Rangers get feel for state contenders
A combined total of 123 girls’ and boys’ teams flocked to Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik on Saturday for the Mesabi East Invite, the nation’s biggest prep nordic ski meet.
The skiers raced on a makeshift, man-made course which, barring colder weather, may end up being the same one used for the state meet next month.
The Forest Lake girls placed eighth and the boys 11th at the uniquely-formatted meet. Each team is allowed three classical and three freestyle competitors. The top two in each discipline score. Each skier can compete in only one race.
The results were no surprise to coach Deno Johnson.
“We were right where I thought we’d be,” he said. “No one set the world on fire and no one was exceedingly bad.”
Johnson loaded up the girls’ skate lineup with returning state qualifiers Rocci Wohlk and Cassie Thobe. Wohlk landed a late starting position, so the course was fairly torn up. Still, the ninth-grader mirrored her state ranking by placing fourth in 16:06.
Thobe came in one minute later in 16th place. It marked the closest the senior has come to Wohlk in a race of that distance this season. Thobe has been rounding into form coming off an injury suffered in the fall.
“It was a good race for her,” Johnson said. “She’s coming up as far as her fitness and strength. She missed a lot of training this fall.”
Sophomore Jess Greeley also competed in the skate race. She placed 81st with a time of 19:36.
Senior Holly Winberg and eighth-grader Kate Schaaf formed Forest Lake’s classical lineup. Winberg impressed by coming in 18th place with a time of 19:04. Johnson said the cross-country running standout’s eyes lit up when he compared her finish to doing the same in the Roy Griak Invite, an enormous meet in that sport.
He put Schaaf in the classical race to get her extra practice in that style. She took 58th in 21 minutes flat.
Wayzata edged Stillwater for the team title. Suburban East Conference member Roseville took fourth.
The boys’ finish represented an improvement of four places from a year ago. The classical race led off and Forest Lake suited up Alex Kelley, Tommy Babcock and Jack Ebel.
Kelley, a senior who has been a little dinged up, skied to 32nd in 16:38. The youngest competitor in the classical field of 165, Babcock made his Mesabi East Invite debut by coming in 67th with a time of 17:51. Ebel was 12 seconds back in 75th place.
The Rangers moved up the standings with a strong showing in the afternoon skate race. Senior Joe Jackson placed 11th in 14:27 and junior Jacob Jankowski took 28th in 14:59. Ninth-grader Leo Hipp finished 64th in 15:54.
Bloomington’s Jan Ketterson won the skate race in 13:13. Jackson, who entered the season ranked No. 2 in the state, must “keep the faith” through the dog days of training, Johnson said.
The Roseville boys topped Eden Prairie for the team title. SEC and Section 4 rival Stillwater came in seventh.
Roseville swept the first full-field Suburban East Conference meet of the winter last Tuesday. The classical race marked Forest Lake’s first competition at the new trails at Green Acres Recreation in Lake Elmo.
The Ranger girls finished just two points back of the Raiders, while the boys finished behind Stillwater as well as Roseville.
Wohlk won the girls’ competition by 55 seconds over White Bear Lake’s Allison Ternes. Thobe took fifth, Winberg ninth, Schaaf 15th and Greeley 20th.
Johnson said the boys did not come in ready to race. Jackson placed fourth, Jankowski eighth, Ebel 13th and Kelley 18th. Hipp and Babcock tied for 20th.
The strong finishes on the back end of each lineup were encouraging to Johnson as the team enters the heart of the schedule.
“This time of the year takes a lot of patience,” he said. “I’ve always maintained that when the championship races come is when all the snow time will pay off. Everyone is doing well keeping their oars in the water.”