In the winter of 2014-15, the Brainerd Warriors finished second in Section 8 and qualified for the state meet for the first time in four years.

Last season, Brainerd won the section championship and returned to state where it finished 14th.

This winter, the Warriors hope to maintain their tradition of skiing at state and defending the last two Central Lakes Conference championships.

With five skiers returning from the state team, the Warriors appear capable of making it three consecutive state trips.

"The boys are confident and motivated to be contenders in the conference and section and with two state meet appearances in a row our qualifying sights are set," Warriors coach Chris Hanson said. "With this group, some with two state meet appearances, they have the experience and potential to improve again. But we're not taking anything for granted. These guys remember the hard work that goes along with the success."

Returning from the state team are Evan Schreifels, Evan Storbakken, Sam Nesheim, Mac Brink and Andrew Wasniewski. Schreifels finished 71st at state, Storbakken 96th, Nesheim 108th, Brink 124th and Wasniewski 139th. State alternates Gabe Raguse and Zach Herrlich are also back.

Those seven skiers give Brainerd as veteran a lineup as any opponent.

"Our team is going to be strong with depth and experience," Hanson said. "The guys are keeping their focus and we've got leadership. The ingredients for a strong season are there."

Schreifels won the CLC freestyle race and finished third in the section pursuit event. Nesheim finished seventh in the section, Storbakken 12th, Brink 19th and Raguse 31st. Nesheim and Raguse were All-CLC selections in freestyle as was Storbakken in classic.

"They're hard-workers," Hanson said. "All of them, the entire team, lead because they're so experienced. They've got the basics of Nordic technique down so the younger and newer guys, of which we have a few, have great models to follow, for both technique and work ethic."

Hanson said there was stiff competition for the final spots on last year's section team. He expects a similar situation this winter with a few skiers, who were on the bubble last year, pushing for a varsity postseason position this year.

"That's good competition," Hanson said. "These guys bring out the best in each other to make everyone work harder. That's what I love about this sport-you don't have to pick out your starting squad for most meets. Everyone starts. At the end of the season, we do have to trim to seven racers and two alternates and the boys are already thinking about that. That will make everyone stronger."

Hanson said practice has been challenging with all of the snow that fell in the Nov. 18 blizzard having melted. Snow fell this week allowing Brainerd to practice on trails with marginal snow pack. The rest of the Warriors' time has been spent rollerskiing or running.

"It's hardest for our new skiers," Hanson said of the lack of snow. "(A few) days on snow is about long enough to get frustrated as effort doesn't immediately correlate to speed. But the forecast is for a wetter and cooler winter than last year so we remain optimistic."

Brainerd was scheduled to open Thursday at the St. Cloud Apollo Invite and ski Saturday at the Grand Rapids Invite. Both meets were postponed for lack of snow. The Warriors are now scheduled to open Dec. 17 at the Bemidji Relays.

Warriors roster

• Seniors: Mac Brink, Sam Nesheim, Gabe Raguse, Evan Schreifels, Will Schultz, Zach Herrlich

• Juniors: Alex Rice, Andrew Wasniewski, Josiah Wood

• Sophomores: David Dewey, Mason Hill, Maxim Osborne, Evan Storbakken, Hunter Turcotte, Noah Rook

• Freshmen: Devin Emslander, Nick Porisch, Nick Schneider, AJ Thompson, Nick Whiteman