Savannah Stone’s final appearance in the state meet at Giants Ridge could end with her stepping onto the podium.
That would mean a top three finish for the Pequot Lakes High School senior, who skis for the Brainerd Warriors team. She has been to state four previous times, finishing sixth last year in 1:18.51, the program’s highest finish — girls or boys. She placed 64th in 2011, 17th in 2010 and 72nd in 2009.
Senior Megan Danelski of Hermantown returns to defend her state championship. She will be joined by Stone and six other top 10 finishers: senior Elizabeth Koprucki of East Ridge, runner-up; junior Erin Olejnik of Minnetonka, third; sophomore Madison Danelski of Hermantown, fifth; senior Mary Grace Arndt of Benilde-St. Margaret’s of St. Louis Park, who tied Stone for sixth; senior Madison Gartner of Minnetonka, eighth; and junior Hailey Bork of Blake, 10th.
“There’s a group of probably 5-6 girls where it could go any way,” Warriors coach Jim Ruttger said. “Every time they race against each other they can be a quarter- or a half-second apart. They’re just a real tight group. On any given day, and in the right conditions, Savannah could definitely find herself on the podium.”
Stone, who finished third in last week’s Section 7 race, won invitationals at Wild Mountain, Powder Ridge, and Mount Ski Gull. She also won the morning race in the Martin Luther King Invite at Giants Ridge. She was runner-up in the Hibbing Invite at Giants Ridge and in the Moose Mountain Invite at Lutsen.
“You don’t get to the position she’s in with the rankings without a lot of hard work,” Ruttger said. “It’s not only good skiing, but smart skiing, the ability to read a course, the ability to know where she can grab some speed and the ability to know where she is in relation to her competition. All of those things come into play with a lot of experience. We’ve got big expectations for her Wednesday.”
Stone believes she can hold her own against the state’s best.
“This season has been really great,” she said. “A lot of the same girls who have beaten me — we’re so close this year. It could be any one of us who could win this thing.
“I’m just going in really confident. It’s probably one of my last races of the season. I’m just going to put it all out there and see what happens. I’m hoping for a good result.”
Alex Stone, Savannah’s younger sister, will make her second state appearance. Last year, as a seventh-grader, she finished 55th in 1:27.72. She qualified for a return trip with a 17th-place finish in the section at 1:11.08.
“Alex is a competitor,” Ruttger said. “That comes into play whenever she shows up at the starting gate. We saw that at the section. After her first run she probably wasn’t in state-advancement position. She was (20th) after the first run, the second run she was 14th. She brings that attitude and spirit to the course. She could surprise some people.”
Alex, the Warriors’ second skier for much of the season, hopes to move up at state.
“I’m just going to try to do my best, try to get better than last year,” she said. “I don’t have any high expectations. There’s some pretty tough competition. I’m just trying to do my best, get two good runs in and hopefully get better every year.”
There will be a significant format change at state this week. Girls will ski two separate runs on different hills at Giants Ridge.
“In previous years, the girls were on the same hill for both runs,” Ruttger said. “One of the girls runs will be on Helsinki, which is typically where the guys run. The girls will be on that for their first run. That’s a hill that some of the smaller, lighter-weight skiers it doesn’t impact them as much. On flatter courses, smaller and lighter-weight skiers are not able to carry as much speed as bigger, stronger skiers. This evens the field.
“(Savannah and Alex) were up at Giants Ridge this weekend and skied both hills Saturday and Sunday. I think they feel they’re well-prepped for that hill.”
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.