CAMP RIPLEY-For the first time in 21 years, the Brainerd Warriors girls are headed to the state meet.
Brainerd finished second behind Bemidji Tuesday, Feb. 5, in the Section 8-1A meet to end a drought that started after the 1998 state meet.
"Analyzing all the results after the morning race, we saw how close it was with Alexandria, who we knew all along would be our competition for qualifying," Warriors co-head coach Chris Hanson said. "Both teams improved and Alex improved a little more, but not quite enough to catch us.
"Every girl did exactly what they needed to do and it couldn't have been much closer than that."
Senior Grace Erholtz led the Warriors' charge with her sixth-place time of 39:33.2. Erholtz was eighth after the morning classic race with a 21:32.0, but posted the fifth fastest skate time of 18:01.2 to move up two spots.
"She picked the right time to put together one of her best races," Hanson said. "She met her goals of advancing to that state meet."
Liliana Schaefer moved up five spots after the freestyle to finish ninth in 39:57.5. Schaefer's skate time of 18:13.5 was the seventh fastest.
"The kids know exactly where they are in the afternoon because the bibs are sequentially ordered so you know who is passing you," Hanson said. "It's pretty easy to define your job for the race and you can keep track of how many times you've been passed or are passing people. She knew exactly what she needed to do and obviously every spot she moved up was critical."
Gina Wasniewski finished 11th after she skied the 10th fastest classic time.
"We've seen a steady improvement with technique, effort and just learning to race from her and Lily," Hanson said. "Then they had the opportunity to push and pull each other. They're in the same race competing against each other, but knowing that by doing that they're helping the team."
Rounding out Brainerd's scoring was junior Elle Juranek, who finished 15th in 41:22.7. Juranek moved up one spot after her 16th-best classic time of 22:06 as she posted the 13th-best skate time of 19:16.7.
Right behind her was sophomore Emma Storbakken who finished 16th in 41:33.8 and just as impressive was Callie Knapp's 24th-place finish, which was two spots better than the No. 4 Alexandria skier.
That helped the Warriors edge the Cardinals by one point.
"The important thing is when you have skiers who can push other team's scoring skiers down," Hanson said. "Obviously, that becomes pretty important. Our fourth scoring girl and then two more pushed her down.
"We figured going in that we wanted a more challenging classic course because Alexandria has some really good skaters who are biathlete specialists. We knew they were going to skate strong. This season, the only times that we've beaten Alex, and we have a couple of times, has been on a more challenging classic course."
The Little Falls Flyers weren't left empty-handed as senior Katie Corbett advanced to the state meet individually in just her third season in the sport.
Corbett opened her section race with the seventh fastest classic time of 21:29.0. She dropped to 11th overall with her skate time of 18:53.7, but had about a minute cushion ahead of the next eligible individual to advance to her first state meet.
"Her lifelong goal was to make it to state in a sport and she did that today," Flyers head coach Mattia Hendrickson said. "When she crossed the finish line and I told her that she had done it she just started bawling because she was so happy.
"She has been working for this since last year. She did not make it to state, but was so close. That was a disappointment for her. She works so incredibly hard and goes out of her way to do anything she can to better herself. She's come a very long way in the few years she's been in skiing."
Corbett's time helped the Flyers to fourth as a team.
Molly Lange finished 14th with a 41:21.7 followed by Adrienne Kresha's 22nd place and Camilla Johnson's 27th place.
"As a team, as a whole, that was what I was expecting, but we did have some great individual placements, too," Hendrickson said. "Molly and Adrienne and Camilla all had really good days. All the girls really-across the board-really just skied well today."
The top two teams and next six individuals advance to state.
For more photos of the Section 1-A meet, go to https://bit.ly/2Db6q91.
Team scores: 1-Bemidji 375, 2-Brainerd 362, 3-Alexandria 361, 4-Little Falls 330, 5-St. Cloud Tech 322, 6-Moorhead 313, 7-St. Cloud Cathedral-Sartell 292, 8-Fergus Falls 206, 9-St. Cloud Apollo 189, 10-Detroit Lakes 171, 11-Willmar 159
Individual winner: Wren Scott-Lumbar (SCT) 36:48.2
Brainerd results: 6-Grace Erholtz 39:33.2, 9-Liliana Schaffer 39:57.5, 12-Gina Wasniewski 41:01.7, 15-Elle Juranek 41:22.7, 16-Emma Storbakken 41:33.8, 24-Callie Knapp 43:12.5, 36-Sarah Nesheim 45:05.8
Little Falls results: 11-Katie Corbett 40:22.7, 14-Molly Lange 41:12.7, 22-Adrienne Kresha 43:09.9, 27-Camilla Johnson 43:22.4, 39-Beth Ahlin 45:47.3, 44-Breanna Barchus 47:39.4, 48-Claire Zack 48:40.0
Next: Brainerd, Little Falls in the state meet 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.