By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Since 1975, three schools south of “up north” had combined for five MHSAA girls skiing titles – and this was not the season for a fourth school to join that group.
Warm weather limited Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central – the fifth-place finisher in Division 2 in 2016 – to only half of its normal slate of practices this winter, and the Rangers didn’t race as a varsity team until the end of January.
But a month later, they stood together at Boyne Highlands with their first MHSAA Finals championship trophy, capping an undefeated season that had also included the program’s first Regional title two weeks before.
In what actually turned into a battle between downstate teams, Forest Hills Central – the Applebee’s Team of the Month for February – edged Pontiac Notre Dame Prep by 3.5 points in the Final.
“We had the team last year, but injuries took us out of it,” said longtime Rangers coach Alan Moore, who finished up his 26th season. “We had basically the same team as last year, a lot of firepower. We knew we had strong skiers, but ski racing is such a fickle sport because a whole bunch of things have to line up for (success) to happen.”
As Moore noted, a popular mantra for teams south of the traditional ski belt is that just making the MHSAA Finals signifies a successful season.
And that’s certainly true. In addition to this season and last, during this decade Forest Hills Central also made the Finals in 2014.
But there were expectations for more this winter. Senior Sydney Reynolds was back after winning the individual MHSAA slalom championship in 2015. She won the giant slalom at this year’s Finals and finished second in slalom. Her sophomore sister Kayley Reynolds returned to competition after tearing a knee ligament and missing all but the first few meets of 2015-16; she took fourth in the slalom and 10th in the giant slalom at these Finals. Senior Courtney McAlindon was third in the giant slalom to also play a major part in the final score.
While the Rangers’ time together during the week was limited by conditions they couldn’t control, those three skiers filled their weekends with up north racing as part of MHSAA-sanctioned Central United States Ski Association events, and teammate Katie Knister also traveled to the snow to put in extra training and stay sharp.
Forest Hills Central was in third place after the two slalom runs at Boyne Highlands. The Rangers didn’t finish first in the giant slalom, but their second place in those runs was enough to push the team into first in the final overall standings.
In addition to the Reynolds sisters, McAlindon and Knister, junior Anna Tomsheck and sophomore Grace Kline also skied the slalom and Tomsheck and sophomore Myah Leavenworth skied the giant slalom.
“Courtney’s first run in slalom was 30 points and her second run was top 10; after the first run we were in fifth place, down 25 points, but after the second run we were up to third place,” Moore said. “We went in at halftime down 20 points, and that was doable.
“We won by three points. We’re talking inches after eight runs of skiers, to win by (a combined) half a second.”
PHOTO: Forest Hills Central’s Katie Knister cuts past a gate during the Division 2 Finals at Boyne Highlands. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
January: Powers North Central boys basketbal - Report
December: Dundee boys basketball - Report
November: Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
October: Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report
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.)