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Nordic Skiing: Veteran savvy group leads Warrior girls

It's craziness as usual for the Brainerd Warrior girls Nordic ski team.

The hair-raising antics comes from trying to find a place to practice that has snow, but what's got co-head coach Mary Claire Ryan excited for the season to start is the detailed approach her girls are taking.

Ryan said her skiers are so focused on fine-tuning small details that the lack of snow hasn't been an issue.

"What I'm seeing, which is very exciting, is a lot of the girls worked hard over the summer," Ryan said. "Whether it was in another sport, roller skiing, Grace (Erholtz) had a specific program that she worked very hard.

"Obviously, her goal is to return back to state and she certainly put in the time and effort to hopefully reap that result. But the younger girls, we had an eighth-grader, a ninth-grader and several 10th-graders last year on our section team. We were a very young team and they're all back. They're saying things like 'Can we do one more climb up the hill?' That's not an easy climb so when skiers are asking if they can stay a little longer they are very determined."

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Nordic skiing

  • Co-head coaches: Chris Hanson, Mary Claire Ryan
  • 2017-18 girls finish: 3rd in CLC, 4th in Section 8
  • 2017-18 boys finish: Won CLC, 3rd Section 8
  • Returning state meet boys participants: Evan Storbakken, Maxim Osborne
  • Girls captains: Grace Erholtz, Gina Wasniewski
  • Boys captains: Storbakken, Osborne, Ben Renner
  • Assistant coaches: Eric Storbakken, Clint Baker, Chris Hunter, Tiffany Knapp, Laura Hanson, Kent Montgomery (volunteer assistant), Leah Rasmussen

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The goal is to get to state and Erholtz, a senior captain, missed making it three straight trips last season. She finished 118th as a freshman with a time of 40:20.0 and posted a 38:29.9 as a sophomore for 117th place.

"She has grown in a lot of ways," Ryan said. "She is more confident in her abilities. She went to a ski camp this summer, which puts you with different kids and different coaches telling you the same things, but in a different way. She has a lot of grit and determination.

"Part of that is she had an injury this fall and she just got her cast off Monday. We had been taping the pole to her wrist and hand. Now, she'll be in a brace so it will be advantageous."

Erholtz was named the team's most valuable skier last season as she led the Warriors at the Section 8 meet with an 11th-place 35:26. She was fourth in the freestyle portion of the Central Lakes Conference meet.

Junior Callie Knapp was right behind Erholtz with a 15th-place finish at sections in 36:01 and she was Brainerd's top classic skier at the CLC with a fifth-place finish.

"We had this big group of sophomores last year and we were wondering who would step up and she was one that did emerge," Ryan said of Knapp. "We were double polling around Whipple Lake (Monday, Dec. 3) and she did not stop the entire time. She has a great work ethic and is also very coachable."

Knapp was the team's Warrior Award winner and the team's most improved skier, but the rookie of the year award went to freshmen Liliana Schaeffer who was sixth in the CLC in freestyle and placed 20th in the section meet with a 37:07.

"She gained a lot of experience last year," Ryan said. "She didn't have a lot of skill in classic skiing, but has certainly improved."

Junior Gina Wasniewski is another team captain, who was 21st in last year's section meet at 37:13 and was sixth in the classic division of the CLC

"I think last year, she was maybe surprised at her success," Ryan said. "Now, she really believes in her skill. She has come in and worked very hard and is very enthusiastic so I'm looking for her to step up, too."

Emma Storbakken is the last of the returning section and conference skiers. The sophomore finished 31st in 39:14 at sections with a ninth-place finish in the classic at the CLC.

"She has a much more confident attitude this year," Ryan said. "She has excellent technique. She just needed to add more of the motor issue to it. She went out for cross-country running, which isn't her favorite thing to do, but she realized her conditioning was important.

"I'm seeing a lot more maturity with these girls. You can throw in Sarah Nesheim and Elle Juranek, who were alternates. Jenna Lee is in that mix and has definitely come on and improved. Abbygail Wohl-Kovatovich has been on our section teams before. There is great competition among the girls to push each other."

Brainerd's Nordic ski program has 124 boys and girls in grades 6-12. There are 53 in grades 9-12 and 71 in the younger programs.

"It's a good problem to have," Ryan said. "When I first started 15 years ago, we had a team of 40 in grades 6-12. That bodes well for our program and the direction we're headed."

Warrior girls roster

Seniors: Abbygail Wohl-Kovatovich, Grace Erholtz

Juniors: Becca Strangstalien, Callie Knapp, Elle Juranek, Gina Wasniewski, Jenna Lee, Sarah Nesheim, Emelia Hinrichs, Isabel Nelson, Sara Alcock

Sophomores: Emma Storbakken, Mari Devine, Allyson Goeden, Elena Dirks, Hanna Childs, Vita Wolfsberger

Freshmen: Liliana Schaefer, Abby Johnson, Abigail Dahl, Allison Rice, Bridgid Bonde, Emerson Holcomb-Smith, Haley Gould, Peyton Lillo

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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