RHINELANDER - For just the second time this season, Lakeland Union High School competed in a Nordic ski race, this time braving the bitter cold temperatures to take part in the Hodag Challenge at Rhinelander.
The Thunderbirds entered the two-day event with just one race under their belts, that coming back on Dec. 19.
Lakeland didn't appear to have any rust, however, as both the boys' and girls' teams cruised to easy wins. The boys' totaled 14 points, besting Peak Nordic by nine, while the girls' had 10 points, also defeating second place Peak Nordic by 11 points.
"I think everybody skied well. I think we had a few pleasant surprises," LUHS head coach Jim Mullen said. "Cody (Schneider) definitely stepped up, moving into the top 10 behind Kav (FitzPatrick). If we keep working with both of those guys and move them up a little bit further that's even better."
Freshman Mia Case continued the phenomenal start to her high school career, winning both the skate and the classic.
Case won the skate on Saturday with a time of 15:59, nearly 40 seconds faster than the rest of the field. She followed that up by winning the classic the next day with a time of 18:21, which was 30 seconds faster than Peak Nordic's Isabel Seay.
While Case has been turning heads, Mullen is not surprised by the performance of his young pupil, although Ashwaubenon's top skier Abigail Jarzin was not in attendance as the defending state champion and the Northern Michigan University commit was competing at the U.S. Nationals in Anchorage, Alaska.
"A couple of the strongest girls were not here. They were up in Alaska at the Nationals so I thought she could beat all of the people that were here," Mullen said. "The other couple that were gone, it's going to be tough to beat them, but if she does, that's great. Mia, as a freshman, is definitely showing that she wants to be at the top. She went out both days and competed intelligently, but hard. We're still trying to work on some technical things. I was pretty straightforward with them in the cold. If you try to come out and go fast, you probably won't, but if you try to be technically solid you'll go faster."
While Case finished first overall, sophomore Johanna Craig placed fourth with a combined time of 38:22. Ashley Peterson was right behind her in fifth at 39:04, while Riley Mauzer placed 13th and Celeste Teichmiller was 16th.
Lakeland also won both races on the boys' side as Kieran Mullen won the skate with a time of 13:43 and the classic in 16:21.
Mullen's combined time of 30:04 was more than a minute faster than David Ecker of Chippewa Falls.
"He's skiing well. We're working on some technical things in the skate and he worked harder in the skate race than the classic race," coach Mullen said. "That was kind of the plan, to race harder one day than both days this weekend. Today, we were focusing more on transitions. It was a tough day in the classic just because there was a dusting of new snow and very shallow track. He actually did a lot of his skiing out of the track today because it was better. When you're No. 1 and you go out and there's new snow, you're the one breaking in the new snow."
Kav FitzPatrick placed sixth overall with a total time of 32:34, while Cody Schneider was seventh at 33:05. Anthony Holmes finished 26th overall out of 45 skiers.
Jake VanHefty was held out of the skate due to an illness, but placed 26th in the classic at 19:03.
As the season begins to ramp up this month, Jim Mullen believes that his team is skiing well, but there is room for improvement.
"Our top three or four are skiing really well, we've got a bunch of people that are trying to close the gap behind them and hopefully we can bring them along a little bit more," Mullen said. "Carley Hintz was racing with the JV because she was unable to compete previously and she would have ended up 12th overall. It helps give us depth trying to push into the top 10. Kate Melms and Jackson Nomm did their first competition and I thought they did very well given the conditions. Everybody is definitely coming along compared to where they were technically a month ago."
Hintz won the girls' JV races by a combined two minutes.
Jakob Craig won the boys' middle school race, while Casey VanHefty placed second for Lakeland.
With a lack of snow in Wausau, the Snekkevik Race was canceled, and Lakeland opted to attend an invitational at Hayward on the Birkie trail on tomorrow and an invitational at Iola-Scandinavia on Sunday.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.