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Boys’ Nordic Skiing: Knapps return to lead Warrior boys

Elias and Taite Knapp competed in last year's state meet for the Brainerd Warriors.

Boys and Girls Nordic Skiers
Brainerd Warrior Nordic skiers Eli Hallgren, left, Alex Lelwica, Karlton Anderson, Leif Hoffman, and Sam Renner practice Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, at Forestview Middle School.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — The Knapps and Brainerd Warriors aren’t resting on past successes.

But the road back to the state meet, where the team finished ninth last season, will be more difficult as the Warriors graduated five of the section skiers on last year’s postseason roster.

Brainerd does return its top pursuit skier Elias Knapp, who placed 27th with a time of 31:15.7.

“He had a fantastic group of seniors to work with last year, but he’s had a long career of skiing and last year he was joined by his younger brother who moved up as an eighth grader,” Brainerd co-head coach Chris Hanson said. “He’s been active all summer and had a solid running season that kept him in shape. Nordic is his main sport, but he also does lacrosse too, I believe, so he’s a year-round athlete. There is no question Nordic is his No. 1 sport. He’ll be ready after getting a taste of state last year.

“He’s going to be a solid team leader and having that experience of following quality skiers before him and just being involved for a long time in the sport and having that experience of being a successful competitor, especially after last year's state meet, will help. He’s a student of the sport. He knows his competition in the section and state levels. He knows what he needs to do. He sets high goals for himself. There's no reason to think he won’t be as successful this year if not more.”

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The Warriors’ only other returner is Knapp’s younger brother freshman Taite Knapp, who was part of the sprint relay team that placed fifth in 15:40.48.

“Last year, he was one of our sprinters at the state meet with Noah Schaeffer and they did phenomenally well,” Hanson said. “They skied way above our expectations. He just did extremely well. What remains to be seen is where he’s going to serve us best as one of our top skiers even as a freshman. Is he going to be a sprinter again or are we going to use him in the individual pursuit? We still have some questions there, but we do have a lot of meets and training time before we need to figure it out.

“He’s an extremely young guy to be at state as an eighth grader and hopefully lots of years to go back and try both of those events. There is no question he can handle both of them.”

This is the second year the Minnesota State High School League will use the sprint-relay format along with the normal pursuit division.

“That sprint relay, a track person would call that a distance event,” Hanson said. “You still have to ski over a half-mile and do it twice with a little break. Really, in terms of training, there is some specialization that we’ll look at and look at some of those stronger skiers that might have more of those fast-twitch muscles, but they still need to be aerobic monsters to be able to handle that sort of distance.

Boys and Girls Nordic Skiers
Brainerd Warrior Nordic skiers Leif Hoffman, left, Eli Hallgren, Alex Lelwica, Karlton Anderson and Sam Renner practice Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, at Forestview Middle School.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“It’s not as different as you might think. We could probably mix and match a number of different ways and still be successful.”

Following the Knapps, the roster is wide open. With 32 skiers out this season, Hanson and fellow head coach Mary Clarie Ryan will have decisions to make.

“It’s interesting because all of our skiers racing at sections last year finished in the top 35% of all racers,” Hanson said. “They were really strong skiers, but we had enough depth on our team that picking that section team was not easy. We had a handful of guys right there on the cusp of making that section team and fortunately, some of those guys were not seniors. We do get to use them this year. Even though we take a hit with that experience, we were still deep enough last year where we have enough guys to step it up.

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“It’s definitely going to be a more competitive year I think at the section level with Little Falls coming back with most of their guys. But we’re still going to be pretty competitive with the other teams like Bemidji and Moorhead.”

Hanson mentioned both Elijah Hallgren, a senior captain, and his sophomore brother Gabriel Hallgren. Brainerd’s state-team alternates last year were junior Lance Hastings and senior captain Karlton Anderson. Junior Leif Hoffman is another skier who attracted attention.

“We have 14 new guys in freshmen,” Hanson said. “You have to give a nod to our junior high program that has always had good numbers and good coaching. They manage a lot of kids and a lot of equipment. The kids have enough fun that they come back out again and they have a really solid base of skills. We can take them and they see the successful older kids and they have a model to follow. That experience is invaluable not just with technique and work ethic, but also competition. There’s an expectation that Brainerd skis hard and we’re competitive. That’s a nice tradition to have. Having all these kids coming up bodes well for the future.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .

Boys Nordic skiing

Coaches Nordic ski
Chris Hanson

Co-head coaches: Chris Hanson, Mary Claire Ryan

2020-21 boys finish: Second in Section 8, 9th at state

Returning state meet participants: Eli Knapp, Taite Knapp

Boys captains: Karlton Anderson, Elijah Hallgren

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Assistant coaches: Eric Storbakken, Mike Knapp, Kevin Robertson, Owen and Heather Baird (volunteer assistant)

Manager: Triston Kubista

Warrior roster

Seniors: Karlton Anderson, Cole Fjeld, Elijah Hallgren, Ethan Nash, Joseph Otto, Jake Stockinger

Juniors: Truman Dirks, Hayden Hagen, Lance Hastings, Leif Hoffman, Elias Knapp

Sophomores: Gabriel Hallgren, Alexander Lelwica, Joseph Neumann, Silas Osborne, Kyle Peterson, Jaret Soxman

Freshmen: Austin Asher, Micah Biermaier, Jackson Bogart, Wyatt Brown, Rylan Conkins, Carter Erickson, Leopold Famoso, Jason Feigum, Adam Harrington, Taite Knapp, Kaiden Raske, Samuel Renner, Owen Robertson, Wyatt Simonet, Jediah Soxman

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