Wisconsin High School Nordic Championship Predictionsby Ken Schoville
February 7, 2018
The plot thickens: plans are made and mislaid, truths are perpetuated, or are they? Some of the characters disappear, mysteriously of course, but consistency in the prediction game is never a given, 2018 being no exception. It's been a long year, but you can trust this news, so, let's get to it.
There's a few twists and turns that will make this a different year. A new course at the Birkie Start (Again!) will lend some increased interest, technical difficulty, and just a hair of unknown from last year. Instead of three laps of the same piece of terrain, this year will have an A, and B lap to give a total of 6.5k. Lapping back into the stadium between the laps will give spectators a chance to see the skiers as they strut their stuff, with the shorter 2.3 followed by a 4.2k. Although with LiveStream being featured this year the technical spectators can watch at home (Arizona/Florida?) or in a warm car in the parking lot, losing I'm sure some of the crowd energy, but gaining in creature comforts.
First the girls, and I'm going to make this easy; Abigail Jarzin, the Pride of Ashwaubenon, wins both days, both techniques, hands down. Not only that, she becomes only the second young lady in the history of the event to win three titles in a row, the other being Aniya (The Aniyalator) Dietz 1997-99 from far flung (Don't blink or you'll miss it!) Fifield. Abby's been killing it in the MW Junior Cup points as a U18, went to Anchorage, AK, for nationals, and barring illness, could win on smiles and cloned Jessie Diggins energy pathways. As a senior, she brings it and keeps the pressure on. Bet on it.
Just behind Abigail I expect to see Olivia Dreger. This is a girl that skis with heart and was second to Jarzin at the Iola Freestyle Challenge. At the same time, Alice House (Blackhawk) and Isabel Seay (Peak) were right behind. They could also have podium performances at state. Freshman Mia Case has been skiing determinedly and turning the screws on all at many of the races this year. She could put the pressure on the upperclassman and also potentially end up on the podium.
Team wise, it's a new year. Seniors have departed and that changes the paradigm for all teams, some more than others. Coaches bemoan the loss of their most experienced skiers, but it's part of the game. On the girls side, Peak is back at it. No matter how many seniors graduate the crafty coaches from the south always bring up the level of skill and tenacity among their underclass skiers, chief among them, Isabel Seay, Elise Boudry, and Jane Straka; solid and podium worthy.
Lakeland took a senior hit also, but gained when Middle School Champ from last year, Mia Case, joined the fray. She had a good summer training, as did Sophomores Johanna Craig and Ashley Peterson. A young group, but they have the good vibe/energy flow going, taking the team title at the Hodag Challenge get together in early January where most of the teams are well represented on the Rhinelander course that comes as close to the whole state field as we get prior to state.
But last year's girls' champs, Wausau United Nordic, lost none of their key players and were without Olivia Dreger for the Hodag Challenge, she having opted to also go to nationals. As the individual runner up last year at state, her presence and results could bring teammates Lauren Lackman, Alley Swensen, and Anna Buchberger back onto the lofty atmosphere of the first place podium they are used to, as returning champs, whole and undinged by graduation, and perhaps unstoppable. Of course the teams mentioned earlier are not just going to roll over and let that happen.
In the mix may be the young team from Madison; Blackhawk. They have Alice House as the lead skier and on a good day she could be on the podium. Supporting her is Genevieve Anex and Jacqueline House of the same House house, or House home, sisters that is and an up and comer.
The boys we paint with a different paintbrush. It may because they’re boys and the paints are smeared, but the field lays out differently. Unlike the youthful girls, who at the top end, except for Abby, are remarkably young; as in the 9th-10th grade range, the the boys leading the field are in the 11-12th grade, at least academically speaking. So, the young powerhouse males, testosterone laden, are at the peak of their high school skiing years. Physiologically we have some interesting contrasting dynamics here as senior boys know this is the last dance before shipping out. Junior boys typically have what it takes to be state champions in Wisconsin, we've seen that before, but seniors get a nod with just a little extra incentive. So whatever the grade, when the boys take the snow at the Birkie Start in Cable for the 37th annual state Nordic Championship, nothing will be taken for granted, and nothing will be left on the table. Expect the individual classic Saturday to set the stage for an epic skate pursuit.
