Johnston a repeat winner as Ely sends four to state
by Tom Coombe
Jasper Johnston continues to reign atop Section 7, while three of his Ely teammates have punched their own tickets to state.
Those were the key particulars Wednesday, when the section Nordic skiing meet was held at Giants Ridge.
Johnston, a three-time all-state honoree, repeated as Section 7 individual boys champion after winning both the classic and freestyle races on a mild, early-March afternoon.
Ely sophomore Zoe Devine was the top Timberwolves girls finishers, taking third in the section and earning another trip to state.
Two other Wolves will also move on as individuals, with junior Gabriel Pointer taking seventh overall in the boys competition and sophomore Phoebe Helms advancing after placing 11th among the girls.
Both Ely teams were a spot away from qualifying for the state meet as they came home Wednesday with respective third-place finishes.
Next up for the four state-qualifying individuals is a COVID-19 adjusted state meet.
Instead of competing on one day, the event will encompass two with the girls competing Thursday, Mar. 11 and the boys the following day at Giants Ridge.
The event is also nearly a month later than usual, with the season starting several weeks late because of the pandemic and the end of the season subsequently pushed back.
Pandemic aside, it was a typical performance by Johnston at sections
The senior, who has competed nationally and is bound for Michigan Tech next year to join its ski program, won the four-kilometer classic race with more than 25 seconds to spare and widened the gap in the 4K freestyle, taking first in a combined time of 20:38.20.
That was nearly a minute faster than runner-up Declan Hutchinson of Duluth Marshall.
Pointer also earned a return trip to state by taking seventh overall in 23:05.7. He was seventh in both the classic and freestyle.
The next-highest Ely boys finisher was junior Jon Hakala, who was 17th and just a couple slots away form advancing to state. His time was 24:38.
Next for the Wolves was Micah Larson (24th, 25:37.7).
The girls race was a much closer affair, with Devine winning the freestyle race but settling for third overall in 25:39.4, about 16 seconds behind winner Della Bettendorf of Proctor-Hermantown.
Helms moved up in the freestyle race, climbing from 15th to wind up 11th overall in 27:45.6 and winning a spot in the state event.
It was a near miss for Ely ninth-grader Ava Skustad, who was 19th overall and three spots away from advancing with a time of 29:01.7.
Senior Julia Schwinghamer closed out her prep career by taking 27th (30:09.5) with junior Gracie Pointer (29th, 30:12.2), sophomore Sydney Durkin (30th, 30:12.9) and ninth-grader Claire Blauch (48th, 31:54.8) next up.
In the boys team standings, it was a near-miss for the Wolves, who were just a point behind second-place Cloquet-Esko-Carlton with Duluth East scoring a convincing win
Duluth East and Grand Rapids were the top finishers in the girls meet with Ely 10 points out of second.
Nordic skiing has a single class and is not divided by school enrollment.