DRESSER, Wis. — Two different approaches led to the same spot for the Stillwater girls’ and boys’ Nordic ski teams, who each placed second overall at Saturday’s Holiday Relays at Troll Hollow.
The Stillwater girls used a third-place finish in the classic race and a fourth-place finish in the freestyle event to place second behind runaway winner Wayzata in the overall standings. In the boys’ competition, however, the Ponies loaded up their four-person classic relay and were rewarded with a first-place finish in that race to go with a ninth-place showing from a more inexperienced freestyle squad that also left the Ponies as the fastest team in the combined standings.
Thanks largely to a more than four-minute victory in the girls’ results, Wayzata captured the Bill Simpson trophy — which is named after the 35-year Ponies coach — for the fastest combined time among all four races.
“It’s pretty clear why Wayzata is the No. 1-ranked team in the state,” Ponies co-coach Kris Hansen said. “They were very impressive, winning both the classic and the freestyle events.”
“The Holiday Relays is the early benchmark for our season,” Ponies co-coach Torry Kraftson added. “We got a chance to see how we stack up against a lot of the top teams in the metro area. We knew that every second would count as the boys ended up with the fastest combined relay team of the day by a slim three-second margin over Roseville.”
Stillwater placed three skiers from its top classic relay among the top 10 in the individual standings, led by Sean Bjork with the fourth fastest time of 7:47. Paul Larson (7:52) and Kellen Wessels (8:12) followed in sixth and 10th while Luke Richie was the final member of the relay completing the third leg in 8:39 to contribute to a winning time of 32:15, which was 16 seconds in front of Roseville (32:31).
“In accordance with our race strategy, Paul got off to a quick start and lead the first half of his leg,” Kraftson said. “He skied with confidence and power, finishing in close reach of the leaders. Kellen demonstrated a strong kick on the two long climbs as he gained up a couple positions. Luke has been focusing on his upper body strength and used powerful poling to keep us in close contention.
“Sean received the tag in third place, right behind long-time rival Lucas Mason from Roseville. Sean followed Lucas on the first lap of the anchor leg as they quickly overtook the leader. Sean passed Lucas at the end of the first lap and skied away from him to gain a great win and a needed 16-second advantage.”
The Ponies needed each second as the freestyle relay was missing Seth Cattanach and Shad Kraftson because of illness. Just 27 seconds separated Linder Wendt, Mike Gilleo, Sam Hanson and Davis Gray as they finished in 33:00, which was close enough to the Raiders to maintain their lead in the team overall standings.
“As some of the skate teams started to run out of depth, our third and fourth skiers made up significant ground,” Kraftson said. “Despite being our youngest skier, Sam skied with the strength and consistency of a veteran and Davis anchored with quick tempo and tenacity, pulling us to within 13 seconds of the Roseville skate team.
“We knew that every second would count as the boys ended up with the fastest combined relay team of the day by a slim three-second margin over Roseville.”
The Stillwater girls were also dealing with some illness, but balanced out the relays with positive results.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect for the relays,” Hansen said. “It’s really the first big head-to-head race of the season and we see lots of teams for the first time. We lost six or our 10 varsity skiers from last year, so skiing at this meet was a new experience for lots of our skiers. We’ve also had a lot of sickness going through the team this past week, so we were still finalizing our teams 90 minutes before the first race.”
Vessa Pearsall, who finished third in the individual standings at 9:06, led the Ponies to a third-place finish in the classic race with a time of 39:28. Haley Beech (9:45) and Cela Peterson (9:49) finished 12th and 14th while Sammi Potts (10:48) was the remaining skier to complete the relay 31st overall.
“Vessa had a great start in the classic race, quickly getting out ahead of the chaos of the mass start,” Hansen said. “I was really pleased with how the classic skiers handled the race and the course, especially considering we haven’t had good conditions for classic skiing yet this season. The skiers had to remember how to ski in tracks and then, a few minutes later, go racing up a hill with 30 other teams. It’s great to see our younger skiers, like Cela, stepping up to turn in a solid performance in a big race.”
