Nordic Skiing: Warriors, Flyers ready to catch teams by surprise
Nordic ski coaches around Minnesota are going crazy adjusting to Monday’s announcement the state meet will be delayed one day because of cold weather.
Originally scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13, the skiers will display their love of the sport by tackling the challenging courses at Giants Ridge Resort on Valentine’s Day in Biwabik.
“It makes everything a little more complicated in terms of altering the rooms and the busing and the transportation throws everybody for a loop as well as the communications,” Brainerd co-head coach Chris Hanson. “Hopefully, most of that complication and stress falls on Mary Clarie (Ryan) and I and the administration so the kids can focus and just look at it as just another day of rest. That’s the hope. We don’t want those kids to get worked up about it and hopefully it’s not a hassle for them.”
Ryan reminisced when the entire meet was canceled. She’s just happy the Warrior girls team and Brainerd boys skier Nole Robertson will get a chance to compete.
“It’s been a lot of scrambling around and actually, I think it was eight or nine years ago where we went up to the state meet like we normally do the day before for the coaches relay and they canceled it that night,” Ryan said. “We were already there and it was 30-below. I went out with Hannah McAllister. We went out a little way. Looked at each other and then went back to the bus. It’s happened before. It’s kind of bizarre.”
The Brainerd skiers will be joined by the Little Falls boys team, who finished second in the Section 8 meet.
Returning from last year’s team are junior Jackson Grant, senior Eli Segler, freshman Connor Grant and junior John Stockard. Senior Cormac Shanoff was injured last season, but skied at state as a sophomore. Freshman Ethan Yorek and senior Thomas Zupko fill out the roster.
“Obviously, we always want to try to finish a little bit better or as a team be happy with how we finish at the state race and finish out our season,” Flyers head coach Mattia Hendrickson said. “This year, the boys have a little different attitude toward going to state. In the past couple of years, they were just kind of excited to go to state and that was it for them. I think, this year, they’re a little more serious about what they’re going to do once they’re actually at state.”
Jackson Grant finished 51st last year in 32:56.8. Segler finished 148th. Connor Grant was 150th and Stockard was 152nd. Jackson Grant finished third in the section meet.
“I think he’s going to have a good finish at state,” Hendrickson said. “I think he could surprise himself and others. He competed really well in our section and we race against some really tough skiers in our section and at other races. Mora has the No. 1 ranked skier. They’re not in our section, but we do race against them often. So he has been near them. They’re almost in a league of their own, but at the section race, he broke up some of the Cathedral boys which was huge for him. I think he has a shot. All those boys are ranked in the top 10. I think he has a shot to crack the top 25 or to be near the top 25 which would be exciting for him.
The surprise team could be the Brainerd Warriors girls. Brainerd returns six of the seven skiers from last year’s state team. Ellie Brown is the newcomer and she counted toward the team score in the section meet.
“They’re ready to attack it and they are on a mission to beat Moorhead for sure and of course some other teams,” Ryan said.
Hanson is excited for them, too.
“They’re a lot of seniors with a lot of experiences. We’ve had so many girls at different points of the season finish at the top for Brainerd that if they can have a day where every single one of them has their best race than Brainerd girls can surprise a lot of teams up there.”
Liliana Schaefer led last year’s Warriors team with a 70th-place time of 40:22.8. Elle Juranek was 114th, Emma Storbakken 122nd, Gina Wasniewski 123rd, Callie Knapp 147th and Sarah Nesheim 150th
“I think anytime a skier competes in the state race for the first time it’s just a lot of nerves to balance,” Ryan said. “They are there with the best of the best. It certainly has an impact on how you perform no matter how good you are.
“This year, this group, with the majority of them returning, this has been their goal. They haven’t looked at individual accomplishments. They wanted to get back to the state meet as a team. Of course, they did it each year by one point. They strategized a lot to get through that second part of the section race. That’s what is fun about this group. They understand what they need to do.”
Ryan expects conditions to be perfect at Giants Ridge, which didn’t receive the temperature warmup earlier this month. The expected cold temperatures will also make it easier on selecting wax she said.
And while she wouldn’t say it, Ryan has a suspicion Brainerd will be a fun team to watch.
“They’re going to race better than they did last year,” Ryan said. “There will be 110% effort and in the little opportunity that I’ve had to look, there are teams they can beat there. They’re going all out. They’ve worked on all the tight turns. With the technique, we’ve been fine-tuning a lot of things. They’re very confident. They are skiing very well.”
So is Brainerd junior Nole Robertson, who placed ninth at last week’s section race to advance to his first state meet.
“He’s a competitor and he has skied at that course a few times already,” Hanson said. “He’s not new to the course and I think, that while it’s his first time, his expectations are going to be more than just show up and be happy to be there. He’s one that wants to perform well. He’s keeping an eye on his competition. He’s measuring himself against the best in the state. His ambitions all season have been to compete with some of those top guys.”
Hanson said Robertson has been pushing himself every race so he doesn’t expect much to change at state. He said there’s no secret play Robertson can plug in to surprise his opponents, but he does think Robertson will surprise a few.
“More than likely Nole is going to be looking at the kids he knows best, like his section competitors from say, Little Falls or Bemidji because he’s familiar with them,” Hanson said. “In skiing, unlike track or swimming where you can aim for a certain time down to a second or two, skiing is so variable with the snow conditions and the weather and all that affecting raw speed. So really the only way to compare yourself is to look at other people who also ski consistently. He’ll be measuring himself against a couple of key people.”
State Nordic ski meet
Who: Brainerd Warriors girls team, Little Falls Flyers boys team, Brainerd’s Nole Robertson
When: Friday, Feb. 14, Girls 5K freestyle 10 a.m.; Boys 5K freestyle 11:15 a.m.; Girls 5K Classical 2 p.m.; Boys 5K Classical 3 p.m.
Where: Giants Ridge Resort, Biwabik