Jackson Adler, Ashwaubenon, has been skiing well and aggressively this season. He went to Anchorage for nationals and that's always a toughening effect for the rest of the season. I think Jackson will be there on the podium. He was third last year behind Kieran Mullen (Lakeland) and last year's champion, Cullen Chosey (Madnorski). This kid's tough and when push comes to shove, barring bugs, or nuclear war with North Korea, he gonna give his all. He nipped Eli Gore (Madnorski) at a fairly well attended meet in Iola, and Conner Nielsen (Peak) was just a bit back, so there are good lads around him, but he usually comes out on top. Keep an eye on him.
Like I said, Eli and Conner may be contenders, but next on my list is a brawny, lanky kid from Chippewa Valley, David Ecker. He was 13th last year, but appears to have done his homework over the summer as he is always in the hunt. With good skis and a good day he could be a major player.
A few other names to consider for podium spots this year would be Hans Ernst (Bay Nordic), Jack Oosterhuis (Wausau East/West), Steven Koch (Wausau United), Dalton Collins (4-H CANSKI).
Lakeland's Kieran Mullen was second last year and appears to be skiing into good form at this writing. He's beaten most of the aforementioned names during the year...and been beaten by a few. Sickness and slick skis are hard handicaps for anyone to overcome in this sport, but with the stars aligning properly, immune deficiency being held at bay, a proper set of skis under him, and then, Mullen's my bet for champion this year. He has a good group around him and the look of a senior.
The top three teams need three strong skiers having a couple of good days. Much, much easier said than done. Based on a review of results, both state races, the Junior Cup Points List, an analytical review of the results of the first two JC race weekends, and gut instinct, here's the leading three.
In third, and this may be off a notch or two, I expect Ashwaubenon will be there. They have a whole fleet of strong boys to support Jackson. The Rhinelander Challenge results had Kyle Thieme in 10th after two days. Little brother Ryan took 13th and just behind in 15th, another sophomore, Daniel Huhtala. Plenty strong enough among the teams there to take 4th, without Jackson. Imagine...
However, there are underdogs, double dog dares, spoilers, and well coached teams taking pride in results; for example, Chippewa Valley. With David Ecker and sophomore Garrett Walters they have a strong two and if Luke Rosenburger can stick with his friends, ta da! They slip into third.
I'd be remiss if I also didn't include the possibility of either of the two Wausau teams; East/West, or United, having some impact on team scoring. At the Iola Freestyle Challenge they were 4 and 9 points behind Ashwaubenon respectively. So, you can see the door opening to the possibility of Wausau having a team up on the platform, both with established programs and lots of experience.
Second place to me is a no brainer, and I've been called worse. This team last year at state was in 7th place, a long way from uptown. Well, miracles can happen, and apart from Russian interference, I believe some young men from Peak Nordic were inspired to do their summer training, mind their P's & Q's, and listen to coach. Consistently this season I find them at or near the top of the team points; Hodag Challenge, case in point, second to Lakeland by 9 points. Hummm, that seems doable. Iola FS Challenge, the top team beating Ashwaubenon by 7, however no Lakeland or Chippewa Valley present.
For the Overall Team Title; Lakeland. Sure, call me a “Homer”. As the blind Ump said, “I call 'em as I see 'em!” So aside from obvious prejudice and almost never getting out of town, here's my rationale: Mullen's point total = 1. He does both techniques equally well, can sprint, and has seen how it's done by a few other Lakeland kids through the years. OK, unless disaster strikes, or Voodoo really works, one is a great number to start your low score team total with. Mullen is supported by Kav FitzPatrick and as the 2017 D2 cross country champion, he's looking for hills to expand those lungs on and burn the competition. Also he comes from a strong skiing bloodline and family endurance culture. Lakeland's third, Cody Schneider's been closing the gap all season and knows how to push himself.
This Prediction you can take to the bank! It's going to be a Barn Burner at the New (and improved) Birkie Start, with a new trail, excited skiers, freaking out parents, coaches seeing double as they work a triple shift, Live Stream!, a new sound system, and a rocking good time! See ya there!