MARQUETTE, Mich. – After months of preparation and competition, the Northern Michigan Nordic program is headed to the NCAA Skiing Championship this week (Mar. 7-9) in Bozeman, Mont. looking to cap off an already impressive season.
“We’re really excited for the NCAA Championship this week and coming off of the sweep of the NCAA Central Regional three weeks back, we feel well prepared for the competition,” head coach Sten Fjeldheim said.
The NCAA Skiing Championship is a coed event that combines both teams’ scores in the Alpine and Nordic disciplines.
“We are at a bit of a disadvantage because we don’t have an Alpine team because there are no regulation Alpine hills in the Midwest,” Fjeldheim said. “However, we are the only team in the region to qualify a whole team so that’s a testament to the strength of this team.”
Six athletes, three men and three women, have qualified for the championship. A school can qualify a maximum of six athletes per discipline, with the most that can qualify being 12 athletes, six per Alpine and six per Nordic.
Representing the men’s team is freshman Kjell-Christian Markset, sophomore Erik Soderman, who swept both the freestyle and classic races at the Central Regional and junior Chris Bowler.
On the women’s side is sophomore Molly Burger, junior Monica Markvardsen and senior Marie Helen Soderman.
“We have a great group of athletes competing this week in Montana,” Fjeldheim said.
The ‘Cats program has one of the richest traditions in the country, having qualified for the NCAA Championship a total of 34 times, including now 21 straight years. NMU has four NCAA Individual Champions and 68 All-Americans.
“We have such a great tradition at NMU and it’s so exciting to see these athletes excel not only in college but at the future level as well,” Fjeldheim said. “I can remember how exciting it was back in 2007 when our three female athletes swept the podium in both the classic and freestyle races.”
NMU has been preparing for months for the NCAA Championship, starting in the fall with dry land training before moving to the trails for competition in December.
“Towards the end of the season, you’re fighting fatigue but we’re well conditioned and healthy right now,” Fjeldheim said.
The ‘Cats biggest test this week may not just be the competition. The altitude difference could also affect NMU, as the team has only raced at low-altitudes throughout the Midwest.
“The biggest issue we have racing in the west is the altitude, you have to accelerate at a different pace,” Fjeldheim said. “We’ll have to accelerate at six cylinders instead of eight. You have to be smart at racing at this altitude so we’ll practice with a time trial run before the races begin.”
The ‘Cats open the week on with training in the mornings of (Mar. 5-6). Nordic races will be held at the Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center.
“We’ll have some time trial practices on both days so the athletes can become acclimated to the course and the altitude,” Fjeldheim said.
On Wednesday (Mar. 7), NMU opens the competition portion of its schedule with the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle at 11:30 a.m., followed by the men’s 10k freestyle at 1 p.m.
NMU then wraps up the week on Friday (Mar. 9) with the men’s 20k mass start classic at 11:30 a.m., followed by the women’s 15k mass start classic at 1 p.m.
The NCAA will be streaming a live webcast during the week at: http://www.ncaa.com/sports/skiing/d1
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