Brainerd’s boys team finished 10th in Section 5 last season and qualified Thor Linnerooth for the state meet.
Linnerooth and Taylor Finger have graduated from the section team, leaving a young crew that will build for the future.
“We’re definitely in a rebuilding program with our guys,” Warriors coach Jim Ruttger said. “We have no seniors or juniors on the roster this year. We do have good numbers, but all the kids coming in are at the seventh- and eighth-grade level. We’ve seen this gap coming because our Alpine Racing Club numbers were way down.
“Last year, we doubled the numbers in our Alpine club. We’re getting the benefit of some of those kids coming up this year. As of this week, we have nearly 80 kids signed up for Alpine Club. That is well over twice the number of kids that participated in that program two years ago.”
Ruttger said changes in the Alpine Club and in the junior high program should continue to bolster the program.
“The last couple of years they’ve done an amazing job recruiting kids, building numbers,” he said. “They’ve provided not only exposure to our program, but they’re giving kids an opportunity to train alongside us Mondays and Fridays. That means another tier of that group signs up for a little more of an intense program, getting some extra training time.”
Ruttger believes the boys team has a solid core of returning skiers, with four back from the section team, including captains Ben Thole and Gabe Gibson, Garett Lee and Grant Madison.
“We’re looking for someone who will bust out as a leader for the team, someone that has matured as a skier,” he said. “We had a lot of consistency issues last year where they would have difficulty putting two solid runs together. We would see some great runs, but it was rare to see them finish the two complete runs we need to score points.
“As they get older, and get more gate time, we definitely will have some kids who will do well. It will be a challenge to see if we can get some of these guys on the podium this year.”
The Warriors, who began dryland training Nov. 15, have been on snow at Mt. Ski Gull since Dec. 1, the earliest the team has ever begun training on snow.
“We have to give some accolades to Dale Bosch (executive director at MSG). He’s done an outstanding job getting the hill prepped for us earlier than ever,” Ruttger said. “So many times we would go to our first meet having not had a practice on snow.”
■ Warriors roster
Sophomores: Gabriel Gibson, Calvin Johnson, Ben Thoele
Freshman: Garett Lee
Eighth grade: Grant Anderson, Grant Kosobud, Marichalar Connor, Grant Madison, Logan Waidelich
Seventh grade: Tristan Elsenpeter, Nick Krantz, Andrew Wasniewski, Zach Strong
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.