Injury, Late Start Can't Slow Speedy Schulte's Finals 3-Peat Pursuit

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

February 9, 2023

Sydney Schulte has been one of the state’s speediest skiers over the past two years, but the start to this season has been anything but fast due to a couple of obstacles.

Greater DetroitThe first came around Thanksgiving, when Schulte, a senior at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, suffered a knee injury during camp that slowed down her start to the season.

But that didn’t turn out to be as big of a deal due to the second obstacle: Weather. 

With one of the warmest Januarys on record and little snowfall, pretty much the entire skiing community got off to a slow start. 

However, with colder and snowier weather in the final days of January and early February, along with more healing for her knee, Schulte is now ready to rock with the biggest events of the season looming in the coming weeks. 

“It’s definitely taken me a little bit longer this season to get into the swing of things,” Schulte said. “But I’m getting there. The injury has sucked. Knees are pretty vital. But I’m excited, and I feel like this is the best time to be firing up.”

Schulte rounding into peak form can’t be comforting to opponents. 

Notre Dame Prep head coach Craig McLeod said Schulte has finished first or second in every dual meet during her career competing in the Pine Knob Divisional against bigger schools such as Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills and Rochester Adams. 

On a statewide level, Schulte has shown she is a “flatlander” from Metro Detroit who can compete with the best from schools up north. 

 Schulte, far left and next to Petoskey’s Marley Spence and Lowell’s Kaylee Byrne, celebrates winning her second-straight slalom championship. Schulte is the two-time reigning Division 2 Finals champion in the slalom, and was first after the opening run of the giant slalom last year before failing to finish her second run. 

Two years ago as a sophomore, Schulte was fourth in the giant slalom.

Having such success against up-north skiers is obviously a great source of pride. 

“I feel like people from the Metro Detroit area definitely have to put in way more work to be successful,” Schulte said. “The travel time and traveling up (north) on weekends. There’s so much work, effort and time that goes into training on snow. All the state meets are up there, and they can ski on (those courses).” 

Schulte said she got into ski racing when she was young, taught in large part by her parents, Allison and Eric, who skied in high school while attending Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes. 

Because she’s done it for so long, Schulte obviously has a big edge on other skiers in terms of technical ability. 

“She has a really good sense of angulation in terms of rolling the ski up on edge with knees and ankles,” McLeod said. “That’s really the magic of what she has got going on, is that she has great angulation, which pays dividends every race.”

Schulte is unsure of her college plans at the moment, but she did say it’s unlikely she will ski competitively at the next level. She said she’ll still ski for fun or on an intramural team. 

Before that though, there is the business of finishing out her high school career and going for not only a three-peat in slalom, but a title in the giant slalom. 

Notre Dame Prep will compete in a Division 2 Regional next at Alpine Valley, where it will be a big favorite to advance to the Final on Feb. 27 at Boyne Mountain. 

Notre Dame Prep saw a streak of three straight team championships end last year, but with Schulte rounding into form, don’t rule out a return to the top for the Fighting Irish. 

“The motivation really comes from being on the team,” Schulte said. “It’s fun being around people that you like. It’s way easier to go to practices and to races if you know your friends are going to be there. It’s really great. Friends are the biggest motivation for me. They want to do (well), and I want to do good. The positive competitiveness helps each person.”

Keith Dunlap

Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Sydney Schulte races down Schuss Mountain during the slalom at last season’s Division 2 Finals. (Middle) Schulte, far left and next to Petoskey’s Marley Spence and Lowell’s Kaylee Byrne, celebrates winning her second-straight slalom championship. (Click for more from Sports in Motion.)

Petoskey's Spence Caps Ski Career Among State's All-Time Racing Greats

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 6, 2024

Let’s be clear. Marley Spence is the most decorated racer in Petoskey High School girls skiing history.

Northern Lower PeninsulaBut her favorite memory from the sport is not winning one of her five MHSAA Finals individual championships.

It is helping the Northmen earn Division 2 runners-up honor her junior year when Petoskey had just the minimum – four skiers — in the competition won by Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Spence has to admit the odds were stacked against the Northman that day on Boyne Mountain And to top it off, it is a memory that is connected to her middle school days with senior classmate and all-stater Sydney Hoffman.

