Despite a relatively disappointing winter in terms of snowfall, the Gustavus Nordic Ski team has had an impressive showing this season. The men’s and women’s teams placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in the NCAA Qualifiers in January and had five skiers place in the top 30 of the second day of NCAA Qualifiers, resulting in fifth place finishes for both teams.
“I am extremely happy with how the guys stepped up this year to fill the gaps left by the graduating class last year. Half of the travel team (top 6) were seniors last year, but everyone worked hard and the training paid off. I think everyone has improved a considerable amount from last year,” Senior Zach Wagner said.
In reflecting on how much off-season training has helped the team improve as a whole, a few individuals stand out as having a stellar season.
“Our men’s team has improved a ton despite losing three of our top six to graduation. Sophomores Josh Blankenship, Scott Williams, Tyler Gustafson, along with Junior Tony Squillace have enjoyed huge breakthroughs this season. I couldn’t be happier to see those guys step up like they have. All four of them train really well, and it sends the right message that off-season training really pays off,” Coach Jed Friedrich said.
While the men’s team had to step up to fill the places of graduated seniors, the women’s team has used this season to achieve personal bests and meet individual goals.
“I had one of my career best finishes in the 5k interval start classic race [at Giant’s Ridge], with a 6th place finish. For the 15k mass start skate race, I placed 9th, Marian Lund was 14th, and Meredith Bache-Wiig was 20th,” Senior Erica Hett said.
Along with having strong meets, many of the skiers had opportunities to race and train at their favorite locations.
“Another highlight of our year was traveling to Utah and competing at the U.S. National Championships. It was a great learning experience to compete at the highest level in the U.S. and to ski on Olympic level trails that were used in the 2002 Olympics,” Friedrich said.
For Michigan native, Zach Wagner, the Central Regional Championship race in Houghton, Michigan is an exciting opportunity to race on a course that he’s familiar with. Erica Hett, on the other hand, enjoyed racing at Giant’s Ridge for sentimental reasons.
“So far this season, my favorite race was the classic race at Giant’s Ridge because it was a challenging course and I put in a really hard effort. I had skied the same course at the MN State High School Championships, so it was fun to be back again but racing for a college team now,” Hett said.
Although the season is drawing to an end, the team still has two important races to look forward to. The CCSA Championships take place on Feb. 16-17 in Grand Rapids while the Central Region Championships will be in Houghton, Michigan on February 23-24.
“We are all really excited for these races because they matter the most for team points and individual qualification to the NCAA Championship. For the girls’ team, I would like to see our team finish ahead of Green Bay and St. Olaf. For myself, I hope to be top 10 in the classic races and top 15 in the skate races for both weekends,” Hett said.
While both the men and women have high hopes for the end of their season, Coach Friedrich is looking forward to next season and focusing on what the team can do to keep up their streak of success.
“As far as improving for next year, it’s all about training in the off season. It’s the obvious answer, but it’s difficult to follow through. I think getting on snow early next year to really focus on technique will help, too. We haven’t been able to do a lot of technique-focused work during these last two years, so a little help from mother nature could give us a little boost,” Friedrich said.