The CCSA skiers ended the 2013 season on a positive note, capturing three All-American spots and placing five student-athletes in the top 15 (and seven in the top 25) at the final day of the NCAA Championships at Middlebury College.
Northern Michigan’s Erik Soderman led the way for the region, earning first-team All-American honors with his fourth-place finish in the men’s 20K mass start freestyle race. Teammate Kyle Bratrud finished 10th to earn a second-team All-American spot in the same event, while St. Scholastica’s Jeremy Hecker just missed out on the top 10 in his final collegiate race, taking 11th in the Saints’ best ever NCAA finish.
On the women’s side, the Wildcats’ Rosie Frankowski crossed the line in seventh in the women’s 15K skate, collecting her first All-American award as all the Northern Michigan women finished among the top 20.
“I think today was super critical for our region,” St. Scholastica head coach Chad Salmela said afterward. “This is much more indicative of how good we are as a region. It felt good to be out there showing what we can do, and hopefully we earned a couple of qualifying spots back for our region.”
Warm temperatures throughout the races (the mercury would soar as high as 40 degrees during the men’s event), led to quick conditions on the Rikert Nordic Center course. The blend of mostly manmade and some natural snow stayed surprisingly firm during the women’s race, and largely kept its integrity during the men’s race as well, though some wet spots began to appear in areas affected the sun.
The fast conditions didn’t seem to faze Frankowski, however. A strong skater, she never drifted out of the top 11, springing up into seventh midway through the race and never looking back.
“Rosie just had a great race,” Northern Michigan head coach Sten Fjeldheim said. “She’s worked so hard to get where she has, and this was just the crowning moment of her year.”
Teammate Mary Kate Cirelli finished off a solid week with a 14th place finish in the freestyle race – the freshman’s second top-15 finish of the NCAA Championships. NMU’s Jordyn Ross wasn’t far behind, either, taking 17th in her first trip to nationals as well.
Alaska’s Crystal Pitney finished 27th in the event, crossing the line just ahead of teammate, Aly McPhetres, who, unfortunately, battled an ear infection most of the week and was unable to perform at her top level. McPhetres, only a sophomore, had finished the season as the region’s top scoring freestyle skier.
St. Scholastica’s Sharmila Ahmed, battling health issues of her own which caused difficulty turning on downhills, finished 36th.
On the men’s side, a somewhat cautious start led to a large lead pack sticking together throughout most of the early stages.
“No one pushed it,” Salmela said. “I think everyone was waiting for someone else to push the pace, and no one did. That helped skiers like Jeremy and Erik Soderman, who typically start slow and go hard at the end. Every lap, a couple more skiers would fall back, and they kept moving up.”
When the pace finally did increase, it was Soderman who was instigating it – the defending NCAA freestyle champion surged into the lead near the beginning of the final lap, and stretched the lead pack . Though Utah’s Miles Havlick would eventually take the national title, Soderman’s fourth-place finish earned him the third career All-American spot, and second of the week.
Northern Michigan’s Kyle Bratrud turned plenty of heads as well – the sophomore more than holding his own among the leaders before crossing the line in 10th overall to wrap up his first NCAA appearance.
St. Scholastica’s Jeremy Hecker, meanwhile, shook off back spasms to turn in arguably the performance of his career, hanging with the lead pack through most of the race and crossing the line in 11th place – the school’s best ever finish at an NCAA Championship.
“Jeremy has been the most pivotal skier in the history of our program,” Salmela said. “He’s a culture setter – he has set an example for everyone. He raced today as he always races – really smart. I told him to give it everything he had today, and he did. He may not have finished as an All-American, but he skied like one today.”
Alaska’s Logan Hanneman crossed the line in 25th, just ahead of Northern Michigan’s George Cartwright, who placed 28th. The Nanooks’ Michael Fehrenbach and Jonas Loffler both got tangled up and broke poles in an early crash, finishing 29th and 40th, respectively.