Melissa Kempenich saved her best for last and her junior teammates made sure it was worth it.
Kempenich's 14th-place time of 38:55.6 earned her all-state honors and landed the Little Falls Flyers in a program best third place Friday in the state Nordic ski meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
The senior was the fastest Flyer freestyler with a 19:42 and the third fastest classic skier with a 19:14.1.
"We went over the course yesterday and that really helped me," said Kempenich. "I came in with a bad mindset because of what happened to me on the skate course last year. I had a fear of the course.
"I focused not just on getting up the hills, but getting up and over. That' s what I was mainly focused on and I think that's why I competed so well."
As a junior Kempenich placed 29th with a time of 38:22.7.
"It was awesome crossing that finish line knowing what you accomplished and knowing that you gave it your all," she said.
While Kempenich was the standout, Kayla Meyer was the surprise.
The junior, often the fourth skier on the third-ranked Flyers squad, catapulted to the second spot with her 19th-place time of 39:02.5. She shaved 33 places and 23.2 seconds off her time in last year's state meet to earn all-state this season.
"That was out of the blue," said Meyer. "I was really nervous going into the classic, but teammate Jackie Thelen was right behind me and she caught up to me and we went back and fourth. That really helped having a teammate there to push me. We came so far this season and to finish third was great."
Kempenich called Meyer's finish awesome. Especially considering the elements. A few girls suffered frostbite, Kempenich said her lungs hurt because of the below zero temperatures.
Frostbite struck Molly Binger right before her classic race. It didn't stop the junior from finishing 21st in 39:04.5, also good for all-state.
"I didn't exactly have a great first race, but I came back in the classic," said Binger. "Top three was our goal and we just missed second so I guess it felt good. Secretly we all wanted to win, but it was a good meet and it was a close meet. It was fun to do better than we have in the past."
Jackie Thelen wasn't as happy with her performance despite finishing better than last season. A fall during the classic race pushed her time to 39:51.3.
She still was happy with the team place.
"That was really exciting," said Thelen. "We're all really happy about that. It was just a really fun experience to get third."
Beth Hauer placed 52nd, Megan John was 100th and Erin Larson placed 113th for the Flyers.
Stillwater Area, which placed four girls in the top 15, including defending individual champion Jessie Diggins, won the event with 385 points. Burnsville placed second with 376 points and the Flyers finished with 356 points.
Last season Little Falls placed sixth with 323 points.
"It felt really good because we all worked great together," said Meyer. "We might have liked to do better but we came so far from last year. We did what we had to and had a great race."
Girls team scores - 1-Stillwater Area 385, 2-Burnsville 376, 3-Little Falls 356, 4-Minneapolis Southwest 349, 5-Duluth East 321, 6-Wayzata 314, 7-Lakeville South 268, 8-Robbinsdale Armstrong 263
Little Falls results - 14-Melissa Kempenich 38:55.6, 19-Kayla Meyer 39:02.5, 21-Molly Binger 39:09.0, 31-Jackie Thelen 39:51.3, 52-Beth Hauer 40:59.5, 100-Megan John 434:07.7, 113-Erin Larson 46:53.6
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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