Onekama skiing features youth, veteran mix

The Onekama ski team, pictured (from left to right) in the front row: Kylar Thomas, Michayla Bell, Ali Orts, Brooke Calvert, Heloise Decoster, manager Jamie Riley and Sam Mosher. Back row: head coach Curt Mathieu, Ben Granger, Joe Buswinka, Nike Waeljegaard, Hilda Anthun, Camilla Blohm, Elena Cunsolo, Colin VanVoorst and Andrea Scarfone. Not pictured: Alora Sundbeck, Breann Krumins, Carmen Diez and Briten VanVoorst. (Courtesy photo)

The Onekama ski team features a mix of seasoned veterans and newcomers to the sport.

“We have seven boys,” said Onekama ski coach Curt Mathieu. “Four of them have raced before. The other three never have, and one is an exchange student.”

Joe Buswinka qualified for the Division 2 state finals last season and — if early signs are any indication — appears poised to make a return trip this year.

“We’ve got Joe Buswinka, who’s been on the team for four years,” Mathieu said. “He’s a senior. He’s pretty much picked up where he left off last year. He’s a phenomenal skier.”

Gone from the squad is 2018 graduate Keegan Thomas, who medaled in the both the slalom and giant slalom last year, earning all-state honors in the process. Hoping to fill the void is freshman Kylar Thomas, Keegan’s brother, who is no slouch on the slopes himself.

“He’s done this since he was little,” Mathieu said. “… This kid has got a lot of talent. He’ll be the one that we’ll be really looking forward to next year, as far as being the team leader.”

Colin VanVoorst is a senior entering his fourth year on the ski team, and Briten VanVoorst has been with the team for two years. Beyond that, the boys team is comprised of fresh faces.

“The rest of the team are new kids,” Mathieu said. “None of them have ever raced before, and many of them are still learning. … There are a few that are exchange students. They’ve skied differently than we do. Recreational skiing is a different style than racing.”

On the girls side, talented sophomore Alora Sundbeck is back for her second season. Mathieu also expects good things from a newcomer to the team: Michayla Bell.

“We’ve got a new girl,” Mathieu said. “We co-oped with McBain this year. Michayla Bell. I’d never seen her ski. I’d only heard things.”

Once Mathieu saw Bell take to the slopes he was impressed with her talent.

“Michayla was a great surprise,” Mathieu said. “A welcome surprise.”

Beyond that, there are a number of foreign exchange students with experience skiing who had never before raced.

“We’re having to take them from a recreational skier and implement race techniques with that,” Mathieu said. “It’s basically like telling you, ‘You’ve walked this way for 37 years. Guess what. You’re doing it all wrong. Now we have to break you of all your bad habits that are perfect for recreational skiing.’

“We’re having to backtrack, and that’s really evident on the girls’ side.”

Fortunately for Mathieu, he doesn’t have to do it alone.

“I’ve got two awesome helpers,” Mathieu said. “Two parents that are out there every night bringing their kids to practice, so they stay and help with the training. I could not do it without them. That’s Brian Thomas and Matt Bell. Those two totally bailed me out.”

The Portagers competed in their first meet of the season last week Wednesday against Lake Michigan Ski Conference foes Maple City Glen Lake and Benzie Central, as well as Mount Pleasant.

The boys team finished in third with 60 points, 20 points off Benzie Central’s 40. The girls team took second with 61, 26 points off first-place Glen Lake’s 35.

“We didn’t have the Mount Pleasant results only because there was a mix-up in timing,” Mathieu said. “It would have screwed up the girls’ side but not the guys’ side.”

Buswinka took first in the giant slalom and second in the slalom. Kylar Thomas finished fifth in the slalom.

“(Buswinka) was 1.5 seconds faster than second place, which is almost like an eternity in skiing,” Mathieu said. “… Joe, last year, just really came on strong in GS. And then this year he went out on a training camp with me — he and two other kids on the team — to Copper Mountain in the beginning of December, and that’s where it totally clicked for the slalom end.

“He was using some equipment that was less-than-stellar as far as tuning and everything,” Mathieu continued. “It hadn’t been tuned since last year. It’s not an excuse but I’m looking forward to (the next meet) just because he’s getting it all set up.”

Michayla Bell took third in the giant slalom while Sundbeck finished fourth.

“Not knowing how the new kids were going to do, I thought we did very well,” Mathieu said. “We’ve had very limited practice this year due to the weather and the flu. We never had a night yet of practice where everybody has shown up, due to the flu and all that.”

The Onekama ski team is a six-school co-op consisting of Onekama, Manistee, Brethren, Manistee Catholic Central, McBain and Bear Lake.

The Portagers will be on the slopes today with a meet a Crystal Mountain at 5 p.m.

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