WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Sophomores Devon Spika and Warren McDermott, along with new coach Calisa Schouweiler, will lead the resurgent Whitman College cross country ski teams when the talent-rich Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) kicks off its season early in January.
As RMISA’s only NCAA Div. III (non-scholarship) school, Whitman routinely faces world class competition during a series of regular season races that precede the NCAA National Championships.
The universities of Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Denver and New Mexico, the strongest of the NCAA Div. I ski programs, tend to dominate the team scoring at RMISA events. Montana State and the University of Wyoming also compete as Division I schools, while the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Western State College are NCAA Div. II affiliates.
Based on regular season results, each of the 10 RMISA schools can qualify as many as three men and three women for the national championships. As one of three NCAA ski conferences in the country, however, RMISA is limited to sending 16 women and 18 men to nationals.
Spika, who has dual Canadian-American citizenship, was the only member of the Whitman ski teams to earn a spot at nationals last winter. Since then, the Nordic coaching reins at Whitman have passed from Nathan Alsobrook, who resigned to take the coaching position at his alma mater (Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine), to Schouweiler, who skied at Minnesota’s Saint Cloud State University before graduating in 2003.
Schouweiler, who completed her master’s degree in sports training and exercise physiology at St. Cloud in 2006, is in her first year as a head coach. Her background includes one season as an assistant coach at the college level as well as a research stint at the Norwegian Olympic Training Center in Oslo, Norway.
"As a team, we’ve been training all fall, so we’re looking forward to the start of racing," Schouweiler says. "The ski competition here in the west is very, very tough, but we think both our women and men will make a stronger showing this season in the team scoring."
RMISA’s Nordic season gets underway Jan. 11-12 with the University of Utah Invitational in Soldier Hollow, Utah. Schouweiler and her skiers will gather on Jan. 6 to train and acclimate to Soldier Hollow’s altitude.
Whitman Women’s Nordic Team
Raised in Ottawa, Canada, and a graduate of Denmark’s Copenhagen International School, Devon Spika wasted little time last winter carving her niche as Whitman’s top Nordic skier. After finishing 13th in a freestyle race in her second college event, Spika posted top-10 performances in four of her next six races. That run of success included her season-best efforts (fifth in the freestyle, seventh in the classic) at the RMISA regional championships in late February at California’s Donner Summit.
Qualifying for nationals as RMISA’s 10th seed on the women’s side, Spika had her best national finish in the 5-kilometer freestyle, placing 19th in the 15-kilometer classic. She had the third-best time among the relatively few first-year skiers who qualified for the national championships. The only first-year competitors to finish higher were the University of New Mexico’s Polina Ermoshina (Moscow, Russia) and the University of Colorado’s Kristin Roennestrand (Stromsund, Sweden).
Spika also placed 26th at nationals in the 5-kilometer freestyle.
"There’s no question that Devon is a stronger skier this year," Schouweiler says. "She has clearly benefited from having one season of college training and racing under her belt. She has very high expectations for her second season."
Joining Spika on the five-woman traveling team are sophomores Adele Mery (Fairbanks, Alaska; West Valley HS) and Liz Forbes (Burlington, Vt.; Burlington HS) and first-year skiers Eloise Zimbelman (White Salmon, Wash.; Columbia HS) and Paige Devlin (Lake Placid, N.Y.; Burke Mountain Academy/East. Burke, Vt.).
Forbes is the only member of that group with racing experience at the college level. Forbes, who also competes on the Whitman soccer team, got off to a late ski start last winter, missing the first two weekend events. She posted her best results at the University of New Mexico Invitational, placing 27th in the freestyle and 32nd in the classic.
"Liz played soccer again this fall, but the transition to skiing seems to have gone very well for her," Schouweiler says.
Mery, who was on the Whitman development squad last winter, has raised her competitive level significantly since then. "Based on results from our team time trial at West Yellowstone over the Thanksgiving break, it’s clear that Adele belongs on the traveling team this season," Schouweiler says. "The key is that she decided that she really wants to ski. It has to come from within. She has a lot of fire in her eyes this winter, and she’s excited about the chance to compete."
As a first-year skier, Zimbelman showed plenty of promise in a recent series of 500-meter sprints. "We never race that short distance, but it was great to see Eloise stay right with Devon as they went through one sprint after another," Schouweiler says. "Eloise has had good success as a junior national competitor, and her jump to college skiing has been reasonably smooth so far."
That transition hasn’t been nearly as easy for Devlin, who battled illness for the first month or two of her first college semester. "But Paige has made some incredible strides over the past few months," Schouweiler says. "She’s healthy now, and her fitness level and skiing are getting much better."
