Minnesota State Meet PreviewFebruary 13, 2017
In what feels like an abridged season, the Minnesota High School Nordic Skiing Championships are being held this Thursday, Feb 16th, at the traditional venue of Giants Ridge in Biwabik. There are no major changes to the race format this season, except for a waxing restriction that prohibits the use of fluorinated powders. This could be the last season for the current State Meet format, as the Coaches Association is advancing a proposal to include team sprints next year. The first racers going out Thursday morning will be the boys in an individual start 5K freestyle format on the Silver trail starting at 10 am, followed by the girls at 11:15 am. A short break for lunch, equipment updates, and new bibs, then the boys resume racing at 2 pm with classical technique in a pursuit start format based on the earlier freestyle results, heading out on the Cedar and Gold trails. The girls pursuit starts at 3 pm. Luckily, the weather looks about as perfect as you can get with temperatures forecast around 20F in the morning and near 30F for the afternoon. Snow conditions remain quite good as well. And one more piece of good news -- this season after a campaign driven by the high school girls, the usage of glitter will be allowed! One non-race related change that will be noticed on Thursday -- Giants Ridge new event center opened this season, and will hopefully help alleviate some of the congestion at The Lodge.
Some years it has been easy to pick the winners -- Zak Ketterson and Jessie Diggins made the job of predictions seem simple, but other years are less clear. This year falls more into the category of the latter.
The top two returning girls from the State Meet last season, #2 Erin Moening, St. Paul Highland Park and #3 Anja Maijala, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, both suffered shoulder injuries this season, and while making significant recovery progress, still haven't fully returned to prior form ... or maybe not? Moening and Maijala will be the wildcards on Thursday. If their form has returned, they could be fighting to reach the top of the climb on the Cedar trail and possibly rocketed downhill to victory. But the two right now that stand in their way are Kelly Koch, Burnsville, and Renae Anderson, Hopkins. Koch has been sitting in the top ranking for much of the reason, with good reason, while Anderson has continued to get better as the season has progressed. Neither would be a surprise to take the victory, so it could just be who has the fastest skis Thursday afternoon. But even then, there are a number of contenders hoping to make it their day at the top. Ely's Erin Bianco is another that has only skied stronger as the season as progressed, and in their section meet on these exact courses, she overcame a deficit to Maijala and strode her way to the section title. And most of the northern kids have the advantage of skiing on natural snow most of the season, rather than training on loops of man-made snow on relatively tame courses in the Cities. Anna Johnson, Mesabi East, has been neck-and-neck with Bianco, and has improved every year at the State Meet, last year finishing 7th. Young Mara McCollor, Wayzata, has a great engine and could be pushing the podium. A couple of others to keep an eye on: Regan Duffy, Forest Lake, Lucinda Anderson and Dorothy Anderson, both of Robbinsdale-Armstrong.
Anja Maijala and Erin Bianco (Photo: Joe Bianco)
Girls Prediction: Renae Anderson, Hopkins; Erin Moening, St. Paul Highland Park; Kelly Koch, Burnsville.
Xavier Mansfield, Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony, has been the heir apparent for Zak Ketterson since last season. But the road to victory will be no cakewalk for Mansfield, as both Patrick Acton, Eagan, and William (Foss) Kerker, Minneapolis Southwest, have been nipping at his heels all season long. Acton actually defeated Mansfield at the State Meet last season, but at times has struggled with his classical technique. With fast conditions Thursday, this race could be a real barn burner with possibly three guys sprinting for the finish line. The three most likely contenders to make a move on the podium are the Wayzata pair of Anders Sonnesyn and Luc Golin, and possibly Stillwater's Shad Kraftson. And two big guys who both had top 10 finishes last State Meet, Ryan Steger, Eagan, and Mark Ousdigian, Mounds View, could power their way into the top five. The boys field has a lot of good talent throughout the top 20 ranked/cusp skiers, so there easily could be some other "surprises" when the final results are posted Thursday afternoon.
Boys Prediction: Xavier Mansfield, Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony; Patrick Acton, Eagan; Foss Kerker, Minneapolis Southwest.
The Ely girls have never won the State Meet, but they've had a number of good teams over the years that brought them close. Perhaps like the Chicago Cubs, this is finally their year. But first they'll have to get past defending champ, Robbinsdale-Armstrong. Robbinsdale-Armstrong's depth has been their strength, and it was proved at sections when one of their top four skiers was sick and yet the team was still able to fend off a tough Hopkins squad. In that mix is a perennial powerhouse Stillwater. Their competition with Forest Lake continues to benefit both teams, and they'll be well prepared for the task on Thursday. While the state champion will most likely come from that trio, expect Forest Lake, Hopkins and Minneapolis Southwest to be pressing for a possible podium position.
Girls Prediction: Robbinsdale-Armstrong, Stillwater, Ely.
The boys team competition should be a savory showdown between Minneapolis Southwest and Wayzata. Southwest is the defending champ and has their top three returning, while Wayzata brings some impressive young talent to the matchup. The number four skier will probably be the deciding factor in this battle, one that most likely will be decided by less than five points. Stillwater was second last season, and their crew has made the upgrades to replace seniors, making them a contender for the title if either Southwest or Wayzata falters. Mora and St. Paul Highland Park will wear the underdog roles, both teams have been skiing solidly all season and are looking to land a spot on the podium. Champlin Park may not be as well known as the top three, but they definitely could break into that grouping with strong performances throughout the team.
Boys Prediction: Minneapolis Southwest, Wayzata, Stillwater.
A little history lesson before we wrap up... Let the 2014 State Meet race for the girls act as a roadmap for greatness - present and future. Mattie Watts, Irondale, showed that "little things" like equipment don't necessarily make as big a difference as we sometimes get worked up about -- Watts won the State Meet using a pair of classical skis she borrowed at the last second from high school friend Marshal Landrum. And Alayna Sonnesyn, Wayzata, finished third that year but didn't let that define her career -- she continues to be one of the best Midwest skiers, punching her ticket to the U23 World Championships just a few weeks ago.
Go out and give it your best performance, may your skis run fast and let the results speak for themselves. Best of luck to all the competitors - shine on!
As usual, we plan to provide same day coverage with photos (expected to be posted late Thursday night).
Biwabik Hourly Weather Graph
MSHSL State Meet Website
Minnesota State Meet Course Maps
Boys Freestyle Start List
Girls Freestyle Start List