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Lakeland Nordic ski team one of the best all season

April 17, 2020 by Brett LaBore

It doesn’t get better than this. Conference champions, state supremacy and qualifying for Junior Nationals. The Lakeland Nordic ski team had a season for the ages.

“I think it went really, really well,” coach Erich Kern said. “I guess as good as expected and maybe even better with how well both our teams did.”

Home meet

The season started off Dec. 17, 2019, at Minocqua Winter Park, a meet hosted by the Thunderbirds. Both the boys and girls won the meet in dominant fashion.

The boys were led by Jakob Craig, who skied a time of 12:04.2, and Casey Van Hefty with a time of 12:04.4. Jake Van Hefty, Forrest Dorsey and Brock Metzger all finished in the top six.

These five were the Thunderbirds’ top five guys for most of the season.

Mia Case finished first with a time of 13:15.6, followed by Johanna Craig with a time of 13:36.7. Kiera Rotar, Sylvia Meza and Grace Kern all finished in the top seven.

Like the boys, the girls had a similar top five all season, with these girls consistently topping the races and meets as a team.

“Johanna and Mia were both really strong individual skiers,” coach Kern said. “Sylvia, Kiera and Grace — they train together, ski together. They know what they need to do to keep it going.”

With Minocqua Winter Park right in Lakeland’s backyard, it was a fun and successful way to start the season.

Taking it to conference

Another big accomplishment came at the conference meet Jan. 28 in Hayward. The boys and girls both won the conference championship.

The boys finished first with a total of seven points. They had four skiers in the top six and all five in the top 13. 

Jakob Craig came in first with a time of 19:14.1. The Van Hefty brothers were next. Jake Van Hefty finished second with a time of 19:58.6 and Casey Van Hefty fourth with a time of 20:16.1.

Dorsey came in sixth, skiing a time of 20:45.2. Metzger crossed the finish line with a time of 22:51.7, good for 13th place. 

The girls finished first with a total of six team points. They had five skiers in the top seven, including the first four.

Johanna Craig finished first with a time of 21:07.1. Case finished in second with a time of 22:07.8. Next, Meza finished third with a time of 23:17.7 followed by Rotar skiing a time of 23:26.8 for fourth place.

Grace Kern took seventh place with a time of 23:56.3.

State champs

Winning conference was a great accomplishment, but these Thunderbirds set out to do even more this season, and that included a state Nordic ski championship for the girls on Feb. 9.

This was the first state title for the girls’ team since 2013. The Thunderbirds won with a total of nine points. Blackhawk came in second with 28 points. 

“I was very pleased. I knew we had a very strong team, was close the last two years,” coach Kern said. “Prior year, the spring of 2019 we were two points off the championship, two years ago we were three points off and this year they deserved it.”

Johanna Craig came in first overall with a combined time of 38:02.4 over the weekend. She wasn’t the only T-Bird in the top three. Case finished third with a combined time of 39:53.4. 

Meza came in fifth place overall with a time of 42:00.6. Rotar finished in ninth overall with a time of 42:52.9 and Grace Kern 11th with a time of 43:04.9 from the weekend.

The boys didn’t win state, but they sure made a run at it, finishing second place with 16 points as a team. Ashwaubenon Nordic ski won with 14 points. 

Jakob Craig took third place with a combined time of 33:24.5. Dorsey finished seventh with a time of 34:55.9 and Casey Van Hefty eighth with a time of 34:56.4.

“Jakob, for a sophomore to be knocking on the door of a State champ was great,” coach Kern said.

Jake Van Hefty finished 13th and Metzger finished 35th.

“They really showed good performances,” coach Kern said. “Casey, Jake, Forrest, Jakob skied more impressively than they anticipated, more close than I thought it would be.”

Finishing with style

The cherry on top was the qualification for many to the Junior Nationals. 

Johanna Craig, Case, Meza, Jakob Craig, Dorsey, Jake Van Hefty and Casey Van Hefty all qualified for the Junior Nationals in Truckee, Calif. 

“It’s amazing for us to have seven individuals qualify for Nationals, by far the most in the Midwest, Great Lakes area,” coach Kern said.

Johanna Craig took part in the U20s. Jakob Craig, Case, Jake Van Hefty and Dorsey participated in the U18s. Meza and Casey Van Hefty qualified for U16s. The races took place March 9-14. Johanna Craig walked away with a podium finish and medal in the classic individual start with a time of 15:18.3.

Grace Kern qualified for the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) U16 Eastern Nationals in Vermont on March 6-8. 

Rotar qualified for NENSA U18 Championships in New York 13-15, but unfortunately did not compete due to cancellation because of COVID-19.

All in all, this season will be remembered for years and years and will be a memory these Thunderbirds will never forget. 

Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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