Minnesota High School Nordic Skiing Preview and Preseason Rankings
November 14, 2016
Fall is officially here, but as of this second week in November, the weather has a decided September/October feel as much of the region still awaits the first signs of winter.
The 2016-17 season brings relatively little changes to the Minnesota high school racing season. There are no section realignments this year (that comes next year), and the State Meet format remains unchanged. There are active discussions about a new State Meet format, one that would bring sprinting into the mix, but nothing has been approved at the time of this writing, and the soonest that format could be implemented would be next season.
However, there are a number of important changes to note for this winter:
Waxing - In an effort to reduce costs and exposure to hazardous materials, the Minnesota Coaches Association has approved a ban on the use of power fluoros in all competitions and allows section/conference coaches the ability to restrict which events will permit the usage of fluorinated waxes and blocks/liquids.
Venues - Snow-challenged seasons have put a strain on some of the snowmaking venues around the state. The Wirth venue is now being managed by the Loppet Foundation, and they will allow for a more open format for practices by implementing a "continuous ski" policy (practice areas will require reservation), and a subset of trail closed off for races. The leaders in Mora have been very active over the last year, building more trail and preparing for additional snowmaking, including a new snowmaking loop scheduled to open this season.
Event Changes - A number of key high school meets will sport changes this season. Holiday Relays will revert to their traditional format of four relay races, now held at Wirth; the Loppet Invite will test drive the possible new State Meet format with individual races and a team sprint event; Mesabi East and the State Meet should enjoy the fruits of recent Giants Ridge improvements - a new Event Center.
In Minnesota, it is hard to talk about high school racing without the mention of the Junior National Qualifier events. The JNQs provide a chance to race against the Midwest's best juniors and earn the right to advance to Junior Nationals. There are some changes in the JNQ world this season: World Junior Championship competition will impact the number of available openings on the team, deeper scoring has been assigned to U18/U20 competitions, restrictions on fluoro waxes in classic races, and a ban on skiers racing up (specifically U14 racing up in U16). Read more details on the changes on the CXC website.
With the opening week of practice, we present our "Preseason" rankings to get the talk rolling...
Skinnyski.com Preseason High School Rankings
This season appears on paper to be one of the most competitive across both boys and girls divisions. With the exit of Zak Ketterson, the competition should be fierce to crown a new boys champion. Patrick Acton, Eagan, is the top returning skier from the State Meet with Xavier Mansfield, Spring Lake Park, in a virtual tie. Those two will be challenged by Wayzata's Anders Sonnesyn and Mpls Southwest's William Kerker. There are a number of other strong candidates who could break into the top five easily this season, and even not on our list right now that could eventually make the top ten. Some the more interesting ones to keep an eye on include Ryan Mead, Forest Lake, Hunter Zupko, Little Falls, Luc Golin and James Schneider both from Wayzata, the Schwinghamer brothers from Mora and SPA's Peter Moore.
The girls field has been very competitive over the years, and this season is no exception. A healthy Erin Moening, St. Paul Highland Park, gets our preseason nod for the number one ranking, but the road won't be easy. Kelly Koch, Burnsville, has been steadily improving each season and will be challenging for that podium spot. Northern stars Anja Maijala and Erica Fox from Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, along with Anna Johnson, Mesabi East, and Proctor-Hermantown's superstar, Hannah Bettendorf, will all be in the battle for top honors. Renae Anderson, Hopkins, has been quietly rising in profile, and with the departure of Hannah Rudd, Robbinsdale-Armstrong's new leaders will be a pair of Andersons, Dorothy and Lucy. In the girls field, some youngsters to watch for include Regan Duffy, Forest Lake, Libby Tuttle, Stillwater (transferred from Mahtomedi), Sophie Farrow, Duluth East, Mae Barnes, Robbinsdale-Armstrong, and Anni Skillicorn, Winona.
The team rankings are always very difficult to formulate. All the seniors from the previous season are removed, and new kids come in to fill the void. Many times those new kids are young, and may not have raced varsity previously. Big teams like Stillwater and Eden Prairie have developed deep talent, with JV skiers than would be varsity at almost any other school. So making these predictions is just that -- a best-guess, tea-reading, crystal ball gazing, horse racing wager.
The Robbinsdale-Armstrong girls are the easy favorites to repeat as State Champions with a strong pool of skiers that push each other to new heights. Duluth East and Stillwater continue to bring up new talent and further develop their veterans, meaning they'll be pressing Armstrong. Ely returns a strong squad, and Forest Lake continues to perform miracles with a small squad. But the top dozen teams all provide stiff competition, and you can expect some serious shifting as the season progresses.
Minneapolis Southwest also is marked to repeat in the team competition, losing just one senior and bringing up a strong crew of young kids. Stillwater is Stillwater -- they've got depth and a strong returning squad, and will be expecting a podium position. We respect the hard working crew at Champlin Park, and their core composition should elevate their game to a top position at State. Forest Lake boys love being the underdog, and that scrappy crew will press the competition all season. Wayzata and Eagan will shore up their teams this season, and could make a run at the top as well. Watch the Mora boys as they could surprise a number of squads, and see what the reformulated Eden Prairie group can do this season.
On to the rankings...
Xavier Mansfield, Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony, 12
Patrick Acton, Eagan, 12
Anders Sonnesyn, Wayzata, 11
William Kerker, Mpls Southwest, 12
Ryan Steger, Eagan, 12
Mark Ousdigian, Mounds View, 12
Nate Blichfeldt, Burnsville, 12
Ryan Mead, Forest Lake, 11
Josh Albrecht, Stillwater, 12
Hunter Zupko, Little Falls, 11
Cusp: Harrison Pretel, St. Paul Highland Park, 12; Luc Golin, Wayzata, 11; Ian Ivens, Champlin Park, 12; Adlai Sinker, Mpls Southwest, 12; George Jarvinen, Edina, 12; Luke Crandall, Champlin Park, 12; Shad Kraftson, Stillwater, 12; Nathan Bich, Proctor-Hermantown, 12; Declan Dahlberg, Mounds Park Academy, 11