Michigan Tech’s Ulrika Axelsson and Northern Michigan’s Fredrik Schwencke won the final event of the NCAA Central Regional Championships, held at Al Quaal Park in Ishpeming, Michigan.
The women’s 15-kilometer classic mass start race was led out of the gates by Michigan Tech’s Deedra Irwin. As Michigan Tech Head Coach Joe Haggenmiller explained the race, “after the first climb Deedra stretched the field out and got a gap. After that she skied relaxed, and Ulrika [Axelsson] bridged the gap to Deedra near the end of the first lap along with Felicia [Gesior].”
By the end of the first lap at 5 kilometers Irwin and Axelsson were leading the race with Gesior of NMU skiing along with them. The rest of the women’s field trailed the leading three by more than 10 seconds. Chasing the leaders was a group led by Alaska Fairbanks duo Ann-Cathrin Uhl and Nichole Bathe.
With Irwin and Axelsson in control of the race, the two Michigan Tech skiers continued to keep the pace high throughout the race. “Both were just trying to go as fast as they could to put a gap on the field,” said Haggenmiller. “They were not really battling each other. Deedra put in a hard effort to get Ulrika from the bad side of the bubble to the good side,” Haggenmiller said in reference to Axelsson’s bid for qualifying for NCAA Championships.
With Axelsson’s campaign resting on a top finish, the two Michigan Tech women increased the pace on the final lap and managed to gain some distance on Gesior.
“They were able to claw out a 5-10 second gap on Felicia on the last lap,” said Haggenmiller.
Axelsson took the victory at the finish line, with Irwin trailing just .8 seconds behind. Gesior was third for NMU, 13.5 seconds behind Axelsson.
Bathe finished fourth for UAF, a result that UAF Interim Head Coach Christina Turman praised. “She raced really strong, it was a good note to end on. She proved that she can be right in there,” said Turman. “She wanted the team to move from 4th place to 3rd, and we did that with her result.”
Kristen Bourne took 5th for NMU, while Ann-Cathrin Uhl took 6th for UAF. “Ann maybe had the race of the day—to break into the top ten in that fashion was pretty impressive.”
Jordyn Ross took 7th for NMU, and St. Scholastica’s Anita Kirvesniemi finished 8th. St. Scholastica Head Coach Chad Salmela applauded Kirvesniemi’s tactical racing on a difficult day for the Saints. “Anita skied really smart,” said Salmela. “She had a hard time keeping pace with the leaders so she bided her time.” Kirveseniemi was able to work her way from 12th position up through the field in the latter stages of the race to finish in 8th.
In 9th from UAF was Ann-Tine Markset, and in 10th was NMU’s Vivian Hett. Markset’s result edged Axelsson out of a qualifying position for NCAA’s despite her victory. “It’s a bittersweat day for her,” said Haggenmiller. “She really represented us well. It was an exciting day for the women. Full credit to Anne-Tine for skiing the race she needed to.”
Northern Michigan won the women’s team title for the Central Regionals, with Michigan Tech in second, and Alaska Fairbanks third. St. Scholastica took fourth, Green Bay was 5th, and St. Olaf 6th. Gustavus and St. Cloud State tied for 7th.
The men’s 20 k mass start classic race was led initially by Isaac Lammers of Alaska Fairbanks. At the first 5 kilometer loop Lammers enjoyed a 3 second gap to the rest of the men’s field in the early stages of the race with NMU’s Adam Martin in close pursuit, followed by Ian Torchia of NMU and Jonas Loeffler of UAF.
Lammers maintained the lead of the race through the 10 kilometer mark, with Martin skiing right behind him and Torchia and Erik Soderman for NMU all within a second of each other.
Torchia, an NMU freshman, led the race at 15 kilometers, with Lammers falling back as the pace increased in the second half of the race. Behind Torchia were his teammates Soderman, Martin, and Schwencke. UAF’s Logan Hanneman and Loeffler were also among the leading six, as the front pack broke away from the rest of the men’s field.
Leading the chasing group at the 15 kilometer mark was Kenneth Brewer of UAF, but the leaders were just out of reach, some 12 seconds ahead.
In the closing stretch it was Schwencke who had the finishing power to win the day, winning with a time of 51:30. Hanneman took second, 5.3 seconds behind Schwencke.
Turman praised Hanneman’s racing strategy, saying, “Logan skied a really smart, tactical race, he never led, and he skied between 4th and 7th the whole race. As the race broke apart he moved up. Adam [Martin] had put a little gap on him near the end, but on the last climb Logan surged ahead to go on and take second.”
In third for NMU was Martin, 1.1 seconds behind Hanneman. In fourth was Erik Soderman, 2 seconds behind Martin, while Ian Torchia was 5th for NMU.
Loeffler took 6th for UAF. “Jonas was solid,” said Turman, “and he secured his spot.” His teammates Lammers and Brewer finished 7th and 8th, respectively, a result that Turman was thrilled with. “Today was just phenomenal,” said Turman. “Basically the entire team skied to their potential. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys, they raced out of their minds.”
In 9th place for Michigan Tech was Haakon Hjelstuen. Michigan Tech Head Coach Joe Haggenmiller said that Hjelstuen was, “really running on fumes today after his effort yesterday. Freddy [Schwencke] made a move, and Haakon tried to respond, but he took a fall. He was never able to bridge back up after that. It was still a good day though.”
Alexander Eckert of UAF rounded out the top-10 men in the classic race. Eckert was the 5th man from UAF to make the top ten in Sunday’s race.
Northern Michigan took the top prize for the men’s team competition at Central Regionals. Alaska Fairbanks finished second, and Michigan Tech was third. St. Scholastica was fourth, St. Olaf 5th, and Green Bay 6th.
Full results can be found at www.superiortiming.com
— Pasha Kahn