FAIRBANKS, Alaska—The University of Alaska Fairbanks Nordic ski team will be the newest member of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) for the upcoming 2016-17 season, announced by head coach Nick Crawford on Wednesday. The RMISA unanimously voted in favor of the Alaska Nanooks joining the western region ranks at the annual conference meeting in Park City, Utah earlier this summer.
"This is a monumental move for the Alaska Nanooks men's and women's Nordic ski teams and something that has been in the works since the conclusion of last season," Crawford said of the conference shift. "I'm so glad it's been finalized through the NCAA and we are even happier to have the strong support from the other RMISA member schools."
A former member of the Central Collegiate Ski Association (CCSA) since 1992, the Alaska Nanooks will now face notorious West Coast powerhouses regularly, such as the University of Colorado, Colorado Mountain College, the University of Denver, Montana State University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Utah, Westminster College, the University of Wyoming and in-state rival Alaska Anchorage.
Since its establishment in 1950, the RMISA has been the dominate conference in NCAA Nordic skiing for the past several years, boasting the most national championships than any other collegiate conference. According to their website, an RMISA school has won the national title in 53 of the last 61 championships conducted by the NCAA (since 1954), with Denver claiming 22 NCAA titles - the most of any other school in the conference.
"Racing in the CCSA has served the Nanooks well in the past and I want to be clear that we've developed great relationships with the other CCSA schools throughout the years. We've enjoyed the high-quality competitions that the CCSA has hosted in the Midwest but the benefits of racing in Alaska every other year, was our biggest reason to change conferences," Crawford explained. "In the fall of last year, we compiled a list of pros and cons to switching regions and found that the benefits of competing in the RMISA have the athletic, academic and financial benefits that best serve our student-athletes and our program."
Last season alone, the RMISA produced 18 female and 14 male All-Americans in only four events at the 2016 NCAA Skiing National Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Nanook fans will remember that now-redshirt-senior Michael Fehrenbach received the Elite 90 award at the national championships, as well as now-senior Nichole Bathe capturing a Second Team All-America honor.
"The western region is without a doubt the strongest region in the country and also has the most NCAA quota spots allocated to it, based on results from performances by their schools in previous years at the NCAAs," Crawford concluded. "Racing against the best in the country throughout the regular season will set us up to be successful at the NCAA Championships. We also anticipate qualifying more student-athletes to the NCAA championships with the opportunity of more quota spots available. This will allow us to design our training program so our athletes are in peak fitness at the championships itself, instead of needing to be in top shape just to qualify."
The Alaska Nanooks will kick off their inaugural season in the RMISA by hosting familiar foe Alaska Anchorage for the 13th annual Alaska Nordic Cup on Nov. 19-20 at the Birch Hill Recreational Area. The Nanooks will look to defend their cup title this season, but still hold an 8-3-1 edge in the Nordic Cup over the Seawolves in the annual meet.
After taking the month of December off, Alaska will head to Soldier Hollow, Utah to participate in the U.S. Cross Country Skiing National Championships Jan. 7-10. Over the three-day meet, Alaska will appear in the individual-start skate race (Jan. 7), the classic sprint (Jan. 8) and the mass-start classic race (Jan. 10). The Nanooks performances at the U.S. Cross Country Skiing National Championships will also count for points toward RMISA conference standings.
The following weekend, the Nooks will head north to appear in the Montana State University Invitational Jan. 14-15 in Bozeman, Montana.
In February, Alaska will travel 365 miles South to Anchorage to participate in the UAA Invitational Feb. 7-12. The Nooks will take part in a 5k classic mixed relay on Feb. 7, before racing in the skate sprint on Feb. 8. After two days of rest and recovery, Alaska will appear in the 5/10k individual-start classic race (Feb. 11), before concluding the invitational in the 15/20k mass-start skate race (Feb. 12).
The Nooks will travel to Minturn, Colorado to participate in their first RMISA Regional Conference Championships Feb. 25-26, before heading to the 2017 NCAA Skiing National Championships hosted by the University of New Hampshire in Jackson, New Hampshire Mar. 8 and 11.
Despite the collegiate season coming to an end in early March, Alaska will still participate in an official competition Mar. 27 through Apr. 2, as the city of Fairbanks is hosting the U.S. Distance National Championships & Supertour Finals at the Birch Hill Recreational Area. The four-day event will feature athletes on the U.S. Ski Team and other athletes who are returning from the World Cup in Europe. The Nooks will participate in the combined skate and classic race (skiathlon) on Mar. 27, the skate sprint on Mar. 29, a mixed gender relay on Mar. 31 before finishing out the season in the 30/50k mass-start skate ski on Apr. 2.
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