“It was me and Sydney and two other seniors, and that was our entire team,” Spence recalled this week. “We had to do everything right to place second, and we did that that day and we were super thrilled. That was the highlight of my career.”

Quite a statement for the perennial Big North, Regional and Finals champion in the slalom and giant slalom. She has been a top-10 finisher at the Finals going back to her freshman year.  

“Marley has sort of come along in an era when we have not had as many female athletes in the program,” said Ben Crockett, who with sister Jennifer Crockett coaches the Petoskey ski teams. “She should be proud of the fact that a pretty small team was able to have collective success at the state meet.”

All of the time spent on those powdery white hills since the age of 2 has certainly paid off.

She was the runner-up in slalom and 10th in giant slalom as a freshman. As a sophomore, her accomplishments ranged from Big North Conference and Regional titles in both the slalom and giant slalom to a Finals championship in the GS. She also captured runner-up in the slalom race to finish that winter.

As a junior, she won both the giant slalom and slalom at the Finals while leading Petoskey to the second-place team finish.

And this year, she did it again. Petoskey did not qualify as a team, but she and Hoffman did. Spence and Hoffman have been teammates since middle school, and they both picked up all-state honors this year. Hoffman placed in the top 10 of both the slalom and giant slalom Feb. 26 at Nub’s Nob.

“It helps to train with my teammate because we’re all on one team and we compete against each other and (are) pushing each other,” Spence said. “We watch each other and can all learn from our mistakes and watch we do well.”

This year, Spence put together a time of 51.17 in the giant slalom, then 1:12.19 in the slalom, holding off some tough competition from Cadillac's Onalee Wallace in both races. 

Spence’s performance at Nub’s Nob allowed her to tie Eric Behan for the most titles by a Petoskey skier and set the girls record at the school. Behan collected his fifth in 2005.

Spencer stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season.Spence also tied the MHSAA record for career Finals titles in Division 2, Class B or the previous open class, matching the mark of Christy Salonen of West Iron County from 1993-96. 

"From her freshman year on the team, Marley has been serious and committed to high school competition. At times, she has dominated high school racing, yet she is always respectful of her competitors. I’m very proud of her for exhibiting that character trait," said Jennifer Crockett, who similarly graduated from Petoskey in 1995 as one of the program's most accomplished skiers. "This season she had teammates who were not as experienced as Marley, and she really stepped up and took on a leadership role, helping them with course inspections and race day timeline management."

Spence had the luxury, and challenge, throughout her career of skiing against what many would consider the toughest high school competition in Michigan with Petoskey part of the BNC.

This year, Traverse City West’s girls repeated as Division 1 champions. Cadillac won the Division 2 girls team title for the second time in three seasons.

Spence intends to compete this spring in sprints for the Petoskey track team. She is thinking of attending Montana State University next fall and ski for the Bobcats. 

Recently labeled one of the best places for college skiers by POWDER magazine, MSU is recognized nationally and internationally for its snow science research.

“I might be going out to Montana State, and if I do then I’ll definitely ski,” she said. “It is very hard to ski in college – more than any other sport – because they bring in all the Europeans and they take the spots, but I am going to strive for that.”

As she wraps up her high school career, Spence reflected on the challenges of being a high school skier and noted slalom is her favorite race.

“I would say slalom because it is high tempo, and you have to think more about it,” she said. “It is more strategic.

“Sometimes it is hard to stay focused when you have so much going on with friends and other things like parents there, coaches there,” she continued. “Trying to keep a routine every race is what has helped me succeed.”

Part of that routine, as Jennifer Crockett noted, is inspecting the course as a team – something Spence will miss as it allowed her to mentor her younger teammates. But her impact on Petoskey's program, and high school skiing statewide, will not be forgotten.

“Marley has five individual state championships and there are only two other individuals in the history of skiing in Michigan to make that accomplishment,” Ben Crockett said. “Any review of the history would have to include her as one of the best to ever ski at the high school level.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey's Marley Spence skis a slalom run during the Feb. 26 Division 2 Finals at Nub's Nob. (Middle) Spence stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season. (Photo by Sarah Shepherd.)