Ponies too fast at sections

FL girls settle for second, but three advance to state nordic meet

Senior Holly Winberg races to 11th place at the section meet, qualifying for her first state meet. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

Sometimes all a team can do is tip its cap.

The Ranger nordic skiing girls hoped to build on their 2011 conference championship and sectional runner-up showing by reaching the state meet this winter. Last Wednesday at Trollhaugen, though, the Stillwater girls were just too fast. The Ponies beat Forest Lake 381-373 to win the 10-team Section 4 meet and qualify for the state meet taking place today, Feb. 16.

“The girls couldn’t have done much more than they did – they skied excellently,” said Ranger coach Deno Johnson, who labeled it as his team’s best race of the year.

While Stillwater claimed the crown that was vacated by Roseville’s move to Section 5, the season lives on for three Rangers as well. Rocci Wohlk, Cassie Thobe and Holly Winberg each qualified to compete individually at state, which is being held at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik.

Wohlk, a ninth-grader, continued her near-perfect season by winning the pursuit with a time of 28:36, 22 seconds in front of Stillwater senior Nora Gilbertson. Wohlk has won each race she has competed in this season except for the loaded and highly attended Mesabi East Invite, which has a unique format in which skiers take part in either the classical or skate race, but not both.

She placed 12th in her state debut last winter, but her return trip was in jeopardy midway through the section meet after officials flagged her for allegedly using the skate technique during the morning’s classical race. On appeal, Wohlk was allowed to stay in the meet.

“There is a natural skate step which goes into the turns,” said Johnson, figuring that is what the judges took issue with.

Wohlk figures to be in medal contention at state and could be a darkhorse to win it all. Duluth East’s Annie Harvieux, Irondale’s Mattie Watts, Wayzata’s Alayna Sonnesyn and Sarah Benton of Hopkins are part of a deep field of individual title contenders.

Senior Cassie Thobe is headed back to state after placing fourth at the Section 4 meet. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Thobe earned her third trip to state by placing fourth overall with a time of 29:48. After missing most of the cross-country season with a foot injury, the senior was able this winter to harvest the results of an increased off-season regimen. Johnson expects her to be in the mix for all-state honors.

“She’s just a tough competitor who’s always up for a competition,” he said.

Winberg placed 11th in 31:09, up nine spots from a year ago. The senior, who joined the team as a sophomore, will make her state debut.

“She is one of the kindest kids I’ve ever coached,” Johnson said. “We’re really fired up to get her there.”

First-year varsity skier Kate Schaaf placed 15th and was the highest-finishing competitor not to qualify for state. The eighth-grader finished with a time of 32:16.

“She would have qualified in so many other sections,” Johnson said.

Sophomore Jess Greeley improved by nine spots from last year to place 20th with a time of 33:57. Ninth-grader Molly Meed rounded out the lineup with a time of 36:09, good for 28th place in the field of 62.