Nordic skiing surprises in 2018 season

Marlee Sauder wins bronze, men’s finishes fourth in OUA

Marlee Sauder (above) won bronze at the OUA Championships this season.
Marlee Sauder (above) won bronze at the OUA Championships this season.
Supplied by Marlee Sauder

This season, nothing was given to the Nordic skiing team — every bit of their success was earned. 

At this year’s OUA Championships, which were held from Feb. 23-25, Queen’s saw fourth-year Marlee Sauder come home with bronze in the women’s 10 km mass free start. On the men’s side, the team finished one position shy of the podium in fourth place.

Unlike most teams at Queen’s, the Nordic skiing team faces a unique set of challenges. 

On top of training in poor outdoor conditions, the varsity club is coached and managed by students. While other Canadian schools have advanced their Nordic skiing programs in recent years, Queen’s has remained stagnant. They’re the only student-run Nordic skiing team in the OUA.

As a program that has yet to gain a part-time coach, both men’s and women’s teams are co-coached by Sauder and fellow fourth year Marie-Clare Henry. Together, the two create training plans, conduct tryouts and orchestrate team practices that largely take place outside of Kingston.

“This year we definitely put in more training time,” Henry said. “We were able to do more this year and I think that reflected in our results … Training works.”

To make up for the lack of skiing opportunities in Kingston, the team has dedicated itself to strict fitness regimens. Going into the OUA Championships, the team had skied just five times — a stark contrast to teams like Lakehead and Nipissing. 

Henry said the northern Ontario schools train on skis four to five times a week.

“We do a lot of running,” Henry added. “Our team has a really good level of fitness because that’s something we’ve been able to work on.”

All of that running paid off at this year’s OUA Championships in Thunder Bay. In Sunday’s final race, Sauder was sitting in the 12th position overall after Saturday’s 5km race, hoping to crack the top-10 in order to be named an OUA All-Star. After a perfectly executed game plan from the night before, she found herself in uncharted territory in the 10 km mass start.

“I got halfway through the race … and my dad yelled at me, ‘You’re in fourth place,’” Sauder recalled, describing her shock as she started to make a move on the third-place skier. “I caught her and I just kept going. It was crazy.”

With the second-place skier two minutes ahead of her, Sauder held on to her spot tightly until she crossed the finish line.

“I wanted to be collapsed on the ground at the end — I wanted to push myself,” Sauder said of how she hoped to finish the race. “I got to the end, fell to the ground and looked up to the sky and said, ‘Holy shit.’”

By securing the bronze medal, Sauder became the first female at Queen’s to reach the podium in an individual Nordic skiing event since 2004.

“That was the best moment of my undergrad.”

Also making waves around the OUA was the men’s team, who finished fourth overall. Third-year and incoming captain for next season Julian Alexander-Cook was a part of this effort. He told The Journal that competing with some of Ontario’s best was something the team was looking forward to all season.

“We were always shooting for that podium,” Cook said, adding that with the team seeing all their athletes returning but one, very little should change going into next season. “We have similar expectations going into next year.”

As the incoming captain, Cook said he’s been taking notes from this year’s team in order to continue its success and make Queen’s a contender in the OUA. Cook predicts maintaining the team’s morale will be important.

“That’s what makes it worth it — when you can’t ski all the time, it’s really just about having that team atmosphere. It’s really fun,” he said.


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