By Andrew Rosenthal
Special for Second Half
HARBOR SPRINGS – Downstate teams winning an MHSAA alpine ski championship hasn't usually been a frequent occurrence.
But Pontiac Notre Dame Prep now has done so back-to-back years, giving downstate three of the last four titles in Division 2 girls.
Notre Dame scored 56 points Monday afternoon at Nub’s Nob to cap off one of the most dominant postseason runs possible. The Fighting Irish qualified with a perfect score at their Regional, then won Monday by a landslide. Harbor Springs earned the runner-up nod with 114.5 points, and Petoskey took third with 116.
“Our girls have fought really hard this year,” said an emotional Notre Dame coach Craig McLeod. “We've had a bunch of girls that have really worked hard together.
“They're all great students, they're all great athletes, and they're all great people.”
Within minutes of accepting the champion’s trophy, each member of the team took turns etching her name into the back of it.
“Let’s just say we brought the gold paint pen just in case,” McLeod admitted.
Soon the trophy would be a part of history. The Irish have made it to the Finals as a team 16 of the last 17 years and won the Class B-C-D championship in 2006.
Senior Meghan Kozole earned two medals for the Irish, earning a third-place finish in slalom with a time of 1:14.54 and then taking fourth in giant slalom with a time of 53.42.
Five of Notre Dame’s skiers placed in the top 16 in GS. Kozole led the pack with Delaney Flavin in ninth, Sydney Schulte in 11th, Keely McLeod in 12th and Claire Kirchner in 16th.
“It was really nerve-wracking in the beginning, but once the day got on the nerves wore off,” Kozole said. “It was really exciting to support each other, and we definitely work together as a team. If someone fell, we were like super supportive. We understood that if we wanted to do well, we had to support each other. It wasn't an individual race.”
Reagan Olli of Gaylord started off the day with an individual title in the slalom. Olli posted the best time in the first run at 35.41 seconds, then the second-best her second run at 36.95. Megan Paache of Grand Rapids Northview took second.
Olli became the ninth athlete in MHSAA history to become a two-time slalom champion. She won in 2017, her sophomore season, and battled back from a broken wrist during her junior year.
“I've been working on my slalom all year and trying to get back to it,” Olli said.
Paache edged Olli by five hundredths of a second in GS, giving the senior her first Finals title. After starting out fourth with a first run of 25.81, Paache’s second run secured the title. Her 27.09 jumped her from fourth place into first.
A four-year Finals qualifier, she was joined by Northview’s entire team this year. After the races were over, Paache said that’s what made it so special for her.
“It's been a big goal of mine since I was a freshman,” Paache said. “At some point I wanted to get one. I did it now. That's exciting for me.”
Harbor Springs’ Frannie Kelbel earned two medals with a fourth-place finish in slalom (1:15.20) and an eighth-place finish in GS (55.08).
The Rams’ boys ski team also earned the state runner-up nod.
“It feels really great to have them both go home with trophies,” Harbor Springs coach Jane Ramer said.
PHOTOS: (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep claims the Division 2 championship trophy Monday for the second-straight season. (Middle) Grand Rapids Northview’s Megan Paache races downhill for one of her two top-two individual finishes. (Click to see more from Sports in Motion.)
Instead of “to be or not to be” or channeling The Clash and its hit song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” there’s another question that Rochester Adams senior Katie Fodale is pondering at the moment as it relates to her college athletic future.
Should I golf or ski?
Fodale said if it was simply about what sport she wanted to do in college, it would be skiing.
“Skiing is my passion. I love it so much,” she said. “I love playing golf. But I love the adrenaline rush and how fast skiing is. I love the feeling of going fast on the snow. You can feel the wind on your cheeks, and when you get to the end of the run, you think back on your run and it feels like it didn’t happen because it’s so fast. But it’s really fun that way. I like that adrenaline boost.”
A few more factors add to the dilemma.
There are not many college ski programs, and they tend to load up with skiers from European countries.
Fodale also wants to study biology, and finding school with a golf or ski program that can help with that ambition is important also.
“Golf is much more attainable,” said Fodale, adding that Kalamazoo College has given her an offer to play golf.
While uncertain about the future, Fodale can at least focus on the present as the best female skier in the Detroit area, which is following up a recent past that saw her part of a Division 1 championship golf team at Adams in the fall.
Fodale finished the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final tied for eighth individually with a two-day score of 158 (82-76) to help Adams repeat as champion.
On the slopes, Fodale is the two-time reigning Division 1 champion in the slalom, topping even the best skiers from Northern Michigan schools.
Fodale said despite their contrasts, golf and skiing have complemented her as an athlete from a mental standpoint.
“At golf, I have gotten a lot better at perfecting the mindset of one hole at a time,” she said. “For skiing, you can take it on one run and one turn at a time. Not focus on the end result.”
In addition to winning the slalom for a third straight year at this season’s Finals on Feb. 26, Fodale also is motivated to win her first title in the giant slalom after three top-five finishes. Adams will compete in Division 2 this time, at Nubs Nob and is racing in its Regional today at Pine Knob in Clarkston.
“I do want to win the GS this year,” Fodale said. “I really feel like this year my GS has improved too. I think I have what it takes, and hopefully the results work in my favor.”
When she is not at high school practices or meets, Fodale spends her weekends competing in races conducted by the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, otherwise known as FIS.
Adams head coach Jaime Jackson said that during a recent meet in Canada, Fodale held her own against skiers in their mid-20s, ranking as the top U.S. racer at the event.
“It’s hard to improve on what she did last year,” Jackson said. “She has so much experience and so much skill, whenever she’s not having a great run, she still is having a great run.”
Given that, there certainly isn’t much “coaching” Jackson has to do with Fodale, although there still is one important function he performs.
“Somebody has to put her name in the lineup, right,” Jackson quipped.
It’s been a frustrating winter for Fodale and other ski teams that have seen their season impacted by warm weather that has melted snow and created slushy conditions.
Ironically, the weather lately has been warmer than Fodale played in on the second day of Golf Finals weekend in October when it was windy, chilly and rainy at Forest Akers West.
But with a colder forecast for the latter half of February, Fodale should be nicely set up to win a third Finals title in the slalom and her first in the giant slalom.
Once the finals are over, the big question will intensify.
Should she golf or should she ski?
“I’m still figuring that out,” Fodale said.
If her high school athletic career is an indication, it won’t really matter. Whatever Fodale decides to do, she’ll thrive.
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) Rochester Adams’ Katie Fodale finishes a run during last season’s Division 1 Ski Finals. (Middle) Fodale, third from left, celebrates her team’s Division 1 golf championship in the fall. (Top photo by Sports in Motion, middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)