Green and gold dominated the Central Region postseason awards, as Northern Michigan’s Erik Soderman landed the men’s Most Outstanding Athlete award, while teammate and sister Marie Helen Soderman earned the region’s Most Outstanding Athlete honor. Coach Sten Fjeldheim completed the sweep for the Wildcats, collecting both the men’s and women’s Coach of the Year honor.
“I’m just really, really proud to win these awards,” Northern Michigan head coach Sten Fjeldheim said. “It’s a great honor for all of us, and really just caps off a great season with a great group of kids.”
On the men’s side, Erik Soderman found his best form when it mattered most; his late season surge culminating in a national championship at the NCAA skate race. Appearing in his second consecutive NCAA Championships, the sophomore dominated the field during the interval start freestyle, claiming the top spot by over 25 seconds over his nearest competitor.
Soderman also captured both the freestyle and classic titles at regionals, taking the skate race by a comfortable 51-second margin, and outsprinting Alaska’s Jonas Loeffler to take the classic crown by less than a second.
“Erik is just one of the easiest athletes I’ve ever coached,” Fjeldheim said. “He listens and communicates really well. When he’s skiing, he doesn’t look like he’s going fast – he just looks smooth and glides really well.”
“He really lit it up in the skate race at regionals, and, though I didn’t say anything to anyone because I didn’t want to jinx it, I just had a feeling that if he had another race like that at nationals, he’d be tough to beat.”
On the women’s side, Marie Helen Soderman made the most of her senior season, capturing All-American honors in the skate race at the NCAA Championships, where she took tenth. The Sweden native was the CCSA’s top finisher in the classic race at nationals as well, finishing 13th to just miss out on a second All-American spot.
“Marie is a senior, and she’s been really close to being an All-American before – it’s been one of her goals,” Fjeldheim said. “So it was really cool of her to finally get it in one of her last races. She just really turned it on in the last couple kilometers, and went from 16th or so up to tenth.”
Soderman also claimed a Central Regional crown in the 5K skate race, and placed third in the regional classic event as well.
Now in his 23rd season with Northern Michigan, Fjeldheim helped the Wildcats to a sweep of the men’s, women’s and overall team titles at the NCAA Central Region championships. He also led the team to the women’s and overall titles at the CCSA Championships as well, and finished the season with five of the top ten scoring skiers on the women’s side, and four of the top ten skiers on the men’s side.
“I’m honored that my peers have selected me for this honor,” Fjeldheim said. “It’s really a credit to the hard work of the athletes as well: they are the ones making me look good. My two student assistants, Ingrid [Fjeldheim] and Martin Banerud, have also been a huge, huge help – they’ve spent tons of time helping the athletes, and Jenny Ryan came down to help us at nationals as well. It’s been a great season, and this is a big honor.”