Girls Nordic Skiing: Schaeffer skiing toward history; Warriors poised for strong finish

The Brainerd Warriors team and Little Falls' Elizabeth Ahlin will compete at the state Nordic ski meet Thursday, March 11, at Giants Ridge.

Brainerd girls Nordic skiers at practice Friday, March 5, at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Times will be a little quicker at this year’s state Nordic ski meet.

And with everyone else going in the world why not.

Because of uncertain snow conditions, the state Nordic ski course will move from a 5-kilometer race to a 4-kilometer route for both the classic and skate techniques.

Still, the goal for Brainerd’s Lily Schaeffer will be the elusive All-State finish if not better. The junior won the Section 8 meet with a time of 28:35.51. Last year, Schaeffer skied to a 32nd-place time of 36:34.7.

Schaeffer was the first Warrior girl to win a section title since the pursuit format was started in 2007. She’ll look to become only the second Warrior girl to win a state Nordic title Christa Brown holds that distinction from her 1989 victory. Brown’s victory propelled Brainerd to the team title.


“They finally gave us course information the other night about which kilometer they are cutting out,” Warrior co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan said. “We’re getting there and we’re just excited to have all of these athletes headed to state. Giants Ridge and the people that are in charge of the course are committed to having the best conditions possible. They have rented this snow-hauler. They have snow as they can make it, but it’s not out on the trails.

“It’s a great technical course. It really is the best type of course you can lay out.”

Ryan believes Schaeffer’s 32nd-place finish at state last year is the best finish for a Warrior girl since the Minnesota State High School League adopted the pursuit format. She believes her junior will finish in the top 20 this year.

One reason she is so confident is this year, the state meet will use pods based on how athletes did in their section meet. Schaeffer will be in the first pod of skiers.

“Lily is in the first 24 skiers to go out and everyone in that pod placed first, second, or third in their section race,” Ryan said. “She’ll have really good skiers around her so I think that’s a great situation for her.

“She is just a great competitor and wants to do well.”

In the second pod will be Brainerd’s Bridget Collins, who finished fourth in the section meet at 30.59.85, and Mari Devine, who was fifth in 31:10.09. Also in that pod will be Little Falls Flyers sophomore Elizabeth Ahlin who was sixth in 32:34.08.

This will be Ahlin’s first state meet. While she may have surprised some at the section meet, her head coach Mattia Hendrickson had a feeling.


“She really trained super hard this summer and fall. She was traveling from November on to try and get on snow,” Hendrickson said. “At the beginning of the season we did our time trail and she actually made our boys team with her time. She was flying. Then as the season came around she had issues with her iron and her sleep and she was just feeling off. We rested her and got her iron back up and it all came together for sections.

“We knew she had a chance to make it to state, we just didn’t know if everything was going to come together in time.”

Ahlin has raced at the Mesabi East race, which is held each year on the state course at Giants Ridge. Because of COVID-19, that event, the largest of its kind, was canceled and no skiers were able to see the state course prior to this week.

Hendrickson’s advice to her sophomore is to give her best effort, but don’t be overwhelmed thinking this is her only chance.

Emma Storbakken and Cally Robertson will be the fourth pod. Storbakken posted a 10th-place 32:03.47 at sections, while Robertson was 11th in 32:11.84.

Rounding out Brainerd’s roster is freshman Addie Ryan, who was 20th in 33:33.94 and sophomore Emma Balsley who finished 29th in 33:53.06.

“These girls all come from a good sports background. Bridget is a good cross-country runner. Mari is a great soccer player. Addie Ryan is a good mountain bike racer,” Ryan said. “Bridget is really coming into her own at the end of the season. And as I’ve always said, as long as these girls are bunched together, I don’t care which order they finish in.

Last year, Storbakken posted a 133rd-place time of 41:04.0 at state. She and Schaeffer will both be skiing in their third state meet. Schaeffer was 70th in state as a freshman. Storbakken scored a 122nd-place finish.


“The good news for three of our skiers in Emma, Lily and Mari is they’ve been there a couple of times,” Ryan said. “First-time state skiers, this is a whole different experience than any other Nordic race. It’s the best of the best. The intensity of the competition is high. To adjust to all of that is important.

“We have four gals who have never skied up there. They are gutsy skiers and they like hills. Our team will do better on hills than they do on the flats just because we train on hills a lot more.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

State girls Nordic ski meet

When: Thursday, March 11

Time: Classic will begin at 1 p.m.; Skate will begin at 2:20 p.m.

Where: Giants Ridge Resort, Biwabik

Who: Brainerd’s Lily Schaeffer, Bridget Collins, Mari Devine, Emma Storbakken, Cally Robertson, Addie Ryan, Emma Balsley; Little Falls’ Elizabeth Ahlin

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