Nordic sections: six skiers punch tickets to state

Six individual Nordic skiers will represent Section 5 at the state Nordic meet on Valentine’s Day.

Andover girls’ placed second to a powerful Roseville squad by 28 points and Coon Rapids’ boys placed fourth among the field of 12 teams to take part in the 10 kilometer pursuit (5k classic and 5k freestyle) race at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis Feb. 6.

Andover girls’ placed its four scorers among the top 18 places in what was a very strong section race.

“Between Roseville, Irondale, Osseo and Andover, there are quite a few outstanding and ranked skiers. Add to that a very challenging course and the top skiers really did emerge,” Andover coach Scott Clark said after Maddie McKeefry and Maria McQuillan qualified for state after placing fifth and 11th, respectively.

McQuillan tied Anoka’s Kayla Billet for 11th overall for the final state meet places.

“All three of those teams have been difficult to beat and finishing second was certainly a quality showing. Of course, it would have been exciting to finish first and take the entire team to state, but we will be happy with qualifying two excellent skiers,” Clark said.

Clark believes McKeefry will climb the standings at state, where she finished 11th as a sophomore last season, especially in the classic race when she has the chance to chase down some of the competition, he said.

Individually, Anoka senior Chris Hecker led area skiers with a third-place finish, 51 seconds behind champion Tyler Gilbert of Irondale.  Hecker finished fourth in each discipline, but his time was 35 seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher Bjorn Adelsman of Irondale.

Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony junior Jake Ajax placed sixth in the pursuit or 1:43 back from the winner or 67 seconds behind Hecker. Both qualified for state since the top 10 along with the winning team move on to the big race at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik Feb. 14.

Coon Rapids grouped it top three boys together which helped them place fourth in the team standings.

Cardinals coach Denny Green said when the group has been on, it has turned in some great times, like at sections. “We probably did surprise a few people when we had at least those three that close together but it was something we worked on a lot all season,” he said.

Unfortunately, seniors Steven Mueggenberg and Michael Coughlin placed 11th and 12th, respectively. Mueggenberg missed out on state by six seconds and Coughlin was 14 seconds back.

“It was difficult with Steven missing by that close, “Green said. “It was a goal of his all along to make it to state and he is someone that would represent well at state, it just happens to be a year where there were a lot of close skiers in our section”.

Green said the wait was the toughest part, not knowing if Mueggenberg was in or out of state.

Osseo finished one point behind for the team title and if it had won, Mueggenberg would have made it to state. Sophomore Ryan Heida gave the Cardinals a third skier among the top tier with a 14th- place finish, 2:43 behind the champion and just five seconds back of Coughlin.

Andover was paced by sophomore Ian Mead and junior Erik Larson, who placed 21st and 23rd, respectively, 17 seconds apart.

The Huskies were dealing with the flu bug with four of its six skiers. Two didn’t compete and two did not have strong days.

“Ian Mead had a fantastic day,” Clark said. “He has been improving all year and really put it together in the section meet.”

Blaine had two skiers compete – senior Ben Ziebol (68th) and sophomore Luke Setterholm (77th).

Besides McKeefry, McQuillan and Billet, Coon Rapids senior Anna Nelson (eighth) also qualified for state for the second time.

McKeefry finished 37 seconds behind fourth-place, Osseo senior Sarah Bezdicek, and 2:23 behind section champion Niki Reker of Roseville.

Nelson finished 14 seconds behind another Anna Nelson (Roseville senior) for seventh place and 3:10 back of the winner.

Nelson pulled out a sixth-place finish in the classic race but struggled with a 13th in the freestyle portion. Nelson hopes to improve on her 40th place at state last season.

Billet and McQuillan shared times of 38:15 or 3:47 behind the winner and three seconds back of 10th place.

McQuillan’s teammate Amanda Jensen was 48 seconds behind to place 13th and Nicole Heitzman was 18th to round out the Huskies strong scoring. First-year skier Jane Schmitz posted a 31st-place finish to close out a successful season.

Clark said Jensen had a strong skate race to narrowly miss qualifying. “The group of girls have been skiing together for a number of years and we’ve gotten very used to seeing them perform at a very high level,” he said.

Coon Rapids’ Kaitlyn Benson really moved up during the afternoon freestyle race to finish 16th. Katie Kiecker was 26th and Susan Porter was 28th to key the Cardinals best classic race of the season.

“A lot of that is because of the improvements in their techniques over the past couple weeks and they really skied, not just ran through it, like we were early in the season,” Green said.

Spring Lake Park was led by junior Melissa Marsh who placed 35th overall. Blaine senior Ally Anderson was 61st overall.