Nordic teams place second in SEC

Finishes boded well for section meet

Jack Ebel races to 14th in the SEC championships last Wednesday. (Photo submitted)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

If anything was learned at last week’s Suburban East Conference nordic skiing championship, it is that every stride and second will be crucial in this week’s Section 4 meet. On paper, both the Forest Lake and Stillwater boys and girls appeared to be in a dead heat going into Wednesday’s postseason race at Trollhaugen.

The Stillwater girls claimed the SEC title last Wednesday, knocking off the defending champs from Forest Lake 465-459. Roseville took third with 449 points.

On the boys’ side, Roseville won by 13 points over Forest Lake. Stillwater was seven points back of the Rangers. This year marks Roseville’s first in Section 5, however, so the Section 4 meet looked to be a two-horse race.

“It’s going to be absolutely crazy,” said coach Deno Johnson. “It should be a nail-biter.”

Check this week for an update from the section meet.

Girls Close Gap

After placing second in the SEC and third in the section in 2011, the Stillwater girls have appeared to be racing with a chip on their shoulders this season. The Ponies emerged as the team to beat in the SEC as this winter wore on, and were ranked third in the state heading into the championship pursuit race.

Stillwater proved its worth by placing nine girls in the top 18 and beating the field last Wednesday. Still, Johnson came away from the six-point loss feeling his Ranger squad had a chance to earn the section’s state bid this week. Forest Lake finished 24 points back of Stillwater in the previous race, the MLK Pursuit on Jan. 16.

“The girls are starting to flex their muscles a little bit now that they’ve had some rest,” he said.

Individual SEC champion Rocci Wohlk skis in an event from earlier this winter. (Photo submitted)

Rocci Wohlk kept alive the program’s long streak of individual SEC champions. The ninth-grader’s time of 24:37 was 26 seconds faster than that of the runner-up, Stillwater senior Nora Gilbertson. Wohlk clocked the fastest split in both the classical (13:03) and skate (11:34) portions of the pursuit.

She has won each event this season except for the loaded Mesabi East Invite, at which each competitor can ski in only one discipline.

Senior Cassie Thobe took fourth in 26:16. Senior Holly Winberg (11th, 27:44), eighth-grader Kate Schaaf (13th, 28:10) and sophomore Jess Greeley (19th, 28:44) also scored points and earned all-conference honors.

Schaaf was not even on the varsity roster for last season’s postseason, while the other four each improved their placement from the 2011 SEC meet. Compared to the recent MLK Pursuit which consisted of the same field, Thobe improved one place, Winberg five, Schaaf six and Greeley three.

Ninth-grader Molly Meed earned honorable mention all-conference honors for placing 36th in 31:44.

“It couldn’t have gone much better than it did,” Johnson said.

Boys Hope for Repeat Effort

Beating Stillwater and finishing as the runners-up, the Ranger boys impressed Johnson as much as the girls did. With Roseville now out of the sectional picture, Forest Lake had the chance to return to state after one year away if it could edge the Ponies again this week.

“The boys are starting to rev their engines and it’s a good feeling,” said Johnson. “They’ve done a real nice job this year. It’s not easy to go out to Trollhaugen every day with no variety, but they’ve been very focused and goal-oriented.”

Roseville took the top three individual spots, with senior Sam Elfstrom leading the way with a time of 21:33. Defending SEC champion Joe Jackson led the Rangers with a fourth-place finish and a time of 22:32. Senior Alex Kelley came in two places later with a time of 23:00 and junior Jacob Jankowski, despite falling, finished two spots after that with a time of 23:29.

Junior Jack Ebel improved 17 positions from last year and placed 14th in 24:34. Eighth-grader Tommy Babcock hit the line next nine seconds later. Both scored points and made the all-conference team for the first time. Babcock became the highest-placing eighth-grader at the SEC meet in program history and the team’s second all-conference boy of that age.

The sixth Ranger to finish, ninth-grader Leo Hipp, also made the all-conference team. The first-year team member placed 17th with a time of 24:56. Eighth-grader Davis Long (25th, 26:11) and ninth-grader Quinn Duffy (26th, 26:15) narrowly missed the all-conference cut-off but earned honorable mention honors.

Johnson felt the section meet was going to be a showdown of Stillwater’s superior size and athleticism against Forest Lake’s better technique and form.