Area Male Athlete: Flyers' Zupko zips past competition

Hunter Zupko Year: Junior School: Little Falls Sport: Nordic skiing Highlights: Won Section 8 championship It's hard to believe Hunter Zupko could be in better shape. But that's been the case this season as the Little Falls Flyers' junior repeate...


Hunter Zupko

Year: Junior

School: Little Falls

Sport: Nordic skiing

Highlights: Won Section 8 championship


It's hard to believe Hunter Zupko could be in better shape.

But that's been the case this season as the Little Falls Flyers' junior repeated as Section 8 Nordic skiing champion and returned to his fourth straight state meet Thursday.

"He came in in even better shape than he has in the past," Flyers coach Terry Wasland said. "He had a really good cross country running season and qualified for the state meet so he's accustomed to being one of the elite skiers in every race and expects to win.

"He comes in with a greater confidence and a little better conditioning."

Zupko won the section meet Feb. 7 at Maplelag with a time of 30:03.76.

"Before that I didn't race too well at the last event so I just kind of went into the first race just to see where I was at and I ended up quite a ways ahead of Alex Nemeth (of St. Cloud Cathedral/Sartell)," Zupko said. "I went into the classic trying to widen that gap.

"Honestly I felt amazing that day. It seemed like I had an endless amount of energy throughout the race. There was never any point where I got tired. I just kept going and had no problem with that at all."

Wasland said Zupko had a 30 second lead on Nemeth after the opening freestyle. The game plan for the classic portion of the pursuit style event was to erase any thought of being caught


"We talk about how he wants to run the race and he had probably his best competition going out 30 seconds behind him," Wasland said. "When you go out ahead of your toughest competition, you want to make sure you don't give them any hope. He went out and widened that gap immediately to about 20 seconds in the first 2K. So he had a 50-second lead on the next guy so they didn't see him on the course."

Winning is nothing new for Zupko and when he doesn't win it takes an elite talent to top him. Case in point was the Granite Ridge Conference championship Jan. 31. Zupko placed second behind Mora's John Schwinghamer. The winning time was 24:42.9. Zupko posted a 24:45.1.

Schwinghamer, Zupko and Nemeth were all "On the Cusp" of the Minnesota state rankings.

Zupko won the Bemidji Invite in 31:28 to lead the Flyers' team to first place. He also led the Flyer boys to their first state meet

"It's huge just to see them finally make it there and hopefully they all get a good experience from it and can't wait to make it back next year," said Zupko. "It's a great experience for everyone."

That feeling is what makes Zupko a fan favorite among his best competition let alone his own teammates.

"Hunter is a great teammate to have on our squad," Wasland said. "He just doesn't have a real down day. He's usually upbeat. He always sets the pace in practice. He's someone our younger kids can watch and emulate. You look at our goal sheets and his name comes up quite often as far as skiing next to Hunter as close as I can or work as hard in practice as Hunter does. He's just such an easy personality to be around. He's a friendly young man."

Zupko won the Flyer Invite Jan. 16 at Camp Ripley, two days after the Mesabi Invite, which is held at the site of the state meet at Giants Ridge. He placed sixth in the classic with a 15.26.8. Despite placing so well in the classic, Zupko had more faith in his freestyle heading into the state meet.


"Well, I kind of plan on going out on the skate course all out. Classic has been kind of a funky thing for me," Zupko said. "Sometimes I can do fairly well and sometimes I have a hard time just keeping my pace. I plan on just going all out on skate and just getting a big lead on them and then just go as hard as I possibly can in classic and try to tough it out."

Last year in the state meet, Zupko competed despite being ill. He placed 28th or three spots out of his goal of earning all-state recognition-a top 25 finish. It's what drove him all last summer and helped him come into this season in the best shape of his career. That and being healthy for an offseason.

"That was everything to me," Zupko said. "As soon as that meet ended, that was the goal next year to come back and really show them what I could do. After that race, a lot of people started to doubt me and lost faith in what I could do. So all summer that's what I've been training to do. All season has been working up to this one meet. This is the one that actually matters."

Other notable performances:

Basketball: Ryan Foehrenbacher, Pillager, finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds against Pierz. He added 19 points against Sebeka.

Matt Tautges, Pierz, finished with 35 points, 13 rebounds and five steals against Pillager and added 26 points and eight rebounds against Maple Lake.

Noah Ross, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds against Menahga and 39 points against Pillager.

Gavin Smith, Staples-Motley, scored 43 points to reach 1,000 for his career against Detroit Lakes.


Nick Christenson, Lake Region, finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds and four steals against Foreston.

Hockey: Max Phillips, Wadena-Deer Creek, scored a hat trick against Red Lake Falls.

Justin Pekula, Little Falls, made 20 saves in a shutout victory over Northern Lakes.

Wrestling: Lane Rutten, Little Falls, reached 100 career wins with two victories at the Sartell triangular.

Alex Erpelding, Staples-Motley, became school's all-time wins and pins leader in dual against United North Central.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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