Skiers welcome new snow
Ely teams fare well in high-caliber megameet at Giants Ridge
by Tom Coombe
Minnesota’s largest high school ski meet - which is also the biggest in North America - had a decidedly different look on Saturday.
A lack of measurable snow, at least at the time the Mesabi East Invitational was held at Giants Ridge, brought changes to a midseason spectacular that attracts nearly all of the state’s top prep skiers.
An adapted course on artificial snow made for easier viewing for parents and fans, and Ely’s Nordic Wolves “skied well in a very competitive field,” head coach Todd Hohenstein said this week.
The Ely boys were 19th out of 52 teams, while the girls were 25th among 49 teams.
One of the big highlights was a boys junior varsity finish of fourth overall - among better than 40 teams.
Ely competed among Minnesota’s elite at the event, which attracted 898 participants. It may also provide some momentum as the skiers move into the heart of the season - just as Mother Nature delivers additional snow.
“Overall it was a good showing by our team,” said Hohenstein. “We are looking forward to consistent skiing on our course at Hidden Valley. With the snowfall over the weekend and the little snow showers here and there, we should be good to go. However, this season has taught us not to count on anything snow related until it’s on the ground.”
The Mesabi East Invitational differs from most regular season events as skiers participate in only one style - rather than both classic and freestyle as is the norm once the postseason begins.
In the varsity boys freestyle, junior Dylan Durkin placed 35th place with a time of 11:44.8. Teammate Silas Solum was 42nd (12:00) and Tory Hughley wound up 67th (12:48.2) in a field of 135.
In classic skiing, Eli Olson paced the Wolves with a time of 13:42.6, taking 41st. Milo McClelland (14:18) took 65th and Brooks Brenny (15:33.4) was 101st.
The Wolves showed off some depth and some potential contributors at the varsity level yet this season, by their strong showing in the junior varsity event.
Oliver Hohenstein (third) and Aksel Skustad (sixth) were both in the top-10 in the classic event and teammate Caleb Larson took 28th. George Sponholz finished 14th among junior varsity boys.
“We were surprised to see our JV boys place as high as they did,” said Hohenstein.
“These younger guys will help build out our section team at the end of the season and it's great to see that they are competing at a high level with other teams from around the state.”
Senior Claire Blauch had the top finish among Ely’s varsity girls competitors. She was 31st in the classic in 15:29.2, with the Wolves’ Anna Dunn (43rd, 15:59.9) and Rena Johnston (80th, 17:21.1) part of the same race.
In the afternoon freestyle event, senior Ava Skustad led by placing 49th (13:48.2), followed by Anna Larson (88th, 15:05) and Elsa Ellerbroek (98th, 15:40.2).
The lack of snow so far this season - the Wolves haven’t been able to practice formally since mid-November - has made for some adjustments including how the Wolves prepared for the Mesabi East event.
“Some of the teams structure their training schedule to have a mid-season peak about this time of the year.,” said Hohenstein. “ With our lack of snow and on ski time, we just trained through the race, not taking any dedicated rest days going into the competition. I think it will benefit the athletes more later in the season.”
In junior varsity girls action, Aila Harding was the top individual finisher in 22nd (classic) with Ely’s June Nelson 27th in the same race. Molly Brophy notched a 24th-place finish in the JV girls freestyle event and Ella Littler was 66th.
Just two days earlier, the Wolves took part in the Cloquet Invitational, which was moved to Grand Avenue Nordic in Duluth to allow for the event to be held on artificial snow.
“The skiers are getting tired of the same venue,” said Hohenstein. “Part of the fun of the sport is the different terrain that each course offers. This was our first classic varsity race of the year. Classic skiing always has the added variable of kick wax and we decide on that the morning of the race. Skiers test their wax before the race making sure they have enough grip to be able to push off the snow, but yet not too much so that it slows their glide.”
While Duluth East dominated the meet and won both the girls and boys team titles with its superior depth, Ely had its solid moments and the Wolves were second in the boys standings and fourth among the girls.
Durkin (ninth, 10:36.1) and Solum (10th, 10:47.9) both had top-10 finishes in the varsity boys competition Others in the Ely lineup were:
15. Olson, 11:15.5;
16. McClelland, 11:22;
17. Oliver Hohenstein, 11:28.2;
35. Larson, 12:17.4;
41. Hughley, 12:42.2;
49. Leo Stalmer, 13:02.4.
• Blauch finished 18th in the varsity girls race at Duluth with a time of 13:05.6, with Skustad (26th, 13:30.3) and Dunn (33rd, 13:52.2) next in line.
Following were Johnston (39th, 14:38.7), Larson (40th, 14:43.9) and Ellerbroek (48th 15:34.8).
• The skiers are slated to take part in the Cook County Invitational on Jan. 16, with the Duluth Marshall Sprints to follow Jan. 20.
If snow conditions permit, the Wolves will host the Ely Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 27 at Hidden Valley.