There's a hope around the Brainerd Warriors that preseason rankings actually mean something.
While they know it's wishful thinking, it does give the boys and girls squads early confidence as both are among the top teams in Section 8.
According to the Website Skiinyski.com both Brainerd teams are on the "cusp" of cracking the state's top 10 list. However, for the boys, only Brainerd, St. Cloud Cathedral and Little Falls are Section 8 teams mentioned.
On the girls' side only Brainerd and Moorhead are mentioned among Section 8 teams.
"The preseason rankings are usually pretty close," Warriors co-head coach Chris Hanson said. "They have Brainerd and Moorhead girls predicted as being contenders in the section. That's really kind of a nice complement to start out with in a tough section. We really won't know until we get a few races under our belt, but as hard as this team is working anything could happen."
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- Co-head coaches: Chris Hanson, Mary Claire Ryan
- 2016-17 girls finish: 2nd in CLC, 4th in Section 8
- 2016-17 boys finish: Won CLC, won Section 8, 11th at state
- Returning state meet boys participants: Evan Storbakken, Andrew Wasniewski, Maxim Osborne
- Returning state meet girls participant: Grace Erholtz
- Girls captains: Sarah Hanson, Hannah Trtanj, Laura Wadsten
- Boys captains: Alex Rice, Evan Storbakken, Andrew Wasniewski
- Assistant coaches: Eric Storbakken, Clint Baker, Jan Costello, Chris Hunter, Tiffany Knapp, Laura Hanson
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If that isn't enough of a preseason push, the Warrior boys are the defending Section 8 and Central Lakes Conference champions. Three skiers return from the state team that placed 11th.
Junior Evan Storbakken is the top returner from last year's state meet. He placed 68th with a time of 31:34.9. Storbakken was seventh at sections and was fifth in the CLC.
"He comes from a skiing family," Warriors co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan said. "He's been in the program from sixth grade on up.
"Of our three returning, they are all working extremely hard. They did training this summer. They were out for fall sports. The captains had practice before the start of our season.
"We were a senior dominant team last year, but with these three returning guys we have a solid core to build around."
Senior Andrew Wasniewski finished 87th at state. He was 13th in the section and third in the CLC.
Sophomore Maxim Osborn won the CLC. He was eighth in the section meet and 133rd at state.
"It's essential that these guys be up there in the standings," Ryan said. "They'll need to pull along some of our other guys to pick up the pace and fill in behind them. For us to be successful, those three have to be very strong in our section.
"Little Falls is really building something in their boys program. Bemidji always has some surprises for us. The St. Cloud team is right there, so our three top guys really need to push each other and be fairly close together on the upper end of things."
Also returning with varsity experience are Nick Whiteman, who placed 18th in the CLC, and Alex Rice, who finished 31st in the conference.
Rice, Wasiewski and Storbakken are captains. Early season favorites to round out Brainerd's roster are juniors Ben Renner and David Dewey. Ryan said she wouldn't be surprised if someone from the freshmen class emerged as well.
"Guys like Ben and David and Alex Rice, who hasn't been with the program as long, but during practices he's right up there with everybody," Ryan said. "There's a lot of opportunities for some of these boys to come up and grab a spot.
"Nick Whiteman is right up there, too. He's got the potential to be that No. 4 skier at this point. Then right around will be the other guys pushing for those top seven spots."
On the girls side, only Grace Erholtz returns with state experience. She finished 117th last year with a time of 38.29.9. She was 118th in her first state meet as a freshman.
The junior will lead an experienced group that returns all but one from a team that placed second in the conference and fourth in the section.
"Grace is no stranger to the state venue and she's skied varsity races for a long time now," Hanson said. "Grace will be setting her goals to not only make it to state, but to improve when she gets there.
"She's still working as hard as ever. The other night, it was dark and we're all roller skiing and in order to get back sooner, I asked her if she wanted to give up this tire she was dragging along to give her more resistance. She wouldn't give it up. She was going to work out the whole time. She has the same motivation and drive that we've seen from her in the past."
Freshman Emma Storbakken finished 23rd in the Section 8 meet and was 25th in the conference.
