State-bound on skis
Nordic boys win section title, girls qualify two individuals
The No. 2-ranked Forest Lake nordic skiing boys braved heavy snow and took control at Green Acres last Wednesday at the Section 4 championship race in Lake Elmo. The Rangers earned a trip to the state meet in Biwabik by winning with 387 points over Stillwater (363) and White Bear Lake (335).
Leading the close-knit pack was senior Jacob Jankowski, who came in second overall with a time of 27:22, just 11 seconds behind the Mounds Park Academy star, top-ranked Nick Gardner.
“JJ is definitely running on some senior pride,” head coach Deno Johnson said. “He really dug hard at sections and, just like any senior, is getting into extra gear for the final push of the season.”
Sophomore Quinn Duffy followed closely in fourth overall in 27:44 while ninth-grader Tommy Babcock (27:46) and sophomore Leo Hipp (27:55) secured the fifth-and-sixth-place finishes to complete the team scoring.
The impressive 33-second spread by the four Ranger frontrunners secured the team win, and each of the seven Forest Lake racers finished in style in the top 20.
Senior Jack Ebel took 11th in 28:56 while ninth-grader Davis Long earned 13th in 29:01. Sophomore Alex Richert took 18th on the day in 30:01.
The Rangers are coming off a stellar regular season, winning each Suburban East Conference matchup except for the first meet of the year, where they took second.
While the nordic boys have excelled, they are following a program tradition that includes four state championships from 2005-2009 under Johnson.
In 2009, Ryan Wright, Steve Coozennoy, Mike Howe and Joe Jackson spanned from third-52nd place to earn 380 points and the championship with a spread of 1:05.
With a reputation of being a “pack” team, the Rangers are looking strong again this season by taking the section title with ease.
“It’s hard for any Forest Lake team to do something unseen and different before with our program’s tradition,” Johnson said. “But having seven guys in the top 18 is pretty awesome. The strength of our team is in the pack, and they have to keep that pack together.”
The team to beat in Biwabik is No. 1 Eden Prairie.
Johnson said the Eagles may look stronger on paper, but his Rangers are prepared to compete and perform at their highest level with hopes to win what would be their fifth state title.
“We’ve been saying ‘own your neighborhood’ all season, meaning do your job, and that’s what they’ve been doing,” Johnson said. “There is no other team in state I’d rather be coaching, and it’s a real honor and privilege. They are fearless but respectful of the competition and they are just ready to go.”
Girls place third
Although the Ranger girls took third at the section championships to end their team season, the final meet showed promise in the talent and youth of the Forest Lake squad.
Sophomore Rocci Wohlk and ninth-grader Kate Schaaf were the names of the day, with both qualifying individually for the state meet.
Seventh-ranked Wohlk took second in 29:14, 16 seconds behind Mounds Park skier Kristen Bourne (No. 1), who finished the section race in third last year behind Wohlk. Wohlk defeated Bourne in the afternoon skating race, but the Mounds Park skier built too big of a lead in the classical race for the Forest Lake sophomore to catch. This will be Wohlk’s third state appearance.
Schaaf came in 11th in 32:55 to seal a state qualification after just missing the cutoff last season when finishing 15th.
“We had planned on getting Rocci to state,” Johnson said. “It was a really big deal to get Kate there after she just missed last year. They are both ready for Thursday.”
Eighth-grader Miranda Overland missed a state-qualifying run in her section debut by just two places and 1:04.
Sophomore Molly Mead came in 23rd in 36:04, a five-spot improvement on last year. Mead was followed closely by newcomer Maria Valentin. The eighth-grader took 24th place with a time of 36:32.
Seventh-grader Kate Mahonen earned 28th while junior captain Jess Greeley closed the season in 34th.
While the Rangers didn’t make the cut for state as a team, Johnson said the girls are setting up for an exciting couple of years to come.
“We’ve got the guns and we’ve got the youth,” Johnson said. “They’re going to get on rollerskis this summer and be ready for winter because we’ve got a bright future ahead with this team.”
The state meet takes place Thursday, Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik.