2/13/2018 7:30:00 AM Connect Four LUHS wins fourth straight state ski title
Azael Meze/Special to the Lakeland Times
Lakeland’s boys’ Nordic Ski team celebrates its fourth consecutive state championship on Sunday, Feb. 11. Pictured, front from left, are Jake Van Hefty and Cody Schneider; back, Kav FitzPatrick and Kieran Mullen.
Lakeland Union High School has established a dominance in the Wisconsin Nordic Ski League over the years.
The Thunderbirds entered the 2018 state meet Saturday and Sunday at Birkebeiner Trail looking to win their fourth consecutive state championship.
Having lost two of its primary skiers from last season and thanks to the competition in front of them, Lakeland wasn't sure it could defend.
On Sunday, the T-Birds came through in the clutch as Kieran Mullen won the individual overall state championship, helping lead Lakeland to a fourth state title in a row.
Kav FitzPatrick placed sixth, which was expected. The key was going to be if the T-Birds could find a third skier to score points and Cody Schneider delivered by placing 15th overall.
"It's huge. I can't overstate how Kav skied consistently in both races and Cody Schneider filled in the gap was vacated when Noah (Bodewes) moved," LUHS head coach Jim Mullen said. "For a third-year skier, he finished 15th overall. Cody worked very hard and he was the difference-maker. He's why we won the title today. Kav had a really solid performance, he showed what he was capable of and Kieran did the same thing, but Cody - that puts a lot of pressure on a third-year skier to be the dealbreaker - and he made it happen."
After the first day, Lakeland skied well, but winning the overall championship was still in doubt.
The T-Birds were able to come through by beating Ashwaubenon by six points.
"We skied well (Saturday). We knew that Jackson (Adler) and Kieran would have a dog fight at the front, which they did," coach Mullen said. "Kav moved up a couple places today and Cody held his own. One of the Ashwaubenon skiers fell back and think that's what was the difference."
In the classic, Kieran Mullen came in second, which was a disappointing finish for himself, considering he failed to repeat as champion in the even by just 0.1 seconds.
Yet he was able to bounce back on Sunday. Mullen took the overall state title, besting Jackson Adler of Ashwaubenon by two seconds after losing to him the previous day.
"I'm not surprised by that. He's been skiing really well," coach Mullen said. "He was a little different that he didn't win the classic. It's interval start, so you don't know where anyone else is in the field until you finish. We knew it was tight and you can't get much closer. Today, I knew he was coming out on fire and he's got a really good closing sprint. I knew if it came down to a sprint, I was putting my money on him and he pulled it off by four meters."
Girls nearly win it all
The girls nearly brought home a state championship of their own, placing second to Wausau Nordic United by just two points.
Johanna Craig won the classic race on Saturday, with Mia Case coming in second and Ashley Peterson placing eighth, but Lakeland still need a bit of help on Sunday.
"We needed the cards to fall a little bit better. Wausau has the one really good skier - Olivia (Dreger) - and she's a better skater than a classic skier," Mullen said. "Lauren (Lackman) was third overall and she was a better skater than classic skier. We knew it was going to be a definite challenge. It could have gone either way, but it just wasn't the way it fell. It's pretty unusual when you see two teams with three in the top 10. Most years, if you get three in the top 10, you're going to win."
Case finished second overall behind Dreger in her first varsity state meet, with a combined time of 40:37.8. Craig was sixth at 41:41.6 and Peterson was eighth at 43:26.9.
The only problem was Wausau earned the first, third and 10th place finishers to earn the girls' state championship.
"Johanna won (the classic). She skied her best race of the year, maybe the best race of her life," Mullen said. "She was very steady, very consistent. She had really good skis, was able to kick up all the hills, stayed in the track and Mia had a good race, finishing second. Ashley Peterson had a really solid race and was able to maintain that eighth position today."
Lakeland's middle school girls' team also won a state championship as Sylvia Meza finished third overall. Jakob Craig placed second overall and Casey Van Hefty was fifth for the middle school boys' team.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter@SabatoNick.