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Warriors Athlete of Week: Baker responds to being team's top skier

After spending the last few years chasing his brother, Zean Baker, and teammate Gerrit Garberich, Noah Baker skied into the No. 1 position for the Brainerd Warriors Nordic team this winter.

The younger Baker was the one that teammates chased this year. He topped off the regular season, during which he was the Warriors’ fastest finisher in each meet, with a third-place finish in the Section 8 meet, qualifying him for his third state meet Thursday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.

“Last year, and all the other years, I had Zean and Gerrit ahead of me,” Noah said. “Me and Gerrit were about the same skill level. It was nice having someone like Zean to look up to. It definitely has been weird being the top guy.

“It’s going to be a little different than last year, when I had my brother and Gerrit helping me (at state), but it will be fine I’m sure.”

Noah finished 93rd at state as a sophomore and 106th as a freshman. He’s hoping for an all-state finish (top 25).

“This is the first year I’ve been pretty good at classic,” he said. “Last year, I was in 50th place after the skate, which was first. In the classic, everyone was passing me. This year I definitely want to do better in classic, pass more people instead of getting passed.”

Baker said Giants Ridge is probably his favorite venue.

“I’ve been in around seven races there, including state and the Mesabi Invite,” he said. “Both are really tough courses. I hope to stick with everybody in classic and skate well.”

In the section race, Baker finished third in skate, the first of two Nordic disciplines.

“I was hoping to be in second ahead of Cory Rouw from (St. Cloud) Tech,” Baker said. “He was seven seconds ahead of me. My goal was to stick with him in the classic, but he got away right way.”

Baker went on to finish sixth in the classic, but third overall with a pursuit time of 30:53. Isaac Wieber of Tech won the pursuit at 29:01 followed by Rouw at 29:49.

“I knew I couldn’t catch the guy ahead of me (Rouw), and the person behind me (Patrick Flynn of Alexandria) was a good distance back there,” Baker said. “I knew I had to be consistent and it worked out.”

Baker said his section finish wasn’t surprising considering skating is his best discipline.

“It’s always just been consistently good,” he said of skating. “In classic, I have good races now and then, but my skate is usually really good.”

The Warriors finished third in the section team standings behind champion Tech and runner-up Little Falls.

“Noah’s character came through at our section meet when he again qualified for the state meet as an individual,” Warriors co-head coach Chris Hanson said. “Shortly afterward he expressed mixed emotions as the team came close, but did not quite qualify for state. His thoughts were more for the team than himself.

“He’s an athlete whose work ethic and positive attitude set a great example for others to follow.”

Co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan said Baker’s consistency has been remarkable.

“He has not faltered one bit,” she said. “He’s a great leader by example. Noah has a calm, quiet demeanor. He has a great smile all the time. There’s never any negative coming from him. He’s always receptive to what we would like him to do. That openness to improve — it’s awesome to deal with an athlete like that.”

Other notable efforts:

■ Hannah Moen, Ashley Fitterer, Grace McGuire, Emily Aga & Payge Fitterer, Alpine skiing, qualified for the state meet.

■ Logan Rivard, hockey, picked up five points vs. Sartell.

■ Katy Johnson, basketball, scored 20 points vs. Sauk Rapids.

■ Maria West and Kylee Heurung, basketball, scored 23 and 21 points, respectively, vs. Buffalo.

■ David Supinski, Peder Smith and the 200 free relay of Dan Larson, Nick Goll, Justin Kuglin and Supinski won events in the CLC meet.

■ Beth Etterman, gymnastics, set a school record on vault and won two events in the CLC meet.

■ Brock Saatzer, floor hockey, had a hat trick vs. Wayzata.

■ Isaiah Smith, basketball, scored 23 points vs. Willmar.

MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at