ISHPEMING - Fast starts, early leads, and strong finishes led to convincing wins for both the NMU men's and women's nordic ski teams on Sunday.
The competition was the second day of the Central Collegiate Ski Association Championships held at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming.
Sunday was set up for three-person relays. Each team member in the women's race skied five kilometers in classic style with junior Rosie Frankowski propelling the Wildcats to first place as she built a 15-second lead that her teammates wouldn't relinquish.
Northern Michigan University used its home Al Quaal Recreation Area course in Ishpeming to its advantage by posting big wins Sunday in Central Collegiate Ski Association relay races. In the photo at left, opening leg skier, sophomore Kyle Bratrud, right, passes off to second-leg skier, junior George Cartwright, during the men’s 3-by-10-kilometer classic race. They and anchorman Eric Soderman beat out runner-up College of St. Scholastica by nearly a minute and a half. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
Frankowski had her hands full, going head to head with University of Alaska Fairbanks' Marit Rjabov, a former sprinter on the Estonia national team.
"We knew she would start fast the first kilometer so that was the focus for Rosie, just to hang onto her and not lose any of her draft by skiing behind her," NMU head coach Sten Fjeldheim said.
Fjeldheim instructed Frankowski to stay with Rjabov during the first part of the race, even if it didn't feel like a hard pace.
"(I said) on the second climb, just put the hammer down and she did, and she put about 15 seconds on her," Fjeldheim said. "Rosie is really smart so she kept with the game plan and stayed with the race and opened it up for her teammates."
And those teammates didn't look back. In the second leg, junior Jordyn Ross recorded the fastest time for the 'Cats and tacked on another six seconds to the gap between NMU and second-place UAF.
"The course skied really well today," Ross said. "It had a really good kick and we had really good skis from our coaches. It was really fun and we had a big lead and we kept it. It's nice because it's our home course and we know the course very well."
Freshmen Mary Kate Cirelli skied the anchor leg and put another five second between NMU and the competition. The 'Cats finished in 39 minutes, 27.7 seconds, with runner-up UAF crossing the line in 39:53.1. Michigan Tech picked up third in 40:38.1.
On the men's side, with 10K legs, the result was the same as NMU was able to bolt out to an early lead and continue to build on it as the race continued.
Getting it started for the Wildcats was sophomore Kyle Bratrud, who competed last week in the Czech Republic for the Junior World Team.
Bratrud built a commanding 41-second lead over the College of St. Scholastica, and the 'Cats (1:07:19.1) cruised in more than a minute ahead of second place CSS (1:08:43.2). Tech was a close third place, coming up just behind CSS at the finish line (1:08:43.4).
For Bratrud, the focus was building a solid lead for his teammates, who both were top-10 finishers in the sprint races on Saturday.
"Today, I was the first leg and I just tried to hammer out a pretty big lead for George (Cartwright) and Eric (Soderman) so they didn't have to work super hard, since they worked hard yesterday," Bratrud said. "I was able to do that and we took it home, so that was good."
Both Cartwright and Soderman built off of Bratrud's fast start to add substantial separation in the second and third legs. Soderman credited the quick start for the smooth finish.
"Kyle started our relay today and got us a really good start," Soderman said. "(It) left us a good gap for George to take over and when it was time for me to go, we had a big lead. I just had to keep it going."
The relays at Al Quaal aren't official NCAA events, so only conference points were on the line. But for Northern, it was a welcoming change.
"It's fun just to do something different and not the same races every weekend, and it's nice to stay home because we've been traveling the last couple of weekends," Ross said.