With multiple state Alpine skiers returning, Brainerd Warriors head coach Jim Ruttger is excited for the upcoming 2021 season — that is if they can find someone to compete against.

“It’s not that we can’t have a season, it’s just the (Minnesota State High School) League made it difficult for some of us out of state teams,” Ruttger said.

The MSHSL guidelines only allow three teams per meet, meaning no invitationals. The guidelines want schools to only compete against teams within conferences, sections and area.

“We don’t have a conference and there are obviously no other local Alpine teams in our area,” Ruttger said. “They also want us to stay in our section and well over half our meets are outside the section.”

Brainerd competes in Section 5, which consists of multiple metro area schools. Brainerd also does not have a conference and most of their meets are against Section 7 teams in the Duluth area.

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“Most of those teams are not willing to open a spot that’s not a part of their section or conference,” Ruttger said. “The teams we have talked to in Section 5 have said they are only going to play teams in their conference and aren’t willing to give up a spot. It’s been really frustrating.”

Frustration is a word Ruttger used often when describing not being able to find opponents.

“It’s really frustrating especially when you have a good team,” Ruttger said. “We have no place to bring them and we are coming off last year with our best year ever for both teams. Most of those kids are back and we have incredible depth, but no place to bring them.”

Ruttger is working hard to find opportunities for his athletes to compete. He emailed 27 different coaches just to try and find opponents.

“We may have to play schools we have never competed with before,” Ruttger said. “I haven’t gotten any responses yet, but it’s a moving target. I’m optimistic that we will be able to do something.”

The closest teams in the section for Brainerd are St. Cloud and Annandale. Ruttger has been in contact with both teams to hopefully schedule three meets between them, including one at Mount Ski Gull.

“We are working on getting three meets scheduled and it looks like the 26th of January might be our first meet at Ski Gull,” Ruttger said. “But we are still trying to figure that out.”

The MSHSL is allowing doubleheaders, meaning that three schools can compete in the morning and three schools can compete in the afternoon, much like cross-country in the fall.

“If we can encourage some of the other schools in the Giants Ridge area to host some meets like that, the potential is there for us to do a little traveling,” Ruttger said.

Despite the frustration of not having a schedule, Ruttger said his athletes have been resourceful.

“One of our captains is a member of three different teams right now,” Ruttger said. “We’ve got three kids who are a part of other USSA teams, not high school teams. We have kids who are getting meets in and Ski Gull has their own Alpine club every week for the youth. Other kids went out to Colorado for Thanksgiving. It’s just we have all this preparation and especially for our seniors to not be able to put it into play.”

Also new this year is the section meet being divided into subsections so 16 teams aren’t meeting for sections. The MSHSL wants the Alpine coaches association to come up with recommendations on how to do that, which adds to Ruttger’s frustration.

“The MSHSL has said that we don’t want large section meets and so they want us to come up with recommendations on how to do a subsection path to state,” Ruttger said. “So that will look different because normally the top two teams advance and now there are going to be one or two subsection meets. There is no direction on how those will be seeded or who will ski against who. It’s hard to know what the records will be and every team is different from year to year. And the state meet, there is still no date on the calendar, it looks like it'll be pushed back too late March and I checked this morning. Pretty unusual year.”

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.