Michael Hadland was one of Eric Zard's best friends. They were alpine skiers together, dreaming of someday cracking into the Brainerd Warriors lineup.
Hadland died of a heart ailment during their freshman year but Zard never forgot his friend. Hadland's memory inspired Zard to push himself to be the best skier possible.
The motivated Zard skied to a seventh-place finish in Tuesday's Section 7 meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, qualifying for the state meet.
Teammate Scott Moen, who suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, also inspired Zard's pursuit of a state berth.
Eric Zard profile
Sport -- Alpine skiing
Year -- Senior
Age -- 17
Height -- 5-foot-11
Weight -- 160
Other sports -- Golf
Grade-point average -- 3.92
Memorable sports achievement -- Qualifying for alpine skiing state meet
School activities -- Key Club, class cabinet
Favorite subject -- Science
Hobbies -- Hunting, wakeboarding, fishing
Future plans -- Attend University of Minnesota, major in biology
Parents -- Clark and Kathy Zard
"Every year we've said something like, 'We've got to do this for Mike,'" Zard said. "It's still kind of sad to think about it. (Warriors coach) Jim (Ruttger) said something about it (Tuesday) and that Scott is injured. Jim didn't mention it to me but I heard him say something and I think he wanted me to hear it. He said, 'Let's do this one for Mike and for Scott.' It reminds you there's a lot bigger picture. Going out and having fun is the main thing."
Zard enjoyed himself Tuesday. He was sixth after his first run at 33.51 seconds and finished his second in 32.70 for a combined time of 1:06.21.
"I was the first racer down the hill," Zard said. "The course was in good shape. I felt like if I skied well I would have a good solid run and I did exactly that.
"On the second run I was the 17th skier down. The hill was a little icier. There were a couple more ruts so the course was not quite as good. I just wanted to ski a nice, clean run. I was conservative, yet I did go for it. I fell back, behind one of the racers who was in seventh before. I knew I just had to place in the top 10 to make it to state.
"My main goal was getting to state. I wanted to stand and get points for the team. I did that, and I was really happy."
Ruttger has been happy with the performance of Zard, who finished in the top three in four of the Warriors' nine meets this winter. Zard won the Brainerd Invitational last week.
"Eric is the kind of skier that when he approaches a course he goes all out every time," Ruttger said. "If it doesn't get him into trouble, he's on the podium. I think every race he skied clean this year, he was in the top three. It seemed like he was either in the top three or out of the running entirely because of a fall or an error in tactics.
"We knew if Eric would ski a clean two runs he was in. He's very fast. A lot of times we kind of suggested that maybe he hold back to make sure he finishes, but we knew he wouldn't do that. He goes for it on every run."
Zard is pinching himself that he has qualified for state, considering he missed his sophomore season with a blood disorder and part of his junior year after having his spleen removed.
"I knew I've gotten better the last couple years," he said. "Strength training has helped a lot. I noticed a big improvement with all the weights I've been lifting. Placing third or second in a meet I was kind of amazed. I didn't know I had that in me. I just kept doing what I was doing. I'm still overwhelmed."
Other notable efforts by Warriors:
Megan Whalen, girls hockey, had 2 goals and 2 assists vs. Sartell.
Christina Roberts, nordic skiing, won the girls' classic race in the conference meet.
Chris Endreson, nordic skiing, won the boys' classic race in the conference meet.
Chris Woodard, nordic skiing, won the boys' freestyle race in the conference meet.
Chris Nelson, floor hockey, had a hat trick vs. Dakota United.
Amy Kittelson, girls basketball, had 13 points and 12 rebounds vs. Apollo.
Tom Zelinske and Andy Pickar, wrestling, won all three of their matches at the Foley quadrangular.
Katie Perpich, gymnastics, won the uneven bars in the conference meet.
Kathleen Lorenz, gymnastics, won balance beam and floor exercise in the conference meet.
(Athlete of the week is honored by the Brainerd Sports Boosters Club.)
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