Savannah Stone, the most decorated skier in the history of the Brainerd Warrior girls program, pursues her fifth state meet appearance this season.
The senior has been to state every year since eighth grade and is coming off a sixth-place finish, the highest in program history.
“She finished fourth in the section, and that was coming off about two and a half weeks with a high ankle sprain,” Warriors coach Jim Ruttger said. “She was not 100 percent at sections or state. If she can stay free of injuries all season, she’s potentially a top three finisher at state. Anyone you can say that about has state championship potential as well.”
Stone and her sister, Alex, who are Pequot Lakes High School students, head a team that returns six members from a fifth-place section finish.
Alex finished 19th in the section and went on to place 55th at state as a seventh-grader.
“Alex was our youngest-ever qualifier for state,” Ruttger said. “She’s consistent. Rarely ever do you see her fall at a meet or practice, the same with Savannah.
“Alex has gotten a little bit bigger and stronger. She’s going to do nothing but improve. It’s going to be fun to watch her as well.”
Supporting the Stones is a talented crew of girls. Hannah Moen, Pequot Lakes students Maddie Olson and Jaden Lindner, Emily Aga and Ashley Fitterer return from last season, as does senior co-captain Molly Aga. State qualifier Mara Williams is the only skier who graduated from the section team.
“Maddie Olson and Jaden Lindner were right on the bubble for our section team last year,” Ruttger said. “It’s going to be interesting how things fold out and see who has a breakout year out of this group. We’re going to need that depth to complement Savannah and get our points.
“What was really telling at the section was that half of our girls qualified (for state) as individuals. Normally if that happens, your team is going to state. With our section so deep and strong, even with three individuals qualifying, we were fifth. We’re looking to improve on that. We’ll need our younger skiers to step up.”
McKenzie Dondelinger is among the newcomers to the program.
“She’s a real solid skier,” Ruttger said. “She just came back from a camp in Colorado, along with a bunch of our other kids. It was the first time she’d ever run gates. It will be fun to see how she develops as we get into more practice sessions on the hill.
“We will also be looking for some solid contributions from seventh-graders Payge Fitterer and Grace McGuire, both of whom had great success in the Ski Gull Alpine Racing program.”
Ruttger said the schedule has been bolstered to provide the girls with more challenges. One of them is skiing two meets at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, annual site of the state meet. At state, the girls typically ski on Innsbruck and the boys on Helsinki.
“That will probably change this year,” Ruttger said. “The girls will likely run on Helsinki for their first run at state and have their second run on Innsbruck.
“Our schedule is taking advantage of two meets that will give our girls the opportunity to race on Helsinki prior to the state meet. It’s a more intimidating hill than Innsbruck where they have been skiing.”
■ Warriors roster
Seniors: Molly Aga, Maddison Olson, Savannah Stone
Juniors: Mackenzie Dondelinger, Jaden Lindner
Sophomores: Hannah Moen
Freshmen: Emily Aga, Ashley Fitterer
Eighth grade: Sydney Darkow, Alex Stone,
Seventh grade: Payge Fitterer, Grace McGuire, Rachel McKibbon.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.