DETROIT LAKES — For the second straight season the Brainerd Warriors girls clipped the Alexandria Cardinals by one point to advance to the state meet.
Brainerd posted a 365 to finish second behind Moorhead, which won the event with a 376. More importantly, Brainerd defeated Alexandria, which scored a 364.
Brainerd found itself in a strange situation after the morning freestyle race, but recovered in the classic to make it back to state.
“A lot of us we felt the nerves before our race,” Brainerd’s Lily Schaeffer said. “We could have gotten in a better warm-up, but we were so focused on having the best race that we could that it might have actually made us go backward. Sometimes the nerves get to you and it just doesn’t help out as much as it should.”
Schaeffer led the Warriors with her fifth-place time of 32.49 followed by Elle Juranek in seventh, Sarah Nesheim in 13th, Ellie Brown in 14th and Gina Wasniewski in 15th.
Emma Storbakken finished 18th and Callie Knapp placed 24th to round out Brainerd’s roster.
“Ellie was junior high only last year and this year she quickly started training with the fast girls and then she hits a big race like this and she’s just on a really fast learning curve,” Warriors co-head coach Chris Hanson said. “We knew she’s a strong girl and a fierce competitor and she got the opportunity to have a strong skate race and then ski around a lot of the girls in the classic. For her to be a point scorer at this stage of the game is a pretty special moment for her and obviously helped us, too.”
Schaeffer said the girls talked about a new gameplan for the classic and each girl understood their role.
“We definitely thought about our technique because this course was pretty flat so there was a lot of double polling and we have a lot of strong double pollers on our team,” Schaeffer said. “We also have a good trust system and support system. Everybody’s mother is your mother, too. Our teammates are always there for us and always encouraging us. All of our alternates were spread across the course cheering us on in places we needed it the most.”
Even closer than the Warrior girls finish was that of the Little Falls Flyers boys, who needed a tiebreaker to secure second place and return to state.
Jackson Grant’s third-place finish propelled the Flyers to 363 team points, which is what Bemidji finished with, too. The first tiebreaker is combined time of the top four skiers and Little Falls topped Bemidji by just four seconds.
“We knew it was going to be a fight with Bemidji,” Flyers head coach Mattia Hendrickson said. “We’ve been going back and forth with them all year. We knew it was going to be really close and it just all depended on who was going to have a good day today. So we barely pulled it off. They really made it as close as possible.”
Grant’s 26:19 broke up a string of Sartell/St. Cloud Cathedral skiers. Cormac Shanoff finished eighth with a 27:56. He posted one of the faster classic times to move into the top 10. Ethan York was 13th and Connor Grant finished 17th for Little Falls.
“Ethan is a really good skate skier, but his bindings fell off during his skate race so he had to fix it and put it back on his ski. So he lost a little time and wasn’t as far up in the skate race as he normally would be. He’s not as strong in the classic, but he made up some ground, which was huge. A lot of our boys either moved up or kept their spots.”
Brainerd’s Nole Robertson qualified for his first state appearance with a ninth-place time of 28:46. Mitchell Neumann was one place away as he finished 12th in 28:58.
The top two teams and the top six individuals not on the state qualifying team will advance to the state meet Thursday, Feb. 13 at Giants Ridge Resort in Biwabik.
“Most of the season, I’ve been stronger in skate than I have been in classic so I came in expecting to have a strong skate race and just defend my spot in classic, but I had a rough skate race so I ended up making up time in the classic,” Robertson said.
Robertson posted a 14:19 freestyle, or skate, race and rebounded with a 14:27 classic race, which he was pleased about.
“I passed a few skiers and made sure I was in the top 10 and made it to state,” Robertson said. “It was a fun race. I’m crazy excited. I am a little disappointed that some of my teammates didn’t make it like Ryan Cady or Mitchell Neumann, but I’m super excited that I made it as an individual.”
Adrienne Kresha led the Little Falls girls to fifth place with her 17th-place time of 34:43. Claire Zack finished 22nd and Elizabeth Ahlin was 23rd.