Jackson Grant went all in and he's happy he did.
"I've just always wanted to be the best at something and I just like to have a lot of big goals," said the Little Falls Flyers sophomore.
For one day, he was the best Nordic skier on the course as he captured his first varsity win at the Alexandria Invite Jan. 15.
Grant held off Brainerd's Evan Storbakken to post a winning time of 22:42 at Andes Tower Hills in Kensington.
"It felt really good to have my first-ever Nordic skiing win," Grant said. "I've never done that in any other sport.
"I had a lot more confidence going into Camp Ripley (Wednesday, Jan. 23), especially being only a 10th-grader. It feels pretty good."
--- --- --- --- ---
- Year: Sophomore
- School: Little Falls
- Sport: Nordic skiing
- Highlights: Won the Alexandria Invite with a time of 22:42
--- --- --- --- ---
Grant's win propelled the Flyers to a third-place team finish.
"That was a huge win for him," said Flyers head coach Mattia Hendrickson. "I was actually watching his face as they announced the second-place finisher and it wasn't him. He was expecting to be in second. You could just see the shock on his face. He was really surprised that he won and it was exciting for him to have that opportunity and to just know that he can be right in the mix with some of those guys. That was huge for his confidence."
Coming into the season, Grant's only goal was to make a name for himself. A victory along with a top 10 finish at Camp Ripley helped him accomplish that goal.
Grant finished seventh overall at the Flyer Invite Wednesday with a time of 33:20. His finish helped Little Falls to fifth in the 13-team battle.
"Jackson, since skiing ended last year, has worked extremely hard all through the spring, summer and fall," Hendrickson said. "Every accomplishment he's getting right now is well deserved. He's put in a ton of time. He really lives and breaths skiing. I kind of expected he was going to have a season like this, but he is definitely meeting and exceeding my expectations. He's really doing an awesome job."
Grant wasn't far off from getting his first win earlier in the season. In the Detroit Lakes Invite Jan. 11, Grant finished third in 24:58. Combined with teammate Colton Yorek's second-place finish, the Flyers finished second.
He led the Flyers in the classic discipline at the Mesabi East Invite Jan. 5. Grant placed 12th with a 16:14.
"I don't really know what I'm better at because last year it was classic, but my skate technique has really improved," Grant said. "I'm kind of equally good in both. I worked on it a lot this summer. In the summer, it's just technique work and then in the winter we're working on strength."
Hendrickson agreed Grant's skilled in both skiing techniques. Working exclusively on technique over the summer helped, Grant said. That and incorporating one of his other passions, trap shooting.
Grant is also competing in biathlon. In a MNCup No. 3 stop Jan. 13 in Nisswa, Grant finished second to former Flyer teammate Hunter Zupko. Grant was leading after the first stage.
"It's actually been a lot of fun because it gave me something else to do besides roller skiing," Grant said. "I could practice shooting and then go roller skiing with the coach and that made it a lot more fun to do."
Hendrickson said one of Grant's biggest improvements or differences this year is his strength. Grant said he notices it most on hill climbs.
"He's very light and he's very strong for how light he is," Hendrickson said. "He really excels at both techniques. He's always had good technique. He looks very good when he's skiing. He's very smooth and graceful.
"He really got a lot stronger from last year. He's a small guy and so that was probably his biggest weakness last year. He just didn't have the muscle strength that the other kids did to put in the power. He really worked hard in the weight room this summer, too. He's much stronger."
Grant said he's a smarter, more mature, athlete as well and knows how to take care of his body better.
At last year's state meet, Grant was third on the Flyers team that finished ninth with a combined time of 33:43.6. This year could see a noticeable improvement with that time.
"He has gone from just being a part of the varsity to all of a sudden being consistently one of our top skiers," Hendrickson said. "That's a whole new role for him that he's adjusting. It's more pressure to all of a sudden being the top skier and having your results affect things a little bit more."
Other notable performances
Basketball: Johnathan Jacobson, Crosby-Ironton, finished with 16 rebound and 14 points against Hinckley-Finlayson and 23 points against Cloquet.
Bereket Loer, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with 27 points against Verndale.
Oscar Norgren, Little Falls, finished with 22 points against Milaca.
Hockey: Sam LeMieur, Northern Lakes, finished with 37 saves in a win over Proctor.
Shane Donovan, Northern Lakes, finished with four goals and one assist against Park Rapids.
Wrestling: Reese Kapsner, Pierz, finished 2-0 and collected his 150th career win in a CMC Triangular and won an individual title at the New London-Spicer Invite.
Jack Gravelle, Aitkin, finished the week 5-0.
Keenan Dahl, Jake Poehler, Caleb Ruhl and Harley Large, Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus, captured titles at the Terry Teliken Invite.
Cody Wheeler, Wadena-Deer Creek, won the 170-pound title at the Terry Teliken Invite.
Gabe Nagel, Luke Venske, Little Falls, both finished 6-0 last week.
Trevor Radunz, Brandon Tomala and Carson Huls, Pierz, all won titles at the New London Spicer Invite.