(PRESQUE ISLE, ME) -- For the second time in three years, the University of Maine-Presque Isle had a nordic skier from their men's team selected to participate in the NCAA Championships. Eirik Fosnæs (So./Bærum, Norway) will participate in the two nordic events beginning Thursday, March 7th.
Fosnæs joins Welly Ramsey as the only two UMPI skiers to make the NCAA championships. Ramirez went in 2011. The Norway native, in his first year at Presque Isle will participate in two races: the Men's 10K Classical, which starts at 10am on Thursday at the Carroll and Jane Rikert Ski Touring Center in Ripton, VT and the Men's 20K Freestyle at noon on Saturday.
Paul Stone, who has coached both Fosnæs and Ramsey in his three seasons as the head of both the men's and women's programs at UMPI, has been in Vermont with Eirik all week, learning the course and preparing for this weekend's races. Both student and teacher sat down in between training to talk a little about this season.
What are your emotions heading into your first NCAA championships?
Fosnæs: "Pretty psyched I guess, looking forward to seeing how the other regions are. I think it should be fun."
What are some areas you feel like you've improved in during your first season at Presque Isle?
Fosnæs: "I think I have improved a lot of areas. I am stronger in my core. Keeping my technique together when I get tired. I have also done better in classic skiing then in the past. The 'team aspect of skiing has been new for me too. In Norway, I have always been racing for just myself. It is different to be here where the result for the team is also important. Racing when you know that your result means something to other people than yourself is cool!"
Do you have any "David vs. Goliath" feelings coming in knowing that you are from a smaller, lesser known school than many of the schools that will be represented at this week's Championships?
Fosnæs: "I don't really have any expectations of what the other schools are like so it doesn't matter that much. In some ways it is better because its only me and I have one coach who is focused on just me."
What goals have you set for yourself for this weekend?
"I try to focus on the process rather then the result because I don't really know how good the other regions are. I hope to be in the top 25. I would like to be in the top half of the 15 guys from the East region."
How does this trip differ (if at all) from the last time you brought an UMPI skier here?
Paul Stone: "It's actually remarkably similar. Two years ago the Championships were also held in Vermont about an hour away from here in Stowe. The area is similar and we are again racing at a venue that we are familiar with. It was a little different this year because by the midpoint of the season Eirik looked pretty solid to qualify for the Championships. Two years ago we weren't sure until the last weekend if Welly would make it."
Has Eirik's success this season come as a surprise to you or has he exceeded what your expectations were at the beginning of the season?
Stone: "Eirik was really strong in the dryland training we did this fall so I had high expectations for the season, but there are a lot of skiers who train really well and you don't see it in the results during the winter.
Eirik has skied at a pretty high level in almost every race this season. He looked good in November and December for our first races. In early January it took him a couple of weeks to get back to that level after getting sick at home in November but since then he has been finishing high in almost every event."
This will be a successful weekend for Eirik if he can _________.
Stone: "If Eirik finishes in the top half of the field in either race it will be a successful weekend. The field is really strong. More then half the field are NCAA Division I teams."
As a coach, where do you look to have the biggest impact both in the days leading up to the event and then during the event itself?
"My role at the NCAA Championships is mostly as a facilitator. I can't help much once the race starts but there is a lot that goes into each event. Especially at this level. I'll spend 3-4 hours Tuesday and Wednesday morning testing wax at the venue. Another couple hours each evening waxing test skis and Eirik's race skis. On race day I head up early to test wax and then prep Eirik's race skis. For Thursday's race as soon as his skis are done I get out on the course in order to let Eirik know how he is doing during the race. Thursday is an interval start race so the racers go at 30sec intervals so they don't usually see much of the other racers unless they are beating people by a lot or losing by a lot. Coaches have to be out on the course with timers to let people know how they are doing relative to everyone else. Saturday's race is the same sort of preparation pre-race then because it's a long mass start I am on the course with extra poles in case Eirik breaks a pole and also I give him feeds. The race is 20km so most racers will take small bottles of sports drink 2-4 times during the race but they don't carry them. Coaches position themselves on the course to offer the drinks."