Area skiers fight tough conditions at busy Mesabi East Invite

The largest field of Nordic ski teams in the nation gathered at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik, site of next month’s state meet, for the Mesabi East Invite Jan. 12.

Conditions can never be 100 percent perfect, but after rain Friday night was followed by nose-diving temps before the all-day race began Saturday morning made for tricky conditions for everyone.

Coon Rapids’ Anna Nelson, front, tucks on the Giant’s Ridge Course in Biwabik during the Mesabi East Invite Jan. 12.Photos courtesy of Judy Johnson

Coon Rapids’ Anna Nelson, front, tucks on the Giant’s Ridge Course in Biwabik during the Mesabi East Invite Jan. 12.Photos courtesy of Judy Johnson

Coon Rapids’ Michael Coughlin, takes a stride during the 5k freestyle race on the Giant’s Ridge Course in Biwabik during the Mesabi East Invite Jan. 12.

Coon Rapids’ Michael Coughlin, takes a stride during the 5k freestyle race on the Giant’s Ridge Course in Biwabik during the Mesabi East Invite Jan. 12.

“The course was still a very challenging one with some technical aspects, so the better skiers were going to shine in their races,” Andover Nordic coach Scott Clark said.

Among the area teams participating on what turned out to be conditions more like a skating rink than ski course, Andover was 15th in the boys’ race, Coon Rapids 16th, Anoka 28th and Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony was 45th among the 64 teams.

Andover led the area girls’ teams with an eighth-place finish, four points behind Southwest, while Anoka was 12th, Coon Rapids was 24th and Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony 42nd out of 63 teams.

Andover’s Maddie McKeefry scored the best finish among the ABC Newspapers area skiers with a sixth place finish in the classic race in 18 minutes, 11.5 seconds, less than one minute behind Lakeland’s Delaney Fitzpatrick who won the race.

The tough conditions meant skiers couldn’t use what’s called the track rule, which is when a faster skier approaches a slower skier in the classic track and says track the slower skier must yield to the faster skier.

“So Maddie would have to get out of the tracks and go around the slower skiers, but that was the case for everyone,” Clark said. “Maddie was able to get after it on the hills and out-climb quite a few skiers.”

Clark said the key for McKeefry was to maintain a strong pace on the second and final lap.

“Performances like this really provide some confidence going into the latter portion of our season,” he said. “With her second-place finish at the holiday relays and now her sixth place finish in this meet, her confidence should be very high and that should translate into some exciting end of the year racing.”

McKeefry was joined by teammates Maria McQuillan and Alexis Pearson on the classic style race with finishes of 31st and 77th, respectively. Andover’s freestyle team included Amanda Jensen (33), Nicole Heitzman (49) and Kay Adamski (94).

Icy conditions were a result of rain the night before combined with melting to make the course fairly challenging to traverse.

“Coupled with temperatures that dropped 10 degrees one hour before the start made waxing for the classic race really tricky,” Cardinals coach Denny Nelson said.

The heavily-used course made for some abrasive, man-made snow which took away most of the kick wax after one lap on the 2.6k course, “which made the uphills difficult to ski efficiently on lap two,” Nelson added. “But the all-day race went on in true Nordic fashion and the coaches and racers were glad that it had gone on at all, given the all-night rain that threatened a cancellation.”

Coon Rapids boys’ highlights included Michael Coughlin 28th in the varsity freestyle followed by Steven Coughlin 63rd and Micah Johnson 87th among 164 racers.

Ryan Heida led the Cardinal’s classic style finishers with a 43rd place finish followed by Stephen Muggenberg 54th and captain Noah Fedje 112th out of 167 racers.

Andover’s Lucas Heib was 19th in the classic race, despite being a very strong freestyle skier. “This should give him a confidence boost as we move into the major meets at the end of the season.”

Heib was followed by teammates Eric Larson (44) and Grant Wood (97). Ian Mead paced the freestyle team with a 57th place finish followed by Chris Meados (61) and John Pahr (117).

Anoka’s Chris Hecker led the freestyle group with a 12th place finish followed by teammates Cory Mecl (85) and Ben Petersen (122). Jeff Barstow led the classic group with a 94th place finish followed by Thomas Hagerty (104) and Jon Oliversen (129).

Andover ninth-grader Sam Anderson, who is in his second year of skiing, placed 10th in the JV classic race.

“Here is a young skier that has been working very hard to improve and was able to experience some success because of it,” Clark said. “He actually lost quite a bit of time when he couldn’t make a turn onto the second lap and had to ski through the finish line and navigate back onto the course. But all in all, a good day.”

Spring Lake Park’s Jake Ajax finished 11th in the freestyle race followed by teammates Nick Lawson (123) and RJ Rude (148), while classic racers included Cole Grotting (124), Nathan Dropik-Landwehr (141) and George Elsesser (148).

Coon Rapids senior captain Anna Nelson continued her strong season with a 15th place finish in the classic race while teammates Jerlie Jensen was 102nd and Sam Benson 112th among 157 racers. The Cardinals freestyle skiers were paced by Kaitlyn Benson 43rd, Susan Porter 71st and Katie Kiecker 81st out of 167 racers.

Anoka was highlighted by Kayla Billett’s 29th place performance in the classic while teammates Lindsey Gast placed 42nd and Anastasia Asp placed 63rd overall. Heather Jensen scored the best freestyle place in 35th followed by teammates Destiny Schultz (45) and Alexis Fritz (75).

Spring Lake Park’s finishers included: Erin Guse (79), Julie Goulette (136) and Blair Eckman (148) in the classic and Melissa Marsh (64), Alexis Johnson (150) and Emmanuelle Brandt (161) in the freestyle race.

After a conference meet hosted by Elk River Jan. 17, teams will converge on Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis for the annual ABC Relays Jan. 19. Meet director and fellow Coon Rapids coach Denny Green worked overtime with The City of Lakes Loppet organizers to schedule a second large event on the same day. Boys start at 1 p.m., girls to follow at 2:30 p.m., with an awards ceremony scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

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