Unusually warm temperatures and a lack of snow this winter has posed a few problems and changes for the way area Nordic ski teams practiced this season.
“We have had to be a lot more flexible as well as more creative with our workouts and getting the skiers ready,” Coon Rapids coach Dennis Green said. “It did get frustrating at times but we adapted, taught patience and worked on the things that we could.”
Despite the weather, the outdoor sport continued on and local schools have claimed team and individual victories at the conference and section level as the state tournament draws near.
Andover boys’ Nordic ski team took first in the conference for the third time in four seasons at Elm Creek Park Reserve Feb. 1. Kyle Hellmann led the Huskies and came in third overall with a pursuit time of 28:39. Calvin Mehrhof of Coon Rapids came in second place at the conference meet with a pursuit time of 27:51. Hellmann and Mehrhof recorded the same time in the classic race at 16:01. Chris Hecker led Anoka in the conference meet, placing fourth overall with a time of 28:46.
In the girls’ conference race, Andover took a second-place team finish to Armstrong. Coon Rapids came in third place. Sophomore Maddie McKeefry of Andover was the overall girls’ conference champion (32:22), overcoming a 20-second deficit to win by almost 30 seconds. Anoka’s Kayla Billet came in third with a pursuit time of 34:20.
The meet comprised two races, a morning skate race and then an afternoon classic race. The two races were scored separately, but individual awards were determined by the overall pursuit time. All conference titles were also awarded to the top 30 places and honorable mention for places 31-40. The Huskies had eight boys and six girls that took home all conference honors.
Section 5AA meet
A week later at the Section 5AA meet, Roseville came away with both the boys’ and girls’ events advancing as a team to the state tournament. Andover finished third for the boys’ race with 351 points, 15 points behind Irondale and 27 points behind Roseville, on the course set at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis Feb. 8. Coon Rapids finished in fifth place, Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony was seventh, Anoka finished in eighth place and Blaine was 11th among the field of 12 teams.
The Andover girls’ team came even closer to a section title and state berth when it fell just 12 points behind Roseville for a second-place finish in the section.
The top 10 individuals along with the top scoring team, Roseville, will move on to the state meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
Andover is sending a total of four skiers to the state meet. Senior Kyle Hellmann will be respresenting the Huskies in the boys’ individual meet. He finished ninth overall with a pursuit time of 28:17.
“Kyle has been a balanced skier in that he has been strong in both classic and skate competitions, although he is a little stronger on the classic side,” Andover coach Scott Clark said.
Three Andover girls will also be skiing for the Huskies in the state individual meet, including sophomore conference champ Maddie McKeefry, who came in fourth in both the classic and skate races, earning her an overall fourth-place finish with a pursuit time of 31:53. Junior teammates Amanda Jensen (34:03) and Maria McQuillan (34:52) will also be joining her at Giants Ridge.
“The efforts were there, but Roseville is a very talented team and its fourth skier turned it on for the skate race,” Clark said. “Maddie was an all state skier last year finishing 13th and so we are hoping to see her move up a little this year. Amanda had her best classic race of the year, which put her in a great spot to qualify and her strength has always been as a skater. Maria is a natural classic skier and was out of the qualifying position after the morning race, but put together a great skate race to move up and qualify for the state meet.”
Coon Rapids came in fifth place in both the boys’ and girls’ races at the section meet, but will be sending a skier from each team to the individiual race Feb. 16. Calvin Mehrhof and Anna Nelson will be representing the Cardinals. Mehrhof came in fourth place overall at the section meet with a pursuit time of 26:13, just 16 seconds behind Roseville’s Kyle Marshall. He won the classic race in 13:38 and carried over a five-second advantage into the second portion of the pursuit – the skate race in which he finished fourth in 12:37 and 35 seconds off the pace of Marshall.
“His classic race was probably his best all season,” Green said of Mehrhof. “In the skate race he was targeted and there are some good skiers in our section that really were aiming for him, and thus it made it a little more difficult for him to hold on to the narrow lead that he did have. But he felt good about it and I think we are getting to the right place for where want to be going into the state meet.”
Nelson recovered from a 14th-place finish in the classic race with a seventh-place performance in the skate race to place ninth in the pursuit race in 34:23.
“Anna had an all around solid day,” said Green. “Her first race probably wasn’t what she was looking for and was a bit of a struggle, but she held on tight and gave herself a good chance in the skate race, which is her strength and she really put forth the solid effort that we know she was capable of and put herself in the state meet where she has aimed her goals and training and really deserves to be. She was in a bit of awe and disbelief that it happened at first, but she has be really happy since.”
Anoka is also sending a girl and boy to the individual state meet. Chris Hecker and Kayla Billett will be representing Anoka in the state individual meet. Hecker, a junior, followed up a 16th-place finish in the classic race with a ninth-place finish in the skate race to secure a spot in the top 10 individuals and a spot at state by four seconds. He skied to a pursuit time of 28:41. Billett, a junior, skied to consistent classic and skate races to place 10th in the pursuit in 34:36.
Spring Lake Park senior Chris Lawson recorded an 18th-place finish in the pursuit, keyed by a consistent race in each discipline. He finished 19th in the classic race and 18th in the skate race. Sophomore teammate Jake Ajax finished 21st in the pursuit, 21 seconds behind Lawson. On the girls’ side Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony senior Erin Mathews skied to a 24th-place finish in the pursuit in 36:12 to lead the Panthers.
Blaine sophomore Oliver Houghtling led the team with a 72nd-place finish in 40:12, while sophomore Danielle Peterson skied to a 68th-place finish in the pursuit of 49:36 to lead the Bengals on the girls’ team.