Michigan Tech’s Alice Flanders and Northern Michigan University’s Erik Soderman won the individual start freestyle race at the CCSA Distance Championships on Saturday, February 14th at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Cold temperatures delayed the start by an hour until the air warmed to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, the minimum temperature allowed for competitions.
Flanders proved that she remains the woman to beat in freestyle at Wirth Park, winning the 10 kilometer event with a time of 13:53.2. Flanders, a senior at Michigan Tech grew up in Crystal, Minnesota skiing the trails at Wirth Park.
“No doubt about it, she feels good skating on that course when it’s compact, straight man-made snow,” said Michigan Tech Head Coach Joe Haggenmiller. “This one’s kind of in our wheelhouse.”
Taking second place, 11.1 seconds behind the pace of Flanders was Northern Michigan’s Jordyn Ross. In third place was St. Scholastica’s Sharmila Ahmed, taking her first individual podium in the CCSA this season with a sharp performance at Wirth.
“She had a rough day in the classic – athletes have those,” said St. Scholastica Head Coach Chad Salmela. “She bounced back from that great, I was really impressed with her focus.” Salmela added, “A podium is always nice, especially at a championship.”
In fourth was Marit Sonnesyn of Gustavus, enjoying another great day of racing at Wirth. “It was her fourth straight race in the top 5 at NCAA qualifiers,” said Gustavus Head Coach Jed Friedrich. “I thought she’d be a little tired from yesterday from putting in a big effort in the chase group, so to see her get this kind of a result today, and be so close to being on the podium was really good to see.”
5th was Felicia Gesior of NMU, and in 6th was St. Scholastica’s Anita Kirvesniemi. Known as something of a classic specialist, the result marks Kirvesniemi’s second top ten freestyle performance in the CCSA this season.
7th place went to Michigan Tech’s Deedra Irwin, who recently returned to the Huskies from the U23 World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
“I was happy with how both Deedra [Irwin] and Tom [Bye] skied given their travel schedule,” said Haggenmiller. “They both flew back from Kazakhstan on Monday. I thought they needed some racing this weekend but not necessarily both races, so we looked at Saturday’s race as being a little less taxing.”
NMU’s Sophie Schimpl took 8th, while Alaska Fairbanks Anne-Tine Markset and Nicole Bathe took 9th and 10th respectively. “It’s good to see some consistency from Anne-Tine,” said Alaska Fairbanks Interim Head Coach Christina Turman. “Even when she’s not feeling great she can still hold her own.”
11th went to Allison Ternes of CSS, 12th was Vera Gruber of NMU, and in 13th was UAF’s Ann-Catherine Uhl. 14th went to Rebekka Schueder of NMU, and 15th was Elizabeth Peterson of CSS.
“I think we had a really good weekend, especially on the women’s side,” said Northern Michigan Head Coach Sten Fjeldheim. “I saw quite a few of our young freshmen perform better then they have, like Gruber and Rebekka Schueder. Jordyn [Ross] also had a solid weekend and Felicia [Gesior] had a win and was fourth today, so that was real solid…A really positive weekend for the ladies.”
St. Cloud State University Head Coach Jeremy Frost was happy with Maria Hauers race, as she skied to 21st in the CCSA. “It was a cold day and you could tell some of the competitors were really bothered by it,” said Frost. “I felt Maria did a good job of not letting the cold, wind, and delayed start time disrupt her game plan and she was able to put in a quality race effort in less than ideal conditions.”
Fjeldheim was impressed with the depth of the women’s field, saying, “all the athletes showed a lot of class racing in the cold temperatures. It was good solid competition for our women. I think the whole region here—with Alice [Flanders] and Sharmila [Ahmed]—I think our whole region here is becoming a lot more competitive, especially on the women’s side. So that’s a good sign. The whole CCSA looked strong today.”
Erik Soderman of NMU took his first win in the CCSA on Saturday, winning with a time of 19:27.2. His teammate Fredrik Schwencke was second, 2.3 seconds behind the pace of Soderman.
Fjeldheim said that it was a close race between the NMU teammates. “Erik and Freddy, they were getting splits back and forth. They were never more then 4-5 seconds apart the whole race.”
“I think Fredrik is getting more and more confident in his skating,” said Fjeldheim of Soderman’s improved skating technique.
Paul Schommer made the podium once again, his third of the CCSA Championships. “Paul had a rough day in [Friday’s] classic race,” said Salmela. “He’s been focusing on biathlon so he’s been up and down in classic races this year, but he bounced back on Saturday nicely, which is good for confidence. I think he can be every bit as good at NCAA Regionals.”
Fourth was Adam Martin of NMU, and 5th was St. Olaf’s Jake Brown. 6th was Thomas Bye of MTU, recently returned from the Junior World Championships, and St. Scholastica’s Reitler Hodgert took 7th.
Jonas Loeffler of UAF was 8th, and in another breakout performance for the NMU sophomore from the Czech Republic, Kristof Kopal took 9th.
“Kristof Kopal has made a huge step in the right direction,” said Fjeldheim. “He’s come so far from last year. I’m really satisfied with the men’s team this weekend.”
The St. Scholastica men’s and women’s team won the CCSA Championships, a four event series held over the past two weekends at Spirit Mountain Nordic Center in Duluth, Minnesota and Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
“Winning both men’s and women’s CCSA Championships is a huge step forward for our ski program,” said a thrilled Salmela. “We had a spectacular day again as a team.”
Salmela had been concerned about the losing the Saints advantage to Michigan Tech, who were bolstered by the return of Deedra Irwin from the U23 World Championships. “I didn’t know if we’d hold our own today with them at full power,” said Salmela, “but our ladies stepped up big. To finish the Championship by edging Tech by a point was kind of an icing on the cake…a sign that we earned this title.”
Salmela was equally pleased with his men’s team, saying, “I really was impressed with our men today, they haven’t raced this well as a team all year, and I think our guys just rose to the occasion on a day that they had to perform to make history. I get goose bumps thinking about it…The whole team, scorers and non-scorers, all made me so proud today. Doing what we did today just makes the title we won so much sweeter because it was a championship performance by our guys. No doubt about it.”
– Pasha Kahn