Grace Erholtz is no stranger to state meet stress.
For the third time in her career, Erholtz will be competing at the state meet 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
This time is different, though. This time she's not alone.
Erholtz' sixth-place finish at the Section 8 meet qualified her for her third state meet and helped lead the Brainerd Warriors girls team to its first state appearance since 1998.
"She just missed state last year," Warriors co-head coach Chris Hanson said. "So it's pretty sweet for her to come back and especially coming back with the team for the first time in a long time. When you get up there by yourself it's a fantastic experience, but when you've got your teammates with you, it's a whole different level of fun, excitement and support and camaraderie and really the whole aspect of the team sport."
Erholtz and the Warrior girls will be joined by Brainerd's Evan Storbakken, the Little Falls Flyers boys team and Flyers' senior Katie Corbett.
As a sophomore Erholtz finished 117th with a 38:29.9. Her first year at state, Erholtz finished 118th with a 40:20.0.
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State Nordic Skiing
- Who: Brainerd Warriors girls team, Evan Storbakken; Little Falls Flyers boys, Katie Corbett
- What: State Nordic ski meet
- When: 10 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 14
- Where: Giants Ridge Resort, Biwabik
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"These kids have been skiing together for a long time, plus, they've skied this course before at the Mesabi meet," Hanson said. "Even though they haven't competed at the state meet they still have been there, many of them, on a coaches relay we do the day before state meets. Even when we don't have a qualifier, we still bring kids up there to experience it.
"So the girls have seen it and they've skied with Grace for a long time, too. I think they're familiar enough with it."
Erholtz was followed at the section meet by Liliana Schaeffer, who finished ninth in the section meet. Gina Wasniewski was 12th. Elle Juranek was 15th. Emma Storbakken placed 16th. Callie Knapp finished 24th and Sarah Nesheim was 36th.
"It is among the more challenging courses that we ski during the year," Hanson said. "Fortunately, though, we've had the snow in the area of late to train at French Rapids by the airport, which is every bit as difficult as the state meet.
"Also Camp Ripley is a good approximation with some steeper terrain and more technical downhills. That works to our advantage to be able to ski on maybe a harder course."
This will be Evan Storbakken's fourth state meet. He qualified twice as a team member and the last two seasons as an individual. Storbakken finished 10th in the Section 8 meet.
"He's got to have his best race right away in the morning to get himself in position," Brainerd co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan said. "He's got to do very well on the skate race because it's harder to pass on the classic portion of the race. He has to get in good position and if he does that then he stands a good shot of cracking the top 25."
Storbakken was tied for 52nd with a 31:59.6 last year. He was 68th as a sophomore with a 31:34.9 and placed 96th with a 32:58.4 as a freshman.
Unlike the section meet, the freestyle, or skate race, is first followed by the classic. Ryan believes that will be in Evan Storbakken's favor.
"To get to the point where he's at and where the top skiers are in the state they do both well," Ryan said. "Sometimes if you look at results the top five or six skiers actually classic faster than they skate. That's how good these kids have gotten.
"But the skate course is a favorite of his and so to get out in a good position, he is a strong classic skier, so that would bode well for him."
Little Falls Flyers head coach Mattia Hendrickson believes the flipped format from sections will help her boys team, too. This is the third straight state appearance for the Flyers.
Top returner Colton York placed 39th last season in 31:37.0. He was 38th as a sophomore with a 30:49.8.
Jackson Grant finished fourth in the section meet with York in seventh. Grant finished with a time of 33:43.6 last year and a 33:1.4 as an eighth-grader.
"I keep telling them that they can do a lot better than they think they can," Hendrickson said. "I think they both will really surprise themselves this year, but we'll see what happens. I think it would be very realistic for both of them to be in the top 25 or all-state or very close to it."
Cormac Shanoff was two spots behind Grant at 33:46.4 last season and was one spot behind him two years ago with a 33:25.0. Colton Gottwalt skied a combined time of 35:03.9. He skied a 33:16.9 as a sophomore.
New to this year's roster will be Simon Park who finished 22nd in the Section 8 meet. Connor Grant was 27th and Eli Segler was 38th.
"Going to state is always an interesting thing because it's a completely different level than Section 8," Hendrickson said. "There are a lot of kids that ski solely with club teams and hardly ever compete with their own team.
"I think we have a few kids who have a good chance of placing higher up in the results, but as a team, if we can just do better than we did last year would be great. Just making progress at the state meet is exciting."
Last season, the Flyers finished ninth. The year before they placed 13th.
Making her state debut will be Corbett. The three-year varsity skier finished 11th in the section meet.
"She's really good at doing what she needs to do," Hendrickson said. "She will have nerves so we're just going to try and keep her relaxed and calm. She worries about the downhills. She doesn't have confidence with those and this is a course with a lot of steep downhills.
"In preparation for state, she loves classic skiing, but when we went to the Mesabi East Invite that is on the state course, I made her do the skate race instead of the classic race. She was very mad at me, but I told her that it wasn't for today, but for when she advanced to state. She was really mad at the time, though."
Hendrickson is hoping Corbett has a skate race she can be content with and then attacks the classic portion to end her career on a high note.