UW-L water ski team advances to nationals

UW-L student Samantha Verhagen, club president, slaloming.

UW-L student Samantha Verhagen, club president, slaloming.

As water temperatures go down in area lakes, UW-La Crosse’s water ski team is just getting fired up.

The team competes in nationals Oct. 18-20 in Zachary, La. after consistently defeating teams spanning across seven states this semester to become regional champions. The team is ranked third in the nation as it enters the national arena.

In the cold, fall weather student skiers still practice, layering warm clothing under their dry suits to keep warm on the Black River. Team members admit the obvious disadvantage of not being able to practice over winter months like their competitors in states to the

UW-L Water Ski Team pictured in front of a boat.

UW-L Water Ski Team after winning first place at regionals.

south. However, they make do, taking an annual spring break trip to Louisiana to practice and starting practice at home as soon as the ice melts.

“I think people like the challenge,” says Claire Oslund, water ski team member. “We only practice six months of the year and look what we are able to do.”

It helps that Wisconsin is one of the biggest show ski areas in the U.S. and many skiers on the team grew up with the sport, says Sam Verhagen, club president.

To advance to nationals the team won four, collegiate water ski tournaments in the region, which includes 16 teams from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.

Water Ski Team member Kellen Dorff jumps off a ramp.

Water Ski Team member Kellen Dorff jumps off a ramp.

“We do a lot of traveling, but it’s a good way to see other parts of the country and meet teams from all over,” says Oslund.

Collegiate skiing consists of three events: slalom, jump and trick. Team members have their own specialty and work together to coach and help teammates progress.

When Oslund joined the team her primary experience on the water was aboard her father’s fishing boat. Learning to do tricks on skies was completely new.

“I was nervous that I would be the one girl who did not know how to ski,” she says.

But her nerves quickly dissipated as the group pushed her to simply do her best. She recalls the first time she jumped off a five-foot ramp in the water. Her teammates

Claire Oslund, water ski team member, trick skiing.

Claire Oslund, water ski team member, trick skiing.

handed her a wet suit with padding, provided a helmet and gave her a pep talk.
“Think knees, trees, freeze,” she recalls.

In other words, the first-time jumper would need to bend her knees, look at the trees and freeze just as she was flying through the air above water. The notion was “scary,” but she tried. Her first attempt resulted in a wipeout. But she got back up and tried again.

“I still get nervous about it. I sit on the dock and give myself a pep talk,” she explains. “But it’s a lot more fun now.”

And she doesn’t regret joining the team for a minute. She has met some of her best friends in the sport and she looks forward to seeing the team do well at nationals.

“This year I think we have a lot of potential. We’ve improved since last year and our team is going into this pretty excited,” says Oslund.

Water skiing is a club sport at UW-L, active in the fall and spring. The team is made up of 40 students from freshman to graduate students. All levels of skiers are welcome. For more information visit the team’s website.