March 26, 2009

Nordic Skiing Boasts Talent, National Champions

Print More

Earlier this month, a Cornell athlete won an individual National Championship that wasn’t nearly as advertised as most varsity sports. Nordic Skiing’s senior Melinda McAleese captured the U.S. Collegiate Skiing Association’s top honor when she earned an overall first-place score at Nationals. McAleese won two of three events at Nationals, which were held in Winter Park, Colorado.
At one point Nordic Skiing was a varsity sport, but it is currently a club sport at Cornell. The sport is co-ed, although men and women are typically not in direct competition. Despite the anonymity of the sport, Cornell’s program is strong. The women’s team won Regionals and placed fourth at Nationals this season. The men’s team finished eight at Nationals. Cornell’s team is forced to compete in Division II because it does not have Varsity status.
Nordic Skiing is a cross between cross country and traditional skiing. The skiers race on courses that can include both uphill and downhill segments. The skiers’ heals are not strapped to their skis, which allows them to race uphill. In the sport, there are two styles of skiing: freestyle and classical. Classical skiing involves a running motion, while freestyle is more similar to ice skating. Each race mandates a particular type of skiing.
Cornell races six weekends per year and also competes at Nationals if the team qualifies. Teams from the East Coast, like Cornell, are at a disadvantage at Nationals because they are not accustomed to the higher altitude out West. At Nationals, the teams compete in four events. There is a 1,500-meter sprint, an 8,500-meter race, a 15,000-meter race, and a 3x5K relay. The events rotate between classical and freestyle competitions on a yearly basis, with at least one event of each type each year.
McAleese starred for the women’s team this year. She won every competition during the regular season, finished first at Regionals, and still managed to save her best for Nationals. The senior won the sprint and 8.5K races and finished seventh in the 15K. She may have had a chance to win the 15K race, but was slowed by a pole while trying to navigate the course.
“What Melinda did is amazing,” said fellow senior captain Erin Wolcott. “She’s an incredible athlete. I’m really proud of someone from Cornell coming out on top.”
On the men’s side, junior Brian Macpherson earned second-team All-American status for his performance in the 15K Freestyle. Along with Macpherson, the other top skiers on the men’s team include senior Bobby Penny III, and sophomores Chris Mui, Patrick Nadeau and Owen Skinner. Two years ago, the men’s team boasted a National Champion of its own when John Erickson ’07 captured the men’s title. Erickson and McAleese are the only Cornellians who have won National Championships.
The women’s team is led by McAleese, Wolcott, classmate Jess Marion and freshman Anna Knight. In each event at Nationals, the top-three scores on each team contribute to the team’s total. Those four skiers contributed to the women’s teams’ fourth-place finish.
“It’s a pretty incredible team,” McAlesse said. “You don’t have to have any experience. You can have as much fun with it as you want. There are more people that are there just for fun. We get to travel a lot and get a team atmosphere.”
Since the sport is not recognized as an official Varsity sport by Cornell, the team is completely student-run. The team captains are responsibly for organizing practice, hosting the annual race held at Cornell, and securing funding for the team. The athletes are on their own schedule and they do not have an official coach. A former Cornell professor advises the team and helps them with technique. The team employs former team member Aaron Duphily ’07 to help wax their skis at Nationals.
The SAFC provides some funding for the team, but much of its funding is found independently. Members of the team are paid to clean Schoellkopf Field after football games and they assist with parking for certain Cornell sporting events. In addition, a portion of the team’s expenses are paid for out of pocket.
There are mixed feelings among the athletes regarding whether they would like to be recognized as a Varsity sport. The lure of becoming a Varsity team include that they would add a coach, lose several distracting responsibilities, and gain a recruiting and competitive advantage compared with their current situation. The flip side is that many of skiers have benefitted from the fact their independence forces them to gain first-hand experience managing a team as well as balancing their own schedules.
Regardless of their status on campus, expect the Nordic Ski Team to continue to post impressive results under the radar as one of Cornell’s premier club spots teams.