Hard to believe, but we’re back at it again with the 39th running of the high school championship; but time flies and while change is in the air, some standard issues have to be dealt with, like seniors departing leaving coaches and teams with new dynamics.
Who’s been motivated to do the off season training? Who’s stepping up? Who’s skiing hot and peaking at just the right weekend? This should be as easy and solid as a verdict at an impeachment trial. Let’s dive in and get a head start on an exciting weekend as we polish up the old crystal ball and see what’s in store.
The girls will lead off on Saturday, Feb. 8 with classic technique and 15 second individual starts. Back once again at the state’s premier race venue — The American Birkebeiner Start, Cable — this edition will have a solid prediction of great terrain and grooming to bring out the best in the skiers.
Since it’s ladies first this year, we’ll put them under the magnifying glass to start. Two familiar names, back as seniors, are Johanna Craig, Lakeland, and Alice House, Blackhawk Nordic Ski Club. This pair have been battling back and forth all season with the top results, successfully busting into the college ranks at several of the Junior National Qualifiers — solid credentials.
A prime example would be the weekend of the Hodag Challenge, Rhinelander, the second largest field in the state with a two-day pursuit. Craig bested House by .45 in the individual start on Saturday. House comes back on Sunday and takes the win from Craig in the classic technique by five seconds and change. However, Craig takes the pursuit title by .7 of one second, over two days. A bit tight I’d say. Just to make things more interesting, Junior Mia Case is AWOL from Rhinelander due to illness. Will the seniors be able to handle the pummeling that comes from a season’s racing fatigue or will a recovering and peaking junior upset the apple cart? Time will tell, but right now I’m calling Craig, House, and Case in that order.
Team-wise, easier yet for the girls: Lakeland. At Rhinelander, with Case missing, Lakeland scored 15 points with Peak Nordic second at 21 and Blackhawk Nordic Ski Team at 22. Lakeland also has a solid sophomore in Kiera Rotar and some fresh persons in Sylvia Meza and Grace Kern who been steadily improving all season. So there you have it. Lakeland takes the team title with Peak and Blackhawk slugging it out for the other two spots. Good luck to all; some tough skiing ahead.
The boys’ individual title has a few more characters and some potential upsets. Right now Ashwaubenon Nordic Ski Team senior Ryan Thieme is in the driver’s seat. Nipping at his heals is Madison Nordic Ski Team senior Eli Gore. Rhinelander had Gore winning the classic Sunday race by 10 seconds with Thieme taking the weekend pursuit title by seven seconds. At the Gitchee Gami Games, Cable, Thieme wins the day between the two in late January. At the freestyle sprints the day before, neither advanced beyond the quarter finals. They are as evenly matched as a pair of fine dueling pistols, which maybe we should bring back into the political arena, just for fun.
Adding to the confusion are strong sophomores who could contend. Owen Williams, Iola; Noah Straka, Peak Nordic; and Jakob Craig, Lakeland, have been happily lining up next to each other all season, not only in the high school events, but also in the newly aligned Wisconsin/Michigan Great Lakes Division at the Junior Nationals Qualifying races. They all are race hardened and show no respect for their skiing elders. One of them will podium and maybe two.
So my call for the boys is Ryan Thieme, Eli Gore, and Owen Williams, and that may motivate Straka and Craig enough to just prove me wrong.
The Ashwaubenon boys look unstoppable for the team title with three solid skiers who collectively can out perform the contenders. Along with Thieme, they feature Dan Huhtala and Kevin Johnson, both potential top 10. To confirm that notion, at Rhinelander they had 14 points, with Peak at 25 and Lakeland at 28. Straka has Kaden Hacker and Nathan Grossklaus to support. Lakeland’s Craig will be joined by seniors Jake VanHefty and Forrest Dorsey along with freshman Casey VanHefty, able skiers all. That order’s still my call unless Lakeland catches fire and Peak falls asleep at the wheel.
Conditions look great, the well-oiled machinery of the Wisconsin Nordic Development Group is primed and ready for hosting action. New opportunities for spectating, bell ringing and yelling your lungs out will be available, as well as Live Stream being back where you can weirdly do all the above at home. The 39th should be a spectacular edition.