"Emma was moved up last year and being around varsity kids and skiing at a varsity level with the good technique she picked things up really quick," Hanson said. "After a few races, she started to figure out that she could race with the other girls.
"This season, she'll be coming into the year knowing she can be competitive no matter what the girls ages are. We are expecting big things from her."
Senior Hannah Trtanj was 24th in the section meet and ninth in the conference. Fellow senior Sarah Hanson was 13th in the conference. Senior Laura Wadsten is the third captain.
"We had a lot of returning girls on the squad vying for a varsity spot at the end of the season," Hanson said. "Hannah, Laura and Sarah all have experience skiing going back to the junior high level. And they worked hard during the offseason. Many of these girls are multi-sport athletes. They're staying active and they're getting after it in practice."
Sophomores Gina Wasniewski (28th section, 10th CLC), Isabel Nelson (34th section, 12th CLC) and Sarah Nesheim (38th section, 16th CLC) round out the returning roster.
"Having only graduated one varsity girl and having so many coming back, I counted it up, we have 30 girls on the squad," Hanson said. "Twenty-three of them have significant skiing experience. That is super helpful, especially for the younger kids coming into the varsity program. They are skiing around and among skiers that already have good fundamentals. That makes coaching easier when you have so many models around you."
Others who skied at the conference meet were sophomore Callie Knapp and Elle Juranek.
One advantage Hanson and Ryan mentioned was the purchase of extra roller skies, made available by the Brainerd Sports Boosters. Ryan said Brainerd has 53 skiers in the upper levels and the majority have been able to practice during this snowless early season on those skis.
"This team's work ethic and attitude is a positive," Hanson said. "Another advantage is this year we have a large percentage of our varsity kids on roller skis. That hasn't always been the case. As a simulation for skiing, that is as close as you can get to the real thing on snow. That gives us a little bit of a training advantage."
Seniors: Alexander Rice, Andrew Wasniewski, Gustave Robinson
Juniors: Ben Renner, David Dewey, Evan Storbakken, Maxim Osborne, Mason Hill, Noah Rook
Sophomores: Nicholas Schneider, Nick Whiteman, AJ Thompson, Jacob Aanes, Jason Lyons, Nicholas Porisch, Nicholas Renner
Freshmen: Atticus Osborne, Jacob Olson, Nole Robertson, Treyton Miller
Eighth-grader: Mitchell Neumann
Seniors: Hannah Trtanj, Sarah Hanson, Laura Wadsten, Elodie Chappas-Gomez, Emily Rugloski, Ginevra Gasparoli, Maria Heers, Masha Demchenko
Juniors: Abbygail Wohl-Kovatovich, Audrey Collins, Grace Erholtz
Sophomores: Callie Knapp, Elle Juranek, Gina Wasniewski, Isabel Nelson, Sarah Nesheim, Becca Strangstalien, Janna Lee, Sara Alcock
Freshmen: Emma Storbakken, Allyson Goeden, Anna Just, Elena Dirks, Hanna Childs, Kate Kurtzman, Katherine Henke, Lilyanna Loschko, Mari Devine, Sara Schiller
Eighth-grader: Liliana Schaefer
Dec. 12, Detroit Lakes Invite at Maplelag 10 a.m.
Dec. 16, Bemidji Invite at Montebello Trail
Dec. 19, Mora Invite at Mora Vasaloppet Nordic Center 10 a.m.
Dec. 30, Warrior Invite at Northland Arboretum, 10 a.m.
Jan. 2, Fergus Falls Invite at Spidal's Ski Resort 10 a.m.
Jan. 6, Giants Ridge Invite, Biwabik 10 a.m.
Jan. 9, Detroit Lakes Invite at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area 10 a.m.
Jan. 11, St. John's Invite at St. John's University 2 p.m.
Jan. 15, Little Falls Invite at Camp Ripley 10 a.m.
Jan. 20, Bemidji Invite at Buena Vista
Jan. 25, Conference Championship at St. Cloud 2 p.m.
Jan. 30, Alexandria Invite at Andes Tower Hills
Feb. 6, Section 8 at Camp Ripley 10 a.m.
Feb. 15, State meet, Giants Ridge, Biwabik 10 a.m.