The Big North Conference, top to bottom, is the strongest skiing conference in Michigan.
On the girls side alone, Traverse City Central won its second-straight Division 1 championship this season, with Traverse City West the runner-up, and those two along with Division 2 power Petoskey have four Finals championships and seven runner-up finishes over the last decade.
It’s time to make way for Cadillac as well.
The Vikings – the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for February, capped it off Feb. 28 by winning the Division 2 team championship at Schuss Mountain in Bellaire. The title was the school’s first in any sport since 1990 and first top-two Finals finish in girls skiing since 2001.
Cadillac had finished third in the Big North Conference behind the Traverse City schools and ahead of Petoskey this season, and then runner-up at its Regional to East Grand Rapids minus a top contributor out with an injury. But she returned at nearly full strength for the Final as the Vikings outpaced runner-up EGR by six points and third-place Harbor Springs by eight.
“Every week we’re facing the best teams in the state, and it’s hard to know how we’d do against teams outside of our league,” Cadillac coach James Netzley said. “Until Regionals, it’s hard to know how good we are, and even talking to the Traverse City coaches they were caught by surprise by how well we did at the state finals.
“We got third last year, and that opened up some eyes. We had several freshmen, and we skied well. Our goal was to improve one place – we were eying the big trophies, runner-up, or first place would be fantastic. Within reason, runner-up was right there, but again, we had to ski well.”
Here’s where it gets even more intriguing: Only one of the team’s top six was a senior.
Sophomores Onalee Wallis and Avery Meyer set the pace at Schuss. Wallis finished fourth in the slalom and 11th in the giant slalom, and Meyer was fifth in the slalom and 10th in GS.
The next placer’s performance will be recalled just as quickly. Junior Georgette Sake was the skier who had missed the Regional, and Netzley said she was about 80 percent for the Final. But that 80 percent was good enough to place 15th in the slalom and 24th in the GS.
Another sophomore, Mairyn Kinnie, rounded out the team’s scoring, placing 33rd in both events.
Netzley said his girls teams have always had the standouts to match up with the rest of the Big North Conference, but would end up in the middle of the standings with less depth – which makes sense as Central has twice as many students, West nearly the same and Petoskey an enrollment of roughly 130 more than Cadillac High.
But five of this season’s Vikings varsity should be back next year – junior Kinsey Cornwell and senior Emily Mason rounded out lineup.
Of course, Central, West and Petoskey will bring talented skiers back next season too, as will the other usual Division 2 Finals contenders. But the Vikings should enter next winter with an expectation of competing for the BNC title – which would be another first in a long time – and making another Finals championship run.
Past Teams of the Month, 2021-22
BOYNE FALLS — Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s girl ski team has dominated the slopes since 2016 and continued the trend Monday at Boyne Mountain.
The Irish placed first at the Division 2 Finals with a team combined score of 61. Petoskey finished runner-up with just four skiers to collect a team score of 87, and Great North Alpine finished third.
Senior Syndey Schulte was Notre Dame Prep’s top placer, finishing runner-up in slalom (1:09.19), and she was followed in that event by senior Peyton Schindler in fourth and senior Claire Kirchner in seventh. Kirchner was fourth in the giant slalom, and Schulte was seventh as the Irish placed four among the top 13.
“We had a great bunch of girls that skied well,” Norte Dame coach Craig McLeod said. “These girls show up to training every day and pay attention to what we’ve asked them, and they do it.”
Schindler has racked up tons of medals during her time at NDP, having helped the Irish win Division 2 championships during her freshmen and sophomore years before they finished sixth a year ago.
“It’s nice to have new faces, and it’s cool to see all of our hard work come into culmination of this,” Schindler said.
McLeod couldn’t be more pleased with the way his team performed at its Regional and the Finals. As he talked about his team, he was emotional knowing what this win meant to the Irish.
“The girls have won everything they touched,” McLeod said. “I have an amazing group of senior girls, and I’m proud of all the things they have done.”
Petoskey senior Marley Spence swept the giant slalom (1:14.91) and slalom (1:06.78). Spence also won giant slalom and was second in slalom as a junior, and she became the 12th skier in Finals history to win girls giant slalom at least twice.
"I cried," Spence said when she found out she won. "I ran to my parents and shed a lot of tears.
"All the emotions come in here, and it's been building out for weeks, so I'm shocked but happy," she added.
Spence was one of the four skiers who helped her team to a podium finish. Before they found out they were runners-up, Spence didn't think they'd get a team win with just four skiers – but Petoskey defeated the odds.
Cadillac senior Georgette Sake finished seconds behind Spence in the giant slalom with a combined time of 1:15.65. Cadillac as a team finished third with multiple top-10 placers in giant slalom.
"I enjoyed my four years at Cadillac," Sake said. "I don't think of skiing as a sport. I think of it as a family. The ski community is so great and cool."
PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Marley Spence speeds through one of her runs on the way to winning both individual championships Monday. (Middle) Notre Dame Prep’s Sydney Schulte caps her career with two more top-10 Finals finishes. (Click for more later this week from Sports in Motion – Division 2.)