Forest Lake shines at state ski meets, while former Ranger races in Olympics
Clint Riese and Kat Ladwig
Forest Lake Times
The boys from Forest Lake High School won the state Nordic skiing championship last Thursday afternoon. A day before – also at Giants Ridge in Biwabik – the boys Alpine skiing team took second at its state tournament.
Between the two significant accomplishments, a former Ranger skier competed on an even bigger stage. Leif Nordgren, a 2007 FLHS graduate, took part in his third biathlon event of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Nordgren, who grew up in Marine on St. Croix, took 83rd in the men’s 20km individual race. He also finished 45th in the 10km sprint race held Feb. 8 and 53rd in the 12.5km pursuit on Feb. 10.
All in all, the unparalleled spurt of varying degrees of fame gave local skiers and fans plenty of reasons to cheer.
Nordgren in Sochi
In a blog posting made Friday on his website, leifnordgren.com, Nordgren expressed disappointment in the outcome of his first three races.
“Ouch! That is my single word to describe the way the Olympics has gone so far!” he wrote. “It’s been a rough couple of races so far for me.”
The 24-year-old said he started well in the sprint event and was on pace for a decent finish when he pinched a nerve in his back on the last loop.
“Let’s just say the pain was so intense I had thoughts of dropping out with less than 2 km to go,” he wrote. “However, it was mostly all downhill to the finish at that point, and I was able to coast my way into the finish.”
Nordgren felt he skied better in his second event, the pursuit. However, his marksmanship was off and he had to cover extra ground seven times due to missed shots from his rifle.
“Pretty dismal shooting, especially on a range as easy as this one in Sochi,” he wrote.
Nordgren wrote that he refreshed his mind and was able to focus heading into the individual 20km, but more trouble with the rifle threw him for a loop.
He wrote that his barrel has been acting up due to the difference in conditions from the time he “zeros in” the aim until the race. Before his third race, he had to zero in during daylight hours and “it turned out to be a disaster.” During one stage, he missed all five shots.
Despite the frustrations, Nordgren has maintained a positive attitude.
“All that being said, I’m still at the Olympics and I’m having a pretty good time!” he wrote. “With a few days until my next race, hopefully I’ll be able to make it down to the coastal village cluster and be able to soak in some of the atmosphere there.”
In his blog and social media accounts, he has cheered on his teammates, including Lowell Bailey, whose eighth-place finish in the individual race was the best Olympic individual finish by an American biathlete.
Nordgren can also look ahead to more opportunities. He will compete in the 4×7.5km relay on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., which is 8:30 a.m. here.
The former Ranger also knows he is young for his sport.
“Since most biathletes don’t peak until they’re in their late 20s, I have quite a few years to go until it’s my time to shine,” Nordgren wrote on his website. “So as it stands now, I look forward to the 2014 Olympics and hopefully many more beyond!”
State entrants 14 of the last 16 years, five-time state champions during that run and numerous all-state skiers — the Forest Lake boys Nordic program continued its tradition of excellence last Thursday by winning the state meet by a resounding point margin.
The Rangers earned 380 points, while runner-up St. Louis Park scored 351. The 29-point win is the largest margin of victory the program has recorded during its title years. This season’s squad, featuring two juniors and two sophomores, ties the 2005 team as the youngest Ranger group to earn top honors at state.
Head coach Deno Johnson said the victory is no surprise.
“All along we knew we were the best team,” Johnson said. “They don’t need pep talks, and don’t even huddle. That’s funny to us — everyone does their own thing and then I go talk to the captains and they say, ‘No, we’re cool’ and ‘We’re ready to go.’ They knew what they needed to get done, and nothing was going to shake ‘em.”
Forest Lake started off strong, with junior Leo Hipp leading the way in the freestyle race, the first of two races in the pursuit. Hipp placed second in a field of 117 state entrants with a time of 16:49. Bloomington Jefferson sophomore Zak Ketterson recorded the fastest leg in 16:31.
“It’s really, really eye-opening to think how much you can accomplish when you put your mind to it,” Hipp said. “I mean, this is my third year skiing and ninth month on the snow — it’s just crazy to think about.”
