For the first time since 2004-05, the Brainerd Warriors won the Section 8 title last season and went on to a sixth-place finish at the state meet.
With six members of their state team returning, the Warriors appear to have a shot to repeat as section champions, or at least be contenders. Brainerd also is the defending Central Lakes Conference champion.
“We have a strong core group returning, after losing one big scorer in Riley (Nelsen),” Warriors co-head coach Chris Hanson said. “We’re still looking to be contenders, in my opinion, for the conference and section.
“Bemidji is always strong. St. Cloud Tech has a couple returning guys, plus they’re getting a world-class biathlete who didn’t ski with the high school team last year who’s skiing with them this year. With four (skiers) scoring, it makes Tech an immediate challenge for us.
“The kids are really working hard. They got a little taste of success last year, and I think they liked it. They are motivated to get back (to state).”
The returning Warrior delegation is led by senior captains Zean Baker and Gerrit Garberich.
Baker was the CLC classical champion last year. In pursuit, he finished third in the section and 63rd in his third trip to state.
“Zean has set high goals for this year, including returning to the state meet venue, and a higher finish,” Hanson said. “I don’t think he was completely satisfied with last year’s state result. He worked hard in the offseason to achieve that and I think that’s a very realistic goal.”
Garberich finished 99th in his first state meet.
“Gerrit’s been working incredibly hard,” Hanson said. “He’s doing multiple sports, triathlons, as well as cross country, He’s looking to be a state returner, too.
“He got kind of a late start. We didn’t pick him up until 10th grade. In a very short time, he’s made himself probably the No. 2 guy on our squad, leading with Zean.”
Sophomore Noah Baker placed 106th at the state meet.
“That was a fantastic result for a freshman,” Hanson said.
Connor Gunsbury was 115th at state and Ben Hanson 116th. Junior Sam Guida was an alternate for the state meet.
“Those three, we’re going to need them to help us in that fourth scoring spot,” Chris Hanson said.
Hanson said a few freshmen and eighth-graders could potentially be a factor by the end of the season.
“We’ve got some young ‘go get-em’ guys who have been skiing a relatively long time,” he said. “Some of our freshmen and eighth-graders could move into the varsity lineup.”
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.