by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
With 10 kids making all-conference, and the boys team placing third, the Elk River Nordiic Ski team felt they made a pretty good haul on Wednesday at the Northwest Suburba meet.
“We had six boys and four girls make all-conference, which is a huge improvement,” said coach Kirsten Anderson after the races at Elm Creek Park Preserve. “We’re really ecstatic about that, and happy with where we are heading. The boys look strong for the sectional. We’re are competing against a lot of the top teams (in the state) here (at conference).”
Jake Schroeder in eighth place was top finisher for the Elk boys, who had four of the top 15. Reece Hickman in 17th place led the Elk girls, who placed sixth among 10 teams.
The top 30 runners, among 90 entrants, make all-conference. Last year, the Elks had six (four boys, two girls). Of the 10 who made all-conference this year, only Max Riebel was a repeater, so the Elks “new blood” was showing Wednesday.
Andover and Armstrong had the top two teams in both competitions with the Andover boys and Armstrong girls snagging championships.
Ander Evenson of Osseo was boys champion with Calvin Mehrhof of Coon Rapids second. Maddie McKeefry of Andover was girls champion in a close race with Osseo’s Kaley Shagren.
Schroeder, a 6-foot-2, 150-pound junior, is leading the Elks in just his second year of Nordic Ski. He was not in the top 30 last year.
He had a shaky start placing 12th in the skate race – “I’m usually around fifth in the skate” – but he moved up several places with a strong classiic race.
“Overall our team had a real good day, and actually we have a chance to get to state,” said Schroeder. “I would really like to see our team go, but if that doesn’t happen, I hope to get there (individually), which would be pretty good, in only my second year.”
Ånderson praised Schroeder for his rapid development.
“He is a natural skier and he has the technique, the drive and the focus,” she said.
Behind Schroeder’s eighth-place finish, Elk junior Nate Webster narrowly beat sophomore Breck Hickman to the finish line as they placed 10th and 11th, respectively. Riebel a senior, took 15th (up from 28th last year). Sophomore Joey Martin was 20th and junior Ryan Trapp 27th.
“I had a good classic racing, gaining from 17th place to 10th,” said Webster.
He left it all on the course: “At the finish, I was ready to fall over. I was exhausted.”
With the temperature in the high 30’s, the meet had to be moved from its usual spot, Baker National in Medina, to Elm Creek, because the latter can make snow.
“It was a little warm and sweaty today, but lots of fun,” said Webster. “Last year it was 12 degrees at Baker … Low- to mid-20’s is ideal.”
Reece Hickman, a freshman who has two brothers on the team, has been Nordic skiing for three years so she is a young veteran leader.
“It was so much fun today,” she said. “I had a good race but my classic was not as strong as it usually is.”
Other Elk all-conference girls were junior Anna Haugen in 21st place, junior Mary Elmquist in 24th and sophomore Mallory Adams in 27th. The Elks other two counting scores were senior Laura Crepeau in 35th place and freshman Shannon White in 53rd.
The course has a winding, uphill path for about 40 yards just before the finishing stretch, a real gut-check part of the course. Several girls were seen falling.
“That’s hard. It hurts real bad,” said Hickman, “On my second lap, I’m thinking, I’m halfway there! But I did not have enough energy today.”
Haugen, still gasping about 10 minutes after she finished, was asked about that hill.
“It’s painful. But it helps that everyone is there cheering us on,” said Haugen. “I say to myself, OK, I guess I can go a little bit harder.”
Also a cross country runner like most of the skiiers, she added, “It’s much easier to run up a hill like this than ski up.”
But as hills go, this one was relatively mild.
“The hill we’ll have at sectionals, at Theodore Wirth, is much bigger and longer,” she said.
With the warm temps, extra waxing was necessary, something the parents help with, the evening before. The moms and dads had to make sure there was enough cake on the ski’s to help them bit in the sticky surface.
“There is huge parental involvement in this sport,” said Anderson. “We couldn’t do anything without their help and support.”
This season has been “kind of weird,” said Webster, due to the lack of snow. The Elks have spent a lot of time on Elm Creek’s man-made snow.
“We are normally out a lot of different places, but we’ve been here all year on this 2.5 K sloop. So it’s different but we’re still having a great season.”
Next is Section 2 at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis on Thursday, Feb. 9. Elk River and Rogers, paired throughout the regular season, will have separate teams.
Boys team scoring
1. Andover 1060
2. Armstrong 1029
3. Elk River 1011
4. Osse 976.5
5. Coon Rapids 908.5
6. Anoka 641
7. Maple Grove 638.5
8. Champlin Park 633
9. Park Center 495.5
10. Blaine 144
Anders Evenson, Osseo, 27:17
Elk boys placements
8. Jake Schroeder*
10, Nate Webster*
11. Breck Hickman*
15. Max Riebel*
20. Joey Martin*
27. Ryan Trapp*
Girls team scoring
1. Armstrong 1093
2. Andover 1057.5
3. Coon Rapids 927
4. Osseo 870.5
5. Anoka 848
6. Elk River 836
7. Maple Grove 657.5
8. Park Center 499
9. Champlin Park 467.5
10. Blaine 199
Maddie McKeefry, Andover, 32:22
Elk girls placements
17. Reece Hickman*
21. Anna Haugen*
24. Mary Elmquist*
27. Mallory Adams*
35. Laura Crepeau
53. Shannon White