In last season’s third-place team finish at state, Hipp placed 47th.
Junior Quinn Duffy held his ground as the team’s No. 2 racer during the freestyle portion, coming in 15th in 17:37. Sophomore Tommy Babcock followed 10 seconds later to finish 20th. Sophomore Davis Long sat in 31st with a time of 18:11.
Forest Lake held on easily in the afternoon classic race. Hipp earned all-state honors by posting the third-fastest classic leg with a time of 16:16, which also earned him third place overall. Ketterson clinched the state individual championship, while Mounds Park Academy’s Nick Gardner cruised to the top classic time and second place overall.
Duffy came in 16th in classic to secure 15th place overall, while Babcock finished 25th for an overall place of 23rd. Long rounded out the scoring for the top squad in the state by taking 29th in freestyle to earn 30th place overall.
It was the program’s first title since winning state four out of five years from 2005-2009.
“It felt great,” Duffy said. “We trained hard all season, made sure we didn’t get complacent and pushed hard all the way through. I think this year we really focused on winning and had the realization that it is possible, and instead of skiing just to ski, we skied and trained with a purpose.”
Rocci Wohlk grabbed all-state honors in the girls pursuit. The Forest Lake junior sat in ninth place out of 120 racers following an effort of 19:47 in the morning freestyle race. Wohlk moved up in the classic race, finishing fourth in 18:56 to place seventh overall.
“The first race I think I did OK, then I just remembered to go out there and have fun, push myself and just have fun,” Wohlk said. “I just wanted to have fun, stay positive and always keep a smile on my face instead of dragging myself down.”
Johnson said Wohlk did what she set out to do.
“Her goal was the top 10 and she did that,” Johnson said. “She chipped away again at getting on the podium, so we’ll see where she is in another year. She’s had very good form recently and is asserting herself well.”
Sophomore Kate Schaaf also improved from last year’s state appearance of 75th place by taking 66th with a combined time of 43.14.
“I think Kate had a very good year,” Johnson said. “I’m really pleased with her work ethic and performance – really enjoyed herself out there. She’s really something in terms of getting out there every day and working hard.”
The Forest Lake boys Alpine team traveled to Giants Ridge in Biwabik Feb. 12 and captured second place in the program’s first state appearance in more than two decades.
The Blake School defended its state title with 162 points. Forest Lake, which scored 142 points, edged Orono for second place by one point. Suburban East Conference champion Stillwater placed fourth.
Junior Riley Schilling led the Rangers in 19th place, recording a time of 38.05 on his first run and 36.11 on his second. Senior Jacob Bush earned 26th place with times of 38.8 and 36.05.
Rounding out the scoring, ninth-grader Marty Longsdorf placed 35th with runs of 39.87 and 37.36, and junior Chris Wallner took 37th place with times of 40.04 and 38.12.
Sophomores Joe Alberg and Nathan Patterson also recorded solid runs and placed 42nd and 44th, respectively.
Bush said the team was thrilled with the outcome.
“Oh heck no, we didn’t expect this,” Bush said. “We were hoping for fourth place or at best, third, so this is amazing and exciting.”
With head coach Grant Lindemer assuming the role of meet manager during the state competition, assistant coach Collin Cassem took the lead with the Rangers for the day. Cassem said the boys put forth a stellar effort to stay standing during their runs, as many skiers fell due to slick snow conditions from the extreme cold and a tricky knoll on the state slopes.
“That spot took out some top skiers,” Cassem said. “It was a combination into a sweeping left turn into another combination — you had to be on time and on your game.”
Bush said it helped that the Rangers competed at Giants Ridge in four races during the season.
“It’s a really, really tough course, but every one of our skiers had a clean race,” Bush said. “We treated it like just another race, this is like our second home hill. We raced smart and hard and stepped it up when we needed to, and that’s why we did so well — it was awesome.”
Bush is the sole senior on the Alpine squad, which makes for mixed feelings at the season’s close, Cassem said.
“It’s uplifting to end your high school career on such a good note,” Cassem said. “But it’s sad, too. You want to come back and be on this same team, since you develop such a close relationship with the other guys. But right now, we’re going to go have a celebratory dinner and get back to normal life tomorrow.”