With Spika at the front of the pack last winter, the Whitman women’s team showed definite signs of progress by season’s end. The Missionaries placed seventh in the team scoring in the classic race at the regional championships, beating both the University of Nevada and Western State College and finishing just seven points behind sixth-place University of Alaska. They also placed seventh at regionals in the freestyle event, beating Alaska and Western State while trailing Nevada by just three points.
"Our women’s team as a whole should be stronger this season," Schouweiler says. "Devon is a stronger skier, and our second and third skiers should finish higher than they did a year ago."
A handful of women will compete on Whitman’s development team this winter, traveling on their own to various regional races within the Northwest. This group includes junior Whitney Heyvaert (Maple Plain, Minn.; Orono HS) and first-year skiers Laurel Renkert (Anchorage, Alaska; West Anchorage HS), Roxanne Pierson (Wilson, Wyo.; Phillips Academy/Andover, Mass.) and Chelsea Momany (Spokane, Wash.; Lewis & Clark HS).
Heyvaert, a member of the team the past two seasons, will return to campus in January after spending the fall semester in a study abroad program. Lindsay Records (Boulder, Colo.; Boulder HS), also a junior and team veteran, will miss the ski season while spending next semester in an off-campus study program.
Whitman Men’s Nordic Team
As with Devon Spika on the women’s team, sophomore Warren McDermott has "set some high goals for this season," Schouweiler says. "Warren showed good progress last winter as a freshman, and his ultimate goal is to qualify for nationals."
McDermott (Rochester, N.Y.; Pittsford Sutherland HS) made his best showing at last year’s regional championships, placing 24th in the freestyle and 30th in the classic. "Warren starts the season as No. 1 on the men’s team, but one of his teammates, Loren Schmidt, is right there on his heels and ready to challenge and push him," Schouweiler says.
A senior, Schmidt (Fairbanks, Alaska; Lathrop HS) got a late start last winter after spending his fall semester in a study abroad program. He also made his best showing at the regional championships, placing 26th in the freestyle.
Schouweiler also expects strong senior seasons from Davis Taylor (Mammoth Lakes, Calif.; Mammoth HS) and Robert Marcotte (Fairbanks, Alaska; West Valley HS). Taylor placed 31st and 32nd in the two events at last year’s University of New Mexico Invitational, and Marcotte placed 37th in the freestyle race at regionals.
"Davis has been working very hard to make his senior season a success," Schouweiler says. "Robert also has made excellent strides this past year, and he finished less than a minute behind Warren at our time trial at West Yellowstone. That’s a definite improvement for Robert. Based on the time trial results, Loren, Davis and Robert are all in the hunt for that second spot behind Warren."
Rounding out the men’s team are sophomores Jack Straus (New Canaan, Ct.; Holderness School/New Plymouth, N.H.) and Bailey Arend (Anchorage, Alaska; Robert Service HS) and first-year senior Tim Marrinan (Sauk Rapids, Minn.; Cathedral HS). Straus competed with the varsity last winter while Arend was on the development squad. Marrinan is in his first ski season after running varsity cross country in the fall the past three years.
Straus made a breakthrough near the end of last season, placing 36th in both the classic and freestyle and the New Mexico Invitational. "Jack is a very hard worker, and that hard work will pay off eventually," Schouweiler says. "He was sick a lot this fall, but he’s made some changes to his training program that should really help him."
Arend’s work ethic has also impressed his new coach. "If we gave a Most Improved award, it would probably go to Bailey," Schouweiler says. "You can tell he’s worked very hard on his technique in the off season, and he was our fastest runner during the fall training. If he can carry that speed over to his skiing, he’s going to do well. He’s only been skiing for three years, so it’s fun to watch his quick progression."
Schouweiler expects Strauss and Arend to compete for the fifth spot on the traveling team, although she plans to take six men to the season-opening University of Utah Invitational. Meanwhile, Marrinan is skiing as part of the development team. "Tim decided to dust off his high school racing skis for his senior year in college," Schouweiler says. "He's using this time to develop his skiing technique. His strong work ethic and incredible athleticism will make him a better skier in no time, and his outgoing personality has been a great addition to the team."
After the Utah races, the Whitman Nordic teams will make regular-season trips to Winter Park and Crested Butte in Colorado, followed by excursions to Red River, N.M., and Bohart Ranch, Mont. Bohart Ranch also will host the NCAA national championships in early March.
Malcolm Dunn, the head cross country running coach at Whitman, also serves the Nordic ski teams as an assistant coach. "Both myself and the team are excited to have Malcolm back for his third season as the assistant Nordic coach," Schouweiler says.