8, as the top five men’s skiers were all separated by only a second and half.
Alaska’s second scoring skier, Ludwig Schott, took sixth in 40:56.5, while Northern’s George Cartwright was seventh in 41:14.4. Another Nanook, senior Erik Soederstrom, took eighth, while Michigan Tech’s Mikko Harju and NMU’s Kevin Cutts rounded out the top 10.
On the women’s side, it was all Northern, as Markvardsen, Molly Burger and Marie Helen Soderman broke away following the last serious climb to sweep the podium. Markvardsen, the CCSA’s top scoring women’s skier coming into the event, completed her 10K in 32:50.0, while Burger took second in 32:52.4 and Soderman third in 32:53.0.
Alaska’s Marit Rjabov finished fourth in 33:03.5, crossing the line just ahead of two more NMU skiers - Libby Ellis (fifth) and Rosie Frankowski (sixth) – in a real testament to the Wildcats’ depth.
“That’s what you have to have – six or seven men and women all pushing each other on a weekly basis,” Fjeldheim said. “It’s unfortunate you can only take three to the NCAA’s but it’s really cool to see the improvement of skiers like Libby and Rosie.”
Alaska’s second and third scoring skiers, Heather Edic and Crystal Pitney, finished seventh and eighth, respectively, to bump the Nanooks up to second place in the final regional standings. Michigan Tech’s Deedra Irwin and Alaska’s Raphaela Sieber rounded out the top 10.
With Saturday’s results, Northern finished with 170 points on the men’s side for the two-day event, 23 points better than second-placed Alaska (147). Michigan Tech finished third on 138 points, and Saint Scholastica fourth with 132.
Northern’s women finished with 172 points to claim the regional crown against Alaska, who took second with 149. Michigan Tech were again third with 143 points, and Saint Scholastica again fourth with 112.
With the qualifying races completed, now the waiting game begins, as coaches and athletes alike await the final tallying and approval of the CCSA rankings, which will determine who qualifies for next month’s NCAA Championships.
“It’s a little tense, but we know it will be fair,” Fjeldheim said. “We have a good feeling it will all shake out for us.”