Casey Van Hefty starts his freestyle race at the Nordic Ski League State Meet on Sunday, Feb. 9 at Birkie Trailhead in Cable. Casey Van Hefty finished in eighth place overall with a time of 34:56.4, helping the boys to take second place. (Brett LaBore/Lakeland Times)
Casey Van Hefty starts his freestyle race at the Nordic Ski League State Meet on Sunday, Feb. 9 at Birkie Trailhead in Cable. Casey Van Hefty finished in eighth place overall with a time of 34:56.4, helping the boys to take second place. (Brett LaBore/Lakeland Times)
On a weekend full of high expectations, fun and skiing, the Lakeland girls’ Nordic ski team took home the state title on Sunday afternoon.
The Lakeland girls won the state title with a total of nine points. Blackhawk finished as the runner-up with 28 points.
The Lakeland boys finished as the runner-up with 16 points. Ashwaubenon Nordic ski team won with 14 points.
“(I’m) just really proud of all the kids, both the boys and girls, everybody skied well,” coach Erich Kern said. “I’m very proud and excited for our program.”

Girls
This is the first team championship for the girls’ since 2013 when Delaney FitzPatrick won the individual title.
Johanna Craig finished as the winner for the girls with a combined time of 38:02.4 in the pursuit over the weekend. She skied a time of 20:07 in the classic on Saturday and 17:55.4 in the freestyle on Sunday, both good for first place.
“It’s really special, not only for her as an individual, but extra sweet as we had the champion and championship team,” coach Kern said. “It’s great.”
Coming in first place is something Johanna Craig has been striving for for awhile. 
“It’s kind of been a goal since my freshman year, just to continue to get better through my high school career and it was just a really great experience to have such a positive team and great coaching staff this year and to be able to race my full potential,” she said.
Johanna Craig’s teammates were one of the reasons she has skied so well this season.
“I think the team dynamics are awesome this year and everybody is super supportive and gives their all at every race and it’s just awesome to be surrounded by that energy,” she said. “My strategy is just to have fun and I know if I have fun then I’ll ski my fastest.”
Mia Case finished in third place overall with a combined time of 39:53.4. She finished in third in both the classic and freestyle. She skied a 21:45 in the classic and a 18:08.4 in the freestyle.
“She’s skied solid all year,” coach Kern said. “Finished really strong, third place both days, right there and a great contributor to the team and the club. Really happy for her.”
Sylvia Meza came in fifth place overall with a combined time of 42:00.6. She finished in fifth place in Saturday’s classic with a time of 22:40 and eighth in Sunday’s freestyle with a time of 19:19.7.
“Sylvia really performed well all weekend,” coach Kern said. “She had a fifth place finish on Saturday, just a really great performance by her.”
Coming in ninth place in the pursuit, Kiera Rotar finished with a combined time of 42:52.9. She finished seventh in the classic with a time of 23:01 and 13th in the freestyle with a time of 19:51.9.
“Kiera had a solid seventh place on the first day and a solid finish overall,” coach Kern said. 
Grace Kern rounded out Lakeland’s side with an 11th place finish and a combined time of 43:04.9. Her best finish came in Sunday’s freestyle, skiing a time of 19:27.9, good for ninth place. She finished 15th in the classic with a time of 23:37.0.
“Grace skied well, too, and had a really good skate day on Sunday, cracked the top 10,” coach Kern said. Boys
Coming into Sunday, the boys were down just two points.
“It was down to one or two skiers falling in a different place from other teams,” coach Kern said. “The boys skied incredibly well on Saturday.”
Jakob Craig finished in third place in the pursuit with a combined time of 33:24.5. He finished third in Saturday’s classic with a time of 18:15 and third in Sunday’s freestyle with a time of 15:09.5.
“Jakob was three seconds off the lead on Saturday, that’s incredible for him,” coach Kern said. “He was not expected to be up that far. He skied incredibly well to put himself up there.”
For Jakob Craig, this finish was a happy surprise and one he was excited about.
“It was really unexpected and I’m just really happy to do this alongside my teammates,” he said. “All these skiers are phenomenal and I was the young guy out there, so I didn’t really expect to be up there, but it was really fun to race alongside seniors.”
Forrest Dorsey came in seventh overall in the pursuit with a time of 34:55.9. He finished seventh in the classic with a time of 18:56 and 12th in the freestyle with a time of 15:59.9.
Right behind Dorsey, Casey Van Hefty finished eighth in the pursuit with a time of 34:56.4. He placed eighth in the classic with a time of 19:15 and ninth in the freestyle, skiing a time of 15:41.4.
Coming in 13th in the pursuit, Jake Van Hefty skied a time of 35:47.4 in the pursuit. He placed ninth in the classic with a time of 19:20 and 17th in the freestyle with a time of 16:27.4.
Brock Metzger finished 35th with a pursuit time of 39:03.3. He placed 34th in the classic with a time of 21:31 and 32nd in the freestyle with a time of 17:32.3.
“We were right there to take the championship — it just didn’t happen,” coach Kern said. “The boys skied their hearts out on Sunday.”

Sibling success
In addition to the team success, one of the fun parts of the state meet was seeing two siblings on the podium.
“It’s not something a lot of families get to share in this sport, but Johanna and I definitely since we grew up together doing it, we have always been our training partners and we’ve always just enjoyed skiing with each other,” Jakob Craig said. “It’s really cool for us to do it alongside each other. It’s really exciting to see Johanna excel, (it) being her last race.”

More to come
Up next, several Thunderbirds will participate in the Junior National Qualifiers Final in Houghton, Michigan on Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16.
Brett LaBore may be reached at brett@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.