Shelby Ahrendt finished seventh in 8:39 to help the Stillwater freestyle relay to a fourth-place finish in 36:43, which was just three seconds behind rival Roseville (36:40). Megan Weaver (10th, 8:49), Sofie Wicklund (17th, 9:35) and Siri Brochman (20th, 9:40) also contributed to the relay effort with solid races.
“Megan got our freestyle team off to a good start, scrambling to the front to get away from the pack.” Hansen said. “It was a very short race, but difficult. The course is essentially two big uphills and two big downhills. Megan really worked to shift into a higher tempo gear than she usually needs and did a good job holding her position on the climbs.
“Shelby had a great anchor leg, coming from a very distant fourth place to nearly overtaking the Roseville team for third. If the course had been 50 meters longer, Shelby would have closed the gap and then some. It’s tough to (finish behind the Raiders) when we were that close, but it was a great effort and I’m very satisfied with the day.”
Many members of the Stillwater boys’ and girls’ teams are spending four days this week training at Giants Ridge in Biwabik and will compete in a classical race at Lake Elmo Park Reserve on Jan. 2.
Girls classic (top 5)
1. Wayzata 37:23; 2. Andover 39:05; 3. Stillwater A (Pearsall, Peterson, Potts and Beech) 39:28; 4. Robbinsdale Armstrong 39.52; 5. Roseville 40:16; 12. Stillwater B (Diederichs, Wicklund, Nelson and Kalambokidis) 46:12. Individual results: 1. Niki Reker (Ros) 8:43; 3. Vessa Pearsall (St) 9:06; 12. Haley Beech (St) 9:45; 14. Cela Peterson (St) 9:49; 31. Sammi Potts (St) 10:48; 34. Anya Nelson (St) 10:56; 44. Clara Wicklund (St) 11:25; 46. Kristen Diederichs (St) 11:29; 61. Maria Kalambokidis (St) 12:22.
Girls freestyle (top 5)
1. Wayzata 34:02; 2. Irondale 34:42; 3. Roseville 36:40; 4. Stillwater A (Weaver, Wicklund, Brochman and Ahrendt) 36:43; 5. Wayzata 39:06. Individual results: 1. Mattie Watts (Ir) 7:47; 7. Shelby Ahrendt (St) 8:39; 10. Megan Weaver (St) 8:49; 17. Sofie Wicklund (St) 9:35; 20. Siri Brochman (St) 9:40.
Boys classic (top 5)
1. Stillwater A (Larson, Wessels, Richie and Bjork) 32:15; 2. Roseville 32:31; 3. St. Paul Central 35:11; 4. Minneapolis Southwest 35:14; 5. Robbinsdale Armstrong 35:28; 12. Stillwater B (Ross, Fronczak, Trumper, Nelson) 38:56. Individual results: 1. Jake Ajax (SLP/SA) 7:40; 4. Sean Bjork (St) 7:47; 6. Paul Larson (St) 7:52; 10. Kellen Wessels (St) 8:12; 22. Luke Richie (St) 8:39; 38. David Ross (St) 9:24; 43. Matt Trumper (St) 9:32; Stefan Nelson (St) 9:52; 72. Matt Fronczak (St) 10:08.
Boys freestyle (top 5)
1. Irondale 29:01; 2. Mounds View 29:43; 3. Mound Westonka 30:35; 4. Minnetonka 31:03; 5. Andover 31:30; 9. Stillwater A (Wendt, Gilleo, Hanson and Gray) 33:00. Individual results: 1. Steve Hokanson (MV) 6:37; 27. Davis Gray (St) 8:02; 33. Sam Hanson (St) 8:08; 39. Mike Gilleo (St) 8:21; 44. Linder Wendt (St) 8:29.