by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Their best skier battled was hit by the flu at the worst possible time and narrowly missed a state berth Thursday.
But three other Elk River-Rogers-Zimmerman boys qualified for state as the team placed second in a strong Section 2 field at Theo Wirth Park in Robbinsdale.
Elk junior Joey Martin placed fifth, senior Nate Webster sixth and junior Breck Hickman 10th, while team MVP Jake Schroeder labored to 16th place, with the top 15 advancing.
“It was a shame for Jake,” said coach Kirsten Anderson, “but our other guys raced fantastically well.”
So well that the No. 4 ranked Elks lost to the the state’s top-ranked team, Eden Prairie, by just a 390 to 367 margin.
“If Jake had been healthy, we probably would have had about 10 or 12 more points,” said assistant Bill Martell, “although Eden Prairie still would have won.”
Eden Prairie had the individual champion in senior Tom Bye, and four of the top seven.
Schroeder, who had a great January, placing 10th at the Mesabi Invitational that’s a good predictor for the state meet, and leading the Elks to the conference title placing second, came down with flu on the day that state berths are decided.
“If it had been a regular meet, we would have pulled him out in a second,” said John Kallemeyn, assistant coach. “But to go on, you’ve got to race here.”
Webster, normally No. 2 behind Schroeder, reflected: “He is the best skier on our team, and to get sick right at sections, is really, really sad. Terribly unlucky for him.”
Schroeder still almost made it. He was 15th after the classic and needed to hold on to that spot to advance.
“He moved up one, but got tripped late in the race,” said Martell, “and he was too weak to came back from that. But he gave it everything he had.”
So did his teammates, three of whom qualified for state for the first time, and got the Elks back to state after a one-year absence. The big dance will be held at Mesabi on Thursday, Feb. 14.
Webster said coaches extolled them to stay cool even though the team knew it had its best chance in years to challenge for a title and get multiple advancements.
“Coach Martell likes to say: ‘Quiet confidence — don’t get so rattled, act like it’s just another race at Woodland and you’ll do fine.’ ”
Added Hickman: “I was just kind of relaxed, and came here thinking, I’ve put in all the training, and it’s been a good season, so, whatever happens, happens. The same mentality as always. And, I have improved a lot since last year.”
Webster led the Elks and held fifth after the classic race. Martin passed him late in the skate race.
“I stayed behind him for half of it (the skate race), then went ahead,” said Martin. “Usually he beats me. He’s been skiing longer than I have.”
Webster said he was fine with that. “I’m still going to state,” he said.
Racing on a relatively warm day (30 degrees) with some slippery surfaces, Martin said he had a smooth race, no mishaps.
“Some people were having trouble with their kick on uphills but I never slipped much. That’s what helped me as much as anything.”
The Elks also had Ryan Trapp in 27th place, Dan Janasz 42nd and Matt Vrchota 47th.
The Theo Wirth course has a killer of a hill just before the finish. Asked what it’s like scale such a steep obstacle when fatigued, Webster grinned, “You try to survive. You jutst try to get over the top.”
He added: “It’s a pretty big hill. But the state course (at Mesabi) has three hills like that!”
That’s a problem the three Elk qualifiers are happy to have.
1. Eden Prairie 390
2. Elk River 367
3. Orono 337
4. Wayzata 326
5. Mound-Westonka 314
6. Minnetonka 302
7. Maple Grove 292
8. Willmar 217
9. Chaska 212
10. Holy Family Catholic 159
11. Rogers 147
12. Chahassen 138
(Listed with classic, skate and pursuit times)
Tom Bye, Eden Prairie, 15:59-12:58—28:58
How Elks fared
(5) Joey Martin 17:00-13:25—30:25
(6) Nate Webster 16:57-13:36—30:33
(10) Breck Hickman 17:16-13:42—30:58
(16) Jake Schroeder 17:42-14:12—31:54
(27) Ryan Trapp 18:24-14:48—33:12
(42) Dan Janasz 20:33-15:24—35:57
(47) Matt Vrchota 21:14-16:04—37:18