The Forest Lake nordic skiing boys recorded another first-place finish at the 5K freestyle Suburban East Conference meet at Como Park golf course last Tuesday.
The Rangers held strong at 462 points to hold off Roseville (456) and Stillwater with (427.5).
Sophomore Leo Hipp led the Rangers with a fifth-place finish at 14:54. Senior Jacob Jankowski, ninth-grader Tommy Babcock and sophomore Quinn Duffy all followed in sixth, seventh and eight, respectively, to keep the time spread close and points stacked in Forest Lake’s favor. sophomore Alex Richert took 16th with 16:09, followed three seconds and one spot later by senior Jack Ebel. ninth-grader Davis Long, still recovering from illness, finished in 21st for the Rangers in 16:45.
Head coach Deno Johnson said it was a strange day for racing conditions, since the weather was warmer than usual, making ski wax far less important than the ski fit and flex.
Despite the racing variables, Johnson said Duffy claimed the “racer of the day” title.
“Quinn stepped it up really nicely and had the best ski race he’s ever had,” the head coach said. “He skiied almost the whole race alone, so I really like his aggression and focus.”
The boys also performed well at a large nordic competition, the Mesabi East Invitational on Saturday. They took sixth out of 64 teams with 725 points. Eden Prairie clinched first with 798 points, a finish that doesn’t always work in the title winner’s favor, according to Johnson.
“It’s the curse of the Mesabi East,” Johnson jokes. “In the last 13 years or so, only one team who has won the Mesabi East Invite goes on to win state. If we would have won that, I would have buried that trophy as far away from our team as possible.”
The impressive finish showcases the work the Ranger boys have put in, as they finished in 11th last season and 15th in 2010-11.
At Mesabi, each school can enter six varsity skiiers, three in the classic division and three in the freestyle portion. Forest Lake had three skiiers in the top 35 for the boys classic race, a strength for the Rangers in the SEC, which is typically dominated by strong skating technique for freestyle.
“The Forest Lake kids are so well-balanced at both classic and skating,” Johnson said. “Other schools don’t take the extra time to teach the classic technique so when we get the chance, we skate the classic right out of the other teams.”
Jankowski took 25th out of a field of 167 with a time of 16:23. Duffy came in 29th six seconds later, followed by Ebel at 34th in 16:38. Ebel cut considerable time off last season’s showing of 18:03 in classic, and climbed 41 spots from a 75th-place finish.
Hipp again took the top finish for the Rangers with a 22nd-place showing in 14:28. Hipp also cut more than a minute off last season’s Mesabi finish of 64th place. Babcock earned 27th in 14:36, followed by Long at 45th in 15:03.
Girls Take Fourth
The Forest Lake girls had a little tougher time on the slopes while still fighting illness, but managed to take fourth at Como Park and stick out a 16th-place finish at Mesabi out of 63 teams.
At the SEC race last Tuesday, sophomore Rocci Wohlk recorded yet another win in 16 minutes during the 5K freestyle. Ninth-grader Kate Schaaf came in eighth place in 17:31 in what Johnson called a “state-contender” showing, followed by Molly Mead in 18th with a time of 19 minutes. Senior Jess Greeley and eighth-grader Miranda Overland rounded out the scoring for Forest Lake with 21st in 28th place, respectively.
The girls totaled 430 points, placing behind Stillwater (453.5), White Bear Lake (451.5) and Roseville (450).
“It was honestly a big surprise,” Johnson said. “White Bear has never beat the girls under my tenure here, but again, it was a weird day for racing and we’re still fighting illness.”
At Mesabi on Saturday, the Rangers weren’t able to scope out the state meet hill due to another wave of warm weather. Instead, all skiiers competed on a modified slope, which included parts of a golf course and alpine slopes.
Wohlk led the Rangers, taking sixth out of 167 in 15:46 for the freestyle portion. The top-ranked skiier in the state skiied well technically, but is still recovering from illness that kept her off the snow for a week of training. Johnson said even a couple days off the hill can hurt an athlete’s endurance.
“Rocci skiied really well, despite losing a lot of power,” Johnson said. “She lost some muscle and power, but is working on getting that back and is still technically sound.”
Johnson dubbed Overland the “girls racer of the day” after taking 54th of 157 in the classic race in her first-ever Mesabi appearance.
“It is just incredible how focused she is,” Johnson said. “She definitely has an outside chance at All-Conference and continues to make the most of every day.”
Despite a lower finish than normal for the nordic girls, Forest Lake is at a downward slope in training where things slow down a bit before picking up again.
“Our kids are nowhere near peaking,” Johnson said. “We’ll see that in about two-and-a-half weeks. This is part of the process—we train, train, train, cut back, then they just take off.”
The Rangers hit the snow again on Tuesday for an SEC race at Lake Elmo, and next host a pursuit race at Trollhaugen on Monday, Jan. 21 with the classic portion in the morning followed by freestyle in the afternoon.