The Forest Lake boys Nordic team handled the frigid temperatures just fine last Thursday at Battle Creek Regional Park, where it took first place in the Section 4 race with 385 points. Stillwater took second with 368 points.
Head coach Deno Johnson called the section race a “high-powered dual meet with Stillwater,” and hoped to take the title after falling by just a few points to the Ponies at the Suburban East Conference race two weeks ago.
“I really like the layout of our conference and section because we do have those traditional powerhouses of us, Stillwater and Roseville,” Johnson said. “You always have to maintain your top game, and you can’t let your guard down.”
Junior Leo Hipp put on a show for spectators by going head-to-head with Mounds Park Academy skier Nick Gardner right out of the gates in the classic race earlier in the day. Hipp took second place behind Gardner by two seconds but returned in the afternoon to beat Gardner in the skate event by 12 seconds, clinching the individual section title.
Junior Quinn Duffy finished fourth overall in the field of 63 skiers, followed by sophomore Tommy Babcock in fifth place. Sophomore Davis Long rounded out the scoring for the Rangers with ninth place. Junior Alex Richert and eighth-grader Ryan Mead also finished in the top 20.
Forest Lake has been skiing without junior Alex Richert for the majority of the season. Richert was a routine contributor to the varsity squad last season but has been forced to miss most of the 2013-14 year due to a recurring ankle injury. The junior returned to the snow just three weeks ago and worked his way back into the varsity lineup to take a top-20 spot at sections.
“Unfortunately what happened to Alex is something you never plan for,” Johnson said. “He’s an incredibly strong skier to get through this, and he’s done an outstanding job just three weeks back on the snow.”
This will be the team’s 14th state appearance in 16 years. It placed third overall in Biwabik last year.
Johnson said the boys continue to prove they are the total team package.
“They are clutch. They showed some real fierce drive and desire at sections,” he said. “Tommy and Davis had just a gritty performance. They know their roles and do an outstanding job in that area. It pleases me as a coach knowing any other team in the state would kill to have those guys — pure quality.”
On the girls’ side, the Rangers improved on last season’s third-place finish by taking second place on Thursday with 356 points. Stillwater took first with 386 points.
Junior Rocci Wohlk left no question as to who the top skier in the section is, taking first in both the classic and skate events to clinch the individual pursuit title.
“Rocci is, it’s very obvious to me, clearly enjoying herself when she races, and it’s showing in her results,” Johnson said. “She is skiing really well right now, has not gotten crushed at all in this neck of the woods, so we’ll see what happens when we go up to Giants Ridge.”
Sophomore Kate Schaaf will join Wohlk at the state meet in Biwabik. Schaaf earned 12th place of 61 skiers. Both Ranger athletes competed at Giants Ridge last season.
Ninth-grader Miranda Overland and eighth-grader Jenna Parent both recorded top-20 finishes in 17th and 18th place, respectively.
Johnson said he is happy with the progress made by the Forest Lake girls team this season after braving a cold winter and tough conditions with such a young team.
“We’re starting to get some of the better runners on skis now and you can definitely see the difference on snow, since it’s all about firing up those engines,” Johnson said. “Their future is very bright. We’re seeing some quality shining through and just need to keep getting more girls committed to training in the summer.”
The state-bound Rangers will compete at the state meet on Thursday, Feb. 13, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.