To say the Forest Lake boys Nordic team had a stellar week would be the understatement of the season.
The Rangers demolished the competition at one of the most elite Nordic competitions in the nation: the Mesabi East Invite at Biwabik.
Forest Lake took first place of 73 teams with 775 points, winning the invite for the first time since 1999. Minneapolis Southwest placed second (749 points), followed by Duluth East (748).
The team points are awarded to the top two placers in the freestyle and classic races per team. Juniors Leo Hipp and Quinn Duffy ensured the win in the freestyle as Hipp captured the Mesabi East Invite title in a field of 197 racers, while Duffy clinched fifth place.
Hipp finished with a time of 14:16 in the 5K race, five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Steve Hokanson, of Mounds View, who is ranked second in the state. Prior to the invite, Hipp was listed as an “on the cusp” racer, just out of contention for a top-10 state ranking. With this win, Hipp jumps to the No. 6 spot. Hipp also beat out the No. 4 racer, Scott Harrison, of Mound-Westonka.
Head coach Deno Johnson said that all Forest Lake skiers are working hard, and that Hipp’s emergence as a leader is becoming more apparent. According to Johnson, Hipp broke the event record at Mesabi East by four seconds. The previous record holder was repeat state champion from Forest Lake, Ben Fick.
“Leo has just been bringing the fire ever since Christmas — he’s been turning it on and getting stronger and stronger,” Johnson said. “My philosophy as far as conference meets go is we have to maintain our workouts regardless of how many meets we have a week. We have such competitive squads and we can’t let our guards down. The kids are really adhering to those workouts, their commitment is outstanding, and Leo is leading that charge.”
Duffy remains “on the cusp,” but head coach Deno Johnson said that may be changing soon.
“He really put out for that result, and he’s right there, too,” Johnson said. “I’ve said it before, but Quinn is just so consistent, I would definitely not bet against him getting closer to Leo as we close in on those championship events at the end of the year.”
On the classic side, sophomore Tommy Babcock and sophomore Davis Long contributed big points by placing 17th and 22nd, respectively. Babcock finished in 17:21, while Long recorded a time of 17:42.
Johnson said he was pleased with his classic skiers.
“My expectations for the boys team were for all to finish in the top 20,” he said. “Davis had technical difficulties with his ski poles, otherwise they really held true to form.”
For the girls, the Rangers held their own by finishing ninth out of 72 teams.
Junior Rocci Wohlk paved the way for Forest Lake with a fifth-place finish out of 182 skiers with a time of 17:16. Alayna Sonnesyn of Wayzata took the title in 16:11.
“It was a solid race for Rocci, seeing as she just came back from Utah,” Johnson said. “I think she’s starting to rekindle the fire and we’re seeing that again in practice.”
Sophomore Kate Schaaf also recorded a strong finish, taking 22nd in the freestyle race with a time of 18:44.
Ninth-grader Miranda Overland was the top finisher for the Rangers in the classic ski event, placing 38th of 187 racers with a time of 21:44, followed by junior Molly Mead in 58th place in 22:37.
“Overall I’m very pleased with the ladies and I let them know that,” Johnson said. “I can’t recall the last time we finished in the top 10 and for us to continue beating our conference rival, White Bear Lake, is a big deal. The girls are growing in confidence every week, believing in themselves and their team — they’re coming along nicely.”
Both squads also competed at Battle Creek last Wednesday in a Suburban East Conference meet.
The boys captured first place with 471 points, led by Hipp and Duffy in first and second, respectively, while Schaaf (eighth place), Overland (14th) and Mead (19th) contributed to a third-place finish for the girls.
Forest Lake traveled for another SEC meet on Tuesday night at Lake Elmo and travel to Battle Creek Regional Park on Monday, Jan. 20, for a 4 p.m. race.