State was worth the wait

Johnston, Ely boys both place fourth; Devine 12th in girls meet

by Tom Coombe
Maybe good things really do come to those who wait.
The Ely Nordic Wolves had to wait a bit, but the results at last week’s state ski meet made it all worth it.
After cold weather pushed the meet back a full day and timing issues led to delays the day of the event, the Wolves emerged by meeting - and even exceeding - their high hopes.
Junior Jasper Johnston finished fourth overall and the Ely boys finished fourth as a team, while the girls got an all-state performance from freshman Zoe Devine and a ninth-place team showing at the single-class state event, held Feb. 14 at Giants Ridge near Biwabik.
Johnston, now a three-time all-stater, moved up after taking 11th as a sophomore and met his season-long goal of reaching the top-five at state.
He moved up from fifth place after the morning classic race, passed a Sartell skier early in the pursuit and another further down the course, winding up fourth with a combined time of 29:02.1 over 10 kilometers.
“Jasper was solid,” said Ely Head Coach Paula Anderson. “He is just so consistent and he gets faster the more he races, faster as we go into the season. The harder the races, the better for him.”
Johnston, who also won the Section 7 individual title, headed a strong Ely contingent that bagged a fourth-place team finish in a field of 16.
Senior Nate Nettifee closed out his prep career with perhaps his best race, moving up in the afternoon to take 40th among 160 state-caliber skiers in 31:01.2.
Nettifee, senior Raif Olson (59th, 31:36.9) and sophomore Gabriel Pointer (64th, 31:46) followed Johnston and formed the rest of Ely’s point-scoring contingent.
“The boys’ goal was top-five (in the team standings) and they were fourth, and considering we lost two of our top point-scorers from last year we did really well,” said Anderson. “Nate came back 12 places in the second race, and Raif had a great first race even though it started bad, and Gabriel was right up there.”
The Wolves’ top-four all were in the top half of the field and two other Ely skiers made their state debuts, with sophomore Jon Hakala in 122nd place (33:55.4) and classmate Micah Larson eight spots back in 130th (34:24).
Ely’s seventh skier - senior Ethan Bremner - was scratched because of illness.
Henry Snider of Mounds Park Academy was the state individual champion and Forest Lake won the team title.
Among the girls, Devine climbed better than 50 places from her finish at state last year.
“How fun is that,” said Anderson. “She’s a year older, a tremendous competitor. She’s grown and has a lot more strength, a lot more technique and she obviously has a really big engine. After the first race we sat down and she and I were talking and I told her this day is a success already.”
Devine was 10th after the 5K freestyle, and though she fell back two spots in the pursuit she still wound up 12th in 35:04.7 and gained all-state acclaim.
Senior Brooke Pasmick jumped three spots after the first race and was 65th (37:53.2) while two ninth-graders were next as Cedar Ohlhauser finished 100th (39:09.8) and Phoebe Helms took 105th (39:28.7) with senior Kalyssa Eilrich (112th, 39:41.6) not far behind.
“Brooke had a great day,” said Anderson. “Phoebe was there for the first time and this was pretty overwhelming. She skied great but probably hadn’t been passed the whole year. The first year at state is a steep learning curve but Phoebe and Cedar did great. Cedar fell coming down the last hill but for the first time they handled it well. And Kalyssa had a solid performance.”
Junior Julia Schwinghamer (122nd, 40:16.4) and senior Ana Bercher (130th, 40:52) rounded out the Wolves’ lineup.
The girls’ state title went to Molly Moening, a sophomore from St. Paul Highland Park who moved up after finishing second in the freestyle.
St. Paul Highland Park also won the girls team championship.