By Andy Sneddon
Special to Second Half
HARBOR SPRINGS – Familiarity breeds contempt.
Rob Rhoades and his Bloomfield Hills Marian ski team made several trips north this season to familiarize themselves with the steep and tricky terrain at Nub’s Nob.
Those journeys paid off, again, on Monday as the Mustangs won the MHSAA Division 2 Girls Skiing Final, edging runner-up Houghton-Hancock, 74-81.
“This year we really committed a lot of extra training on the weekends,” Rhoades said. “We came up here and trained often – hard, long weekends, cold weekends. This was probably the busiest season I’ve had coming Up North.”
It was the third title in five years for Marian, which began its regimen of regular yearly training visits north during the mid 2000s. The Mustangs won their first MHSAA ski title in 2010 and repeated in 2011.
Coincidence? Not at all.
“The extra training and coming up on the weekends, that’s the big thing,” said Rhoades, who completed his 25th year as Marian’s coach. “It makes a big difference. The mechanics of skiing on a hill like this versus downstate at Alpine Valley (near Milford) is totally different. There’s a lot of G forces on the back and a lot more pressure on the ski (at Nub’s). You have to be a stronger skier too."
Petoskey senior Mia Ciccoretti was the individual slalom champion, while sophomore Carlee McCardel of Traverse City St. Francis-Elk Rapids repeated as the giant slalom winner.
Marian was led by Kat Streng and Breann Lunghamer. Streng finished eighth in the GS and 14th in the slalom; Lunghamer was third in slalom, 12th in GS. Teammate Paige Weymouth was 11th in GS.
McCardel edged Mallory Eliopolous of Grand Rapids West Catholic to earn a repeat as the GS champion.
McCardel, a student at St. Francis, said one of the biggest challenges she faced came earlier in the season, when the weight of carrying an MHSAA championship began to mount.
“I (felt the pressure) at the beginning of the season, but then my coach kind of sat me down and was like, ‘You’re not defending a state championship, you’re pursuing another one,’” she said. “It helped me just kinda calm down.”
She also drew on something she picked up from Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio.
“Mark Dantonio (said) pressure is good, stress is not,” she said. “So I had to look at it more as that pressure is good and not get stressed out. I looked at it that way, and it made me work harder.”
Ciccoretti closed a standout career on top after finishing second a year ago to Mandy Haferkorn of Kingsley in the slalom final. Haferkorn placed fourth on Monday.
“I watched video from last year, and I was like, ‘Why did she beat me?’” said Ciccoretti, who finished fourth in the GS on Monday. “I figured out how to go faster, and it worked. I just trained a lot.”
Much of that training came at Nub’s, site of Petoskey practices and most home meets. Still, it’s a hill on which Ciccoretti said she isn’t all that comfortable.
“We do train here every day,” she said. “But I’ve had some bad experiences on this hill. I’ve fallen a couple times. It was good to get back from all of those.
“The key was really to just stay calm, don’t really let the nerves get to me. Just go out there and know my capabilities and just go from there, just have fun with it rather than think about what could go wrong or what could happen. Just do it, like I do every day.”
Sydney Reynolds of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central finished second to Ciccoretti in the slalom.
Eliopolous, Reynolds, Tia Esposito of Harbor Springs and Nora Reed of Spring Lake joined Ciccoretti as double medalists.
PHOTO: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood's Julia Briggs puts the brakes on one of her runs during Monday's MHSAA Final.