Alpine ski teams have been hard at work, perfecting their turns on the slopes in recent weeks.
Dec. 18 marks the start of the racing season with the season-opening Northwest Suburban Conference meet at Wild Mountain.
Blaine girls return as the conference runner-ups to perennially-strong Centennial, which captured the conference and section team titles last season. The Bengals graduated eight girls, but return with sophomore captain Lexi Nelson leading the way after a 14th-place finish in the conference last winter, while the team placed fourth in the team conference championship race. Nelson will be pushed by sophomore Jill Hall for the top spot.
The Bengal boys return with two standouts, including state entrant Brad Weitgenant and Christian Dahl, who placed 10th in the final conference season-long standings. The Bengals finished sixth in the team standings behind champion Chisago Lake and runner-up Champlin Park. Dahl finished just outside the state qualifying spot at the section race. Weitgenant placed 62nd at state with a two-run total of 1:30.70 out of 76 skiers who finished both runs.
Junior captain Nate Molitor along with Kenny Niemeyer and Jordan Anderson have showed promise in practice sessions, according to coach Brian Gronski, who starts his 17th season on the slopes.
Andover had three qualifiers for the state meet last season, including Courtney Schwartz (25th, 1:21.87), Jenna Zigler (26th, 1:22.31) and Brandon Rosen (76th, 2:10.40). Among those, Schwartz is the only returner with a fairly young team that has only two seniors, JJ Corn and Cailana Kadlec, under first-year coach Kelsey Fautsch.
“We have a great group of talented skiers that have shown improvement each year they have raced,” Fautsch said. “This could be a breakout season for quite a few of them and will be fun to watch unfold.”
Fautsch is a Coon Rapids native who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota, Duluth and teaches 10th-grade English at Becker High School.
She joined the Cardinals ski team as a freshman without any racing experience and ended her college racing career with a trip to the national race as the lone Bulldog.
As for recruiting new faces to the team, “Any student interested in ski racing is encouraged to try it. You never know how far you can go,” Fautsch said.
Andover girls placed third in the conference championship race with three skiiers finishing in the top 20 places. Zigler led the way with a third-place finish followed by Erica Copeland 10th and Kadlec 20th. Schwartz led the Huskies in the five-race-long conference points competition with an eighth-place finish.
Fautsch said Copeland and Aly Olson have a great chance to join Schwartz at the state meet.
Andover boys finished fourth in the team conference standings, led by Rosen, Jake Majors and Corn who finished eighth, ninth and 16th in the team conference championship race, respectively. The overall points race saw Rosen led the Huskies with an 11th-place finish, Corn was 14th and Majors placed 28th. Majors narrowly missed out on qualifying for state. He should be joined at the top of the finishing list with Corn, Jared Silewski and Ryan Larocca.
Coon Rapids placed seventh in the conference finals and now-graduated Matthias Fries led the boys in the season-long points race with a 15th-place finish.
The boys return senior Ben Krueger, junior Nick Leonard, sophomore Ryan Leciejewski and ninth-graders Jacob Lewer and Matthew Bliss.
The Cardinals also graduated Trevor Pinewski, who placed 58th in the state meet with a time of 1:27.02.
The Cardinal girls finished ninth in the conference finals, led by Lauren Erie’s 17th-place finish and Linsey Pierson’s 35th-place finish.
Anoka boys finished 10th in the conference team finals, led by Andrew Park’s 26th-place finish. Park also guided the Tornadoes in the season-long points race with an 18th place finish, while teammate Ayden Peterson finished 30th.
The girls placed 10th overall in the conference team finals led by senior Tori Seymour’s 34th-place finish. She also led Anoka in the season-long standings with a 40th-place finish. Seymour and Emily Schlieff are the only seniors on the roster for Anoka.