What the Brainerd Warriors Nordic skiing team lacks in numbers it could make up for in talent.
Brainerd's title of top returner belongs to sophomore Zean Baker, who qualified for his first state meet last season.
Baker placed 99th last season as he skied to a 17:14 in the freestyle at Giants Ridge in Biwabik and followed with a 16:55 classic time for a 34:08.4 total pursuit.
The then-freshman finished with a fifth-place 33:32 pursuit time in the Section 8 meet to advance to state. He was ninth in classic (18:07) and fifth in freestyle (15:25).
"Zean is obviously our top skier," said co-head coach Chris Hanson. "He's a very dedicated individual, who trains during the offseason and had a nice cross country running season."
Fellow head coach Mary Claire Ryan called Baker's freshman year a leaning experience and said she expects bigger things from him this year.
"He worked so hard last year and made it to state," said Ryan. "He trains hard. He works hard and loves the to ski. I anticipate him getting back and doing much better this season. The good thing about him is that he's strong in both disciplines. You need to be in order to make it through sections to get to state."
Also back from the Warriors' section team is junior Riley Nelsen, who raced to an 18th-place 36:00 pursuit. He was 20th in the classic (19:25) and 16th in freestyle.
Adding to Nelsen's responsibilities will be the captain's title. He is also one of the few upperclassmen on the team, despite just being a junior.
"Riley skied with us in junior high for two years and then came back out as a sophomore and advanced by leaps and bounds," said Ryan. "I think he has a good shot at getting to state. He's an athlete that you never have to worry about lacking drive."
Ty Hadrits did one better than Nelsen at sections with a 17th-place 35:52 pursuit. He was 18th in classic and 17th in freestyle.
Tim Nelson competed in the Central Lakes Conference meet, where he placed 17th in the classic portion at 17:24. Brainerd was third in the CLC.
Nelson is coming off a foot injury that kept him out of the fall cross country season.
Rounding out the roster are newcomers Dakota Swenson and Gerrit Garberich. Swenson is a junior and Garberich a sophomore.
"We are delighted to have Dakota as a junior," said Ryan. "He is a recreational skier. He's a strong, fit, young man. We've had a couple of days on marginal snow and now that the conditions have improved we're hoping to polish that technique so he can do very well for us.
"Gerrit was a cross country runner and this is his first year out."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.