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Girls Nordic Skiing: Warriors return depth for CLC title chase

Brainerd’s Sam Nesheim (left), Faith Watson, Laura Wadsten and Evan Schreifels are this year’s Nordic ski captains. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

Nordic skiing 2016-17

Co-head coaches: Chris Hanson, Mary Claire Ryan

2015-16 girls finish: Conference runner-up, fourth in Section 8

2015-16 boys finish: Conference champions, Section 8 champions, 14th at state

Returning state meet boys participants: Evan Schreifels, Sam Nesheim, Evan Storbbaken, Mac Brink, Andrew Wasniewski

Returning state meet girls participant: Grace Erholtz

Girls captains: Faith Watson, Laura Wadsten

Boys captains: Sam Nesheim, Evan Schreifels

Assistant coaches: Eric Storbakken, Jan Costello, Diane Meyer, Clint Baker

Volunteer coaches: Kent Montgomery, Sharon Pike, Laura Hanson

Warriors schedule

Dec 8, at St. Cloud Apollo Invite — PPD

Dec 10, at Grand Rapids Invite — PPD

Dec 17, at Bemidji Relays 10 a.m.

Dec 20, at Detroit Lakes Invitational 10 a.m.

Dec. 20, at Mora Invitational 10 a.m.

Dec 29, Brainerd Invitational 10 a.m.

Jan 3, at St. Cloud Cathedral Invitational 2 p.m.

Jan 7, at Giants Ridge Invitational 10 a.m.

Jan 10, at Detroit Lakes Invitational 10 a.m.

Jan 12, at St. John's University Invitational 2 p.m.

Jan 16, at Little Falls Pursuit Invitational 10 a.m.

Jan 21, at Bemidji Pursuit Invitational 10 a.m.

Jan 26, Central Lakes Conference Championship at St. Cloud 1 p.m.

Jan 31, at Alexandria Invitational 2 p.m.

Feb 7, Section 8 at Camp Ripley 10 a.m.

Feb 16, State meet at Giants Ridge, Biwabik

After not winning the Central Lakes Conference title in 2015-16 for the first time in five years, the Brainerd Warriors are focused on recapturing their championship this winter.

Brainerd returns state entrant Grace Erholtz from a team that finished second in the CLC and fourth in Section 8. In addition to Erholtz, four other skiers return from the section team.

"I think this will be one of the stronger girls teams we've had for a while," Warriors co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan said. "Even though we're still young—we only have one senior (Faith Watson) with competitive experience—we gained a lot of experience last year.

"The girls are much more focused. To get that conference title back is one of the things they're looking at. And they've already been asking and discussing where do we fit in the section."

Ryan said the Warriors have more depth than they've had in recent memory. Twenty-one girls in grades 9-12 have been practicing since Nov. 14.

As a freshman last year, Erholtz won the CLC freestyle title, finished 12th in the section pursuit event and 118th at state.

"Last year was a breakout year for Grace, having skied (on the varsity) as an eighth-grader and ninth-grader," Ryan said. "Coming off a state meet cross country performance, and her dedication as an athlete, I only expect bigger and better things and faster times from her.

"There were four ninth-graders in the section race and she was second-fastest of those ninth-graders. To have a first section race like that, and a year like she had, winning and leading an entire race, and competing as well as she did as a ninth-grader, I look to see her improve her times and placements in races."

Watson earned All-CLC honors in classic and finished 16th in the section. For the second straight year, she missed by one place of qualifying for state.

"Faith was not healthy the majority of the year," Ryan said. "That was frustrating for her as well as for us. She's coming in healthy this year."

Laura Wadsten, Abbygail Wohl-Kovatovich and Hannah Trtanj are others who return from the section team. Trtanj was All-CLC in classic and finished 22nd in the section, Wadsten was 24th in the section and Wohl-Kovatovich 38th.

"Most of those girls had not had a lot of varsity experience, let alone skiing in the top places for the conference and section," Ryan said. "They stepped up to the plate last year and got a lot of experience quickly."

Brainerd graduated only Maren Hadrits and Emily Nelson from its section squad. Ryan said this year's team includes many girls who played soccer and tennis and ran cross country in the fall. Most have also trained over the summer.

"They're coming in in pretty good shape," Ryan said. "They know where they're headed. They're looking ahead to see where the competition is.

"Their goals last year were to improve at the section—they went from fifth to fourth place. The girls side of our section is getting even more competitive, which is great, so they have a taste of that. They know where the competition lies."

Ryan expects a large group of freshmen to be pushing for varsity time.

"A lot of them have skied several years with us," she said. "They will add depth to the girls team that we haven't had in quite a while. Isabel Nelson was our top finisher in junior high races last season. And, a couple of those eighth-grade now ninth-grade girls were not far behind her.

"As a group, they have great camaraderie. They help push each other. They're enthused about stepping up to junior varsity and potentially varsity levels."

Brainerd practiced on snow three times after the Nov. 18 blizzard. Much of that snow has melted but some snow fell this week allowing the Warriors to get back on trails in marginal conditions at best.

"The enthusiasm and work ethic has not gone away with the snow," Ryan said. "The girls have been working really hard which is great because there were a lot of frustrated skiers when the snow went."

Warriors roster

• Seniors: Anna Commerell, Faith Watson, Isabel Thompson, Mari Kalebegashvili

• Juniors: Sara Alcock, Sarah Hanson, Kathryn Quast, Hannah Trtanj, Laura Wadsten

• Sophomores: Audrey Collins, Grace Erholtz, Abbygail Wohl-Kovatovich

• Freshmen: Emelia Hinrichs, Elle Juranek, Callie Knapp, Jenna Lee, Isabel Nelson, Sarah Nesheim, Tess Sowers, Becca Strangstalien, Gina Wasniewski

• Eighth-grader: Emma Storbakken