Riley Nelsen and Zean Baker have been there before.
Not like this, though.
The two Brainerd Warriors will return to the state Nordic ski meet Thursday at Giants Ridge Resort in Biwabik. This time they’re bringing friends.
For the first time since 2005 the Warrior boys team will compete in the state meet. And, to get there, Brainerd coaches have had to be imaginative with their practice schedule.
“We’ve skied one or two loops at the arboretum,” said Brainerd co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan. “We’ve been on Perch Lake, at Ski Gull, we skied on roller skis (Monday) and we’ll be back on Perch Lake again. It’s getting pretty hard to ski on it any more.”
Helping the team prepare will be Nelsen and Baker, who have knowledge of the course. Last year, Nelson skied to a 62nd-place time of 32:40.2. Baker skied a 53rd-place time of 32:24.0 to improve on his first state trip. He placed 99th his freshman season.
“This year I think state meet experience is more beneficial because we didn’t get to ski on the state course like we normally do during the Mesabi East Invite,” said Ryan. “Only one section race was held there this season. So knowing the course well will be to their advantage.”
Nelsen was second in the Section 8 meet behind winner Jake Richards of Detroit Lakes. Baker was third.
“Riley is having a great season and is peaking at the right time” said Ryan. “It was important for him to get back to state, but it was more important for him to help the team get there, too. I think we’re going to see some good things from Riley.
“The same for Zean. His first year he got his feet wet. Last year, he had an outstanding skate race, but during the classic race he just didn’t have it. He came in well behind what I thought he would. It was just one of those days. He has a better finish in sight this year.”
Gerrit Garberich was 10th and Noah Baker 11th at the section meet. Both will be making their first state appearance along with Matthew McDonald, Connor Gunsbury and Benjamin Hanson.
That group hopes to unseat returning state champions Duluth East. Also back from last year’s state tournament are Roseville and Eagan.
Little Falls’ Preston Zimny finished 48th in last year’s state meet at 32:17.0. That was an improvement from 103rd his sophomore season.
“Preston has wanted to beat his good friend Rickey Devine’s state record from last year when he placed 20th with a 31:15.0,” said Flyers head coach Terry Wasland. “That’s been his goal. He hasn’t had quite the season he would have liked.
“Preston is the type of skier who needs a lot of time on snow because of his tall, lanky physique. But Preston is motivated and wants to go and improve on his place from last year. That’s his goal right now, to try and improve.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.