By James Cook
Special for Second Half
HARBOR SPRINGS — Marquette is chasing itself.
The Redettes' girls skiing team won its fifth straight Division 1 championship Monday at Boyne Highlands.
That leaves only one team ahead of the current Marquette squad — the 1999-2004 Redettes.
"I know a lot of teams don't really want us to win every year, and they don't like that we always take it," Marquette senior Jacey Johnson said, "but I'm just so happy that we are so good, and it's just really nice to see because we all work so hard."
Johnson claimed the slalom by over a second, finishing off a high school career that included earning all-state honors eight times.
Johnson finished in Michigan's top 10 in seven of eight Ski Finals races she's competed in. The eighth, which included a hike, still resulted in a 20th-place finish and second-team all-state honors two years ago.
Marquette's Ainsley Kirk extended her streak of winning an individual Finals title to three years, taking her first giant slalom championship after being crowned slalom champ the previous two seasons.
Kirk's first run was the best girls GS time of the day at 30:53. Forest Hills Northern-Eastern's Holly Grzelak, a cousin of Kirk's teammates Aaron and Anna Grzelak, finished second by 16 hundredths of a second, tied with Rochester Adams' Kaylee Richardson.
Marquette, which lost in its Regional to Traverse City Central, topped the Trojans this time around.
"It just shows how great Marquette is," said TC Central senior Elizabeth Saunders, who finished second behind Johnson in the slalom. "They're strong and deep, like we are, and next year they have to come out even harder. I won't be around next year, but those girls are going to be in good hands."
Central also topped Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern-Eastern in that Regional, but the Forest Hills squad also snuck ahead of the Trojans this time.
Marquette won with 67 points, 10 ahead of Forest Hills. TC Central was another five back, with Clarkston fourth at 114.
Marquette has lost to Central in Regionals each of the last two years, then came back to win the Finals championships.
"That seems to be the way the last few years," said TC Central sophomore Elle Craven, who placed seventh in slalom and sixth in giant slalom. "We want to break that pattern, though."
The rest of the slalom top 10 consisted of Forest Hills Northern-Eastern's Jenna Grzelak, Clarkston's Courtney Bayley, Northern-Eastern's Jaycee O'Neill, Anna Grzelak of Marquette, Craven, South Lyon's Kelsie O'Connor, Rochester Adams' Richardson and Milford's Maddie Melody.
In giant slalom, Jenna Grzelak took fourth, Johnson fifth, Craven sixth, Brighton's Maddie Carrico seventh, Traverse City West's Ava Warren eighth, O'Connor ninth and Anna Grzelak 10th.
"I'm just excited that the kids showed some grit today and stuck with it, because it wasn't an easy day," Marquette assistant coach Keenan Cooper said. "Look how long it was. It was hot out for skiing, which can take a lot out of you because that sun's beating down on you."
PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette’s Jacey Johnson skis to Monday’s slalom title. (Middle) The Redettes celebrate their fifth-straight Finals championship. (Click for 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.)