NMU Nordic skiing: Wildcats defend Al Quaal, win CCSA title in Ishpeming

ISHPEMING – The Northern Michigan University men’s and women’s Nordic ski teams were both successful in their quest to win the Central Collegiate Ski Association Championship hosted in Ishpeming this weekend.

“It was a great weekend,” head coach Sten Fjeldheim said. “The conditions were perfect, the trail held up really well and our team won, so I couldn’t be happier.”

The men’s team captured first place with 129 points, trailed by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks with 118 and the College of St. Scholastica with 96.

On the women’s side, the Wildcats scored 133 points for first place, followed by St. Scholastica with 95 and Michigan Tech with 92.

“We definitely have a lot of depth on the team,” Fjeldheim said. “It’s a really good thing because this sport’s brutally hard and it’s hard to be on top every single weekend, but we have so many strong skiers.”

In Sunday’s freestyle competition, senior Rosie Frankowski earned the sole individual win for the Wildcats, finishing the 15-kilometers in 36 minutes, 15.1 seconds.

Frankowski just returned to the United States last Tuesday after competing in the Under-23 World Championships in Italy. Fjeldheim intended on having Frankowski sit out of the weekend’s competition to rest, but instead they negotiated a deal.

“Rosie is a senior and she wanted to race one last race on her home course,” Fjeldheim said. “I had to have her guarantee she was healthy and that it wasn’t going to affect her performance at the NCAA Championship because she has a chance to do very, very well there.

“That’s typical with endurance athletes. You have to hold them back more than you have to push them.”

Sophomore Mary Kate Cirelli, Saturday’s 5K classic champion, took second place at 36:17.1. Sophomore Hannah Boyer was the third finisher for NMU, placing fifth overall at 36:53.3.

The NMU men took spots two, three and seven in the 20K freestyle. Alaska’s Logan Hanneman won the race in 40:23.4, just over a second faster than NMU junior Kyle Bratrud at 40:24.8.

“We know this course well, so it was fun to race fast on it and show how strong our team is,” Bratrud said. “The last couple weeks it’s been really cold. Even though it’s still cold, it’s actually a lot warmer than it’s been so the course is nice and fast.”

NMU freshman Fredrik Schwencke finished third at 40:25.3, and senior George Cartwright was seventh at 40:48.2.

The ‘Cats travel to Houghton next weekend to compete in the NCAA Regionals, which is the athletes’ last chance to score CCSA points. Fjeldheim said he will sit down with his athletes this week to individually determine whether they need rest or can continue training.

A maximum of three skiers from each school may qualify for the NCAA Championship in March based on their accumulated points, making some of the Wildcats’ biggest competition their own teammates.

“It benefits us all when we’re training with really fast guys,” Bratrud said. “We all want to see each other succeed through each others’ victories. It’s going to be a great final weekend of racing.”