The question has been asked of them all season.
Now it's time for the Little Falls Flyers girls' Nordic skiing team to provide the answer.
The burning question: Is this team better than last year's squad that finished a program-best third at the state meet?
Other questions that will be answered Friday in the state meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik: Can Brainerd's Hannah McAllister improve on her all-state finish of a year ago and who is the area's top boys' skier?
This year's Little Falls squad lacks a power hitter like Melissa Kempenich but it enjoys more depth and state experience.
Brainerd's Amanda Finstad (left), Hannah McAllister and Pat Mangan waited for the rain to stop so they could practice for Friday's state Nordic skiing meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Lately, Little Falls has been led by 10th-ranked Jackie Thelen. Earlier in the year it was Beth Hauer. Molly Binger has hovered around second for most of the season and Kayla Meyer has been a consistent third or fourth scorer. That doesn't leave much room for Megan John or Manon Gammon-Deering, but those two have been vital to the team's success.
"Last year we knew the order of finish, this year it's jumped around a great deal and that is a nice problem to have," said Flyers coach Terry Wasland. "Jackie has stepped to the forefront to establish herself as maybe our top skier, but anything can happen.
"We don't have the highly ranked skier, but we have, I believe, a better team than anyone in the state meet. We'll see what prevails."
At the Section 8 meet last week, Thelen was second followed by Binger in fourth place, Hauer in sixth, Meyer in eighth, John in 10th, Gammon-Deering in 15th and Kassandra Almen in 42nd.
This will be the fourth state trip for Thelen, Binger and Meyer, the third for Hauer, the second for John and the first for Gammon-Deering and Almen.
State Nordic ski meet
When: 10 a.m. Friday
Where: Giants Ridge, Biwabik
Who: Brainerd's Hannah McAllister, Amanda Finstad and Pat Mangan, the Little Falls girls' team and the Flyers' Phil Prosapio and Luke LeBlanc
Wasland believes the team goal should be to match or improve on last year's finish. In that meet Meyer was 19th and Binger 21st for all-state honors. Thelen just missed all-state honors with a 31st-place finish while Hauer was 52nd.
Still, the Flyers are ranked fifth heading into Friday compared to third last season.
"We play on that," said Wasland. "It doesn't hurt our feelings at all. We are a stronger team and we know we could have one or two more girls that could fall into the top 25.
"We also know that it only counts at the end of the race."
When it's over, McAllister hopes the rankings are close, but not perfect. That's because the senior is ranked 14th, but Brainerd coach Nicole Kellerman has higher hopes for her three-time state skier.
"I know she wants to be in the top 25 and all-state again, but top 10 would be a big push," said Kellerman. "They're switching the courses so the classic course is going to be harder. She should be able to dominate the skate course. She did well at the Mesabi Invite on that course."
McAllister prepped for state with a fifth-place 37:45 at the section meet. Teammate Amanda Finstad finished 13th with a 40:05 to advance to her first state meet.
"I just want Amanda to do her best," said Kellerman. "This is her first time at state and it can be a bit overwhelming. I just want her to a have a good experience and create some expectations for next year."
The race for top boy
Brainerd's Pat Mangan and Little Falls' duo of Phil Prosapio and Luke LeBlanc are all unranked, seniors and state rookies.
They each get one shot to fulfill their state goal. Unfortunately, for Mangan, he'll also have to battle a cold along with the competition.
"This is a one-time shot for Pat," said Kellerman. "He'll give it his all. A top 50 would be a good finish for him because he's not feeling well and the training the last couple of days has been a little hard because the trails are pretty much mush."
Mangan placed 11th at the Section 8 meet with a pursuit time of 34:27. Prosapio was sixth in 33:47 and LeBlanc was eighth in 34:09.
"It's been four years since we've had a boy in the state meet," Wasland said. "The boys know I'm a fiery competitor and while I want them to go and have fun, they are there to compete. Both Phil and Luke will have the best races of their careers. They're both going there to do as well as they possibly can and beat some kids around the state who they haven't beaten yet."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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