Nordic Skiing: Much on the line for Brainerd boys

State meet When: 10 a.m. Thursday Where: Giants Ridge, Biwabik Who: Brainerd boys team, Brainerd's Gabriella Haire, Little Falls' Hunter Zupko and Kendal Hendrickson It's redemption time for Noah Baker and the Brainerd Warriors boys team. Thursda...

State meet

When: 10 a.m. Thursday

Where: Giants Ridge, Biwabik

Who: Brainerd boys team, Brainerd's Gabriella Haire, Little Falls' Hunter Zupko and Kendal Hendrickson

It's redemption time for Noah Baker and the Brainerd Warriors boys team.


Thursday's state meet at Giants Ridge has all the ingredients to turn a frustrating, snowless season into one to remember.

For Baker, a senior captain and four-time state meet participant, this state meet will be about correcting what many in the Brainerd skiing community are still calling an unjust ruling against Baker. At last year's meet, Baker was disqualified for what one judge called an incorrect technique during the classic portion of the pursuit race. His two previous attempts were a 93rd-place finish as a sophomore and a 106th-place finish his freshman season.

"I think his placements all season and his leadership on the team speak for themselves," said Brainerd co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan. "He was determined to get back and also determined to help his team return. We have practiced and gone over everything in regard to what happened to him last year. He is on a mission to finish in the top 10. As coaches we expect him to be an all-state finisher, which is the top 25. He's very capable. This guy is on a mission."

Baker isn't the only Warrior with state meet experience. Connor Gunsbury and Ben Hanson were freshmen on Brainerd's last state team in 2011. Gunsbury placed 115th and Hanson 116th. Now seniors, both will be looking for better finishes to their careers.

"They're placement was typical of freshmen skiers and a reflection of it being their first time there," Ryan said. "They're really excited to be back. They have much higher expectations for how they will finish this time."

Rounding out Brainerd's roster will be Robert Pike, Evan Schreifels, Landon Bruggeman and Gabe Raguse with Sam Nesheim and Mac Brink as alternates. The Warriors were Section 8 runners-up to St. Cloud Tech. Brainerd beat Tech by three points during the Central Lakes Conference meet. It was the same margin of victory that Tech beat Brainerd at sections. The Warriors would like to return the favor Thursday.

"We have been going back and forth with them all year long," said Ryan. "The boys have in their minds to tackle them and to have a very high placement overall.

"There are 16 teams there this year vs. the eight we are accustomed too. As these boys have matured and become better skiers they are very capable of putting together very good pursuit races."


The Forest Lake Rangers return to defend their title. If they win, it would be their second consecutive championship and sixth overall. Six other teams return from last year's field: St. Louis Park, Duluth East, Eagan, Tech, Wayzata and Andover.

Filling out the expanded field are Minnehaha Academy of Minneapolis, Winona/Cotter, Eden Prairie, St. Paul Central, Stillwater, Irondale of New Brighton, Minneapolis Southwest and Mesabi East.

Also returning to the state meet is freshman Hunter Zupko of Little Falls. Last season, Zupko placed 65th with a 37:09.3. He finished fourth at the Section 8 meet.

Kendal Hendrickson is also returning after she placed sixth individually at sections. The Flyers' sophomore placed 58th at last year's meet with a time of 42:59.8. She finished 91st as an eighth-grader.

Making her state debut will be Brainerd's Gabriella Haire. The senior finished 11th after some trying hurdles during the section meet.

"Gaby has always been just on the edge of making it to state," said Ryan. "In watching young athletes mature, they learn how to compete. This year Gabby finally got the mental aspect of racing. She skis very well and always had great technique. During races she mentally had a hard time putting it all together. That hasn't been an issue this season and she's been pretty successful. At sections, when she broke her ski, you just thought, 'No. How could this happen?"

Haire broke her ski during the skate portion of the section meet and finished the early part of the race in 15th place. The varsity veteran regrouped and climbed the leaderboard to advance.

"This is what she has worked her entire high school career - to get to the state meet," said Ryan. "She collected herself and finally made it.


"But her goal at state is to do extremely well. She's a very competitive young woman. She isn't happy to have just made it. This isn't just the frosting on the cake for her. She's going to go after it and do the best she can."

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

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