Financial motives cut the Gustavus Nordic Ski team from varsity competition this year. The news came as a shock for the team and many alumni last spring, as the program was considered a strong part of the Swedish heritage that Gustavus prides itself on. Instead, the athletic department decided to degrade the program to a club sport, something that both limited but pushed the team to take a creative approach to the season. However, some members of the team went on as if nothing had changed, competing and practicing on a regular basis.
“Some of us still have the mindset of a varsity team where “regular” means you’re there every day and at every meet. We also had a broader range of racing opportunities than we ever had in the past. Skiers were able to pick and choose which events fit their goals and schedules. To my count, we had 17 skiers put on a Gustavus race suit and toe the line at least once. We had a couple more who came out and practiced and didn’t race. Last year, we had 18 skiers who raced at least once,” former Head Varsity Coach Jed Friedrich said.
Friedrich has been working closely with the team while also adapting to his new role as equipment manager for the athletic department. Although the decisions last year put less focus on the ski team, Friedrich believes the team performed well in a year when snow conditions have been rough.
“Overall, our skiers did extremely well. In a bare snow year, it’s difficult for some skiers to reflect positively on the past season. I’ve being coaching down here long enough to be able to take all these things into consideration. Not only snow conditions, but taking into account skiers who are studying abroad, student-teaching, and trying out new sports in the fall. Our skiers should be proud of their performances. Every weekend we were beating varsity teams,” Freidrich said.
“For me, the ski team cut did not change how often I practiced or competed. The lack of snow meant driving to the cities for man-made snow, lifting weights, running or swimming, but I trained every day.”—Marit Sonnesyn
Although the team met their expectations as a group, one skier’s individual performances stood out from the rest.
“The race performances of Marit Sonnesyn will always stick out in my mind from this year. The way she raced was remarkable and probably deserving of a completely separate article. She turned in the best results out of any female skier in our program’s history. That’s saying a lot because we’ve had some tremendous female skiers at Gustavus,” Freidrich said.
Sonnesyn, a junior from Wayzata, received the Gustavus Student-Athlete of the Month honors for her achievements in cross country in the fall. She brought that momentum and kept herself disciplined through the rigorous training as a varsity skier.
“For me, the ski team cut did not change how often I practiced or competed. The lack of snow meant driving to the cities for man-made snow, lifting weights, running, or swimming, but I trained every day. After last year’s season, I had set goals for myself for this season and the next. When the team was cut, I didn’t let go of those goals. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still achieve them. Despite losing our varsity title and having to travel and compete at a lot of races alone, I was really happy with my season,” Sonnesyn said.
Another skier who had a successful season was Senior Scott Williams. He found motivation by doing his best to be undeterred by the new organizational situation.
“There are a lot of highlights from this season. It was a challenge transitioning from varsity to club, but with the strong group we had, we made the best out of it. We beat St. Olaf in a race weekend, travelled around the northland with the guys racing, and took a long ski trip over touring break,” Williams said.
Although motivation is key to any sport, the weather is a factor that inevitably affects skiers more than others. Artificial snow in Minneapolis and St. Paul was crucial to why the team was able to perform as well as they did.
“Man-made snow in the metro area has been a life-saver for this sport. Good and bad snow years occur in a cycle down in St. Peter. This year was the 2nd or 3rd worst out of the 11 years I’ve been down here, so hopefully we’ll get dumped on next year,” Freidrich said.
While Freidrich wishes for a big load of snow next winter, Sonnesyn has her focus set on the summer and her senior year at Gustavus.
“I’m already really excited for summer training. I had my best ski season ever and I have set new goals for next season. Even though we no longer have NCAA eligibility, I want to ski fast enough to reach qualifying times. I plan to train this summer just as if I actually could take one of those NCAA spots. I’ve also set goals for how I would like to place at races like U.S. Nationals and the American Birkebeiner. A summer job makes training difficult, but a typical week consists of 1-4 hours of roller skiing or biking a day, about 50 miles of running and a lot of strength training,” Sonnesyn concluded.