ST. PAUL — Less than four points separated the top three teams in the girls’ competition at Tuesday’s Suburban East Conference 5-kilometer freestyle race at Como Park Golf Course — and that list didn’t include highly regarded Forest Lake, which placed fourth.
Led by third-place individual finisher Vessa Pearsall, the fifth-ranked Ponies scored 435.5 points to narrowly outlast runner-up White Bear Lake (451.5) and third-place Roseville (450), which is ranked third in the state.
“We were planning on racing at Battle Creek this week and so were getting our heads around racing on a rolling, hilly course,” Ponies coach Kris Hansen said. “The venue got changed at the last minute and we found ourselves on a golf course again. The snow and the course were so flat and so fast, it was somewhat of an unusual race. All across the conference, the results were different than what we usually see. Still, a race is a race, and flat or hilly, we need to be able to do it all.
“It’s nice to see the results stack up so closely,” Hansen said. “Both conference championship and sections are going to be tough for us, and every single place will matter. Loading skiers up close together so no one can get between us is a good strategy.”
Forest Lake standout Rocci Wohlk (16:00) and Allison Ternes (16:39) of White Bear Lake were the only skiers to place in front of Pearsall, who crossed the line in 16:41 — 26 seconds ahead of the next finisher.
“Vessa had a really extraordinary race,” Hansen said. “She’s got a powerful V2 and managed to match her power with tempo. I think she surprised herself at how fast she skied. Rocci is currently ranked first in state and Allison Ternes is a very strong skier. It’s nice that Vessa could be so close to both of them. She’s worked hard all summer and fall, so it’s really fun to see her put together such a nice race.
Cela Peterson (17:55) and Megan Weaver (18:01) finished 10th and 11th for the Ponies while teammates Shelby Ahrendt (18:04) and Haley Beech (18:09) were not far behind in 13th and 14th place. Siri Brochman (19:22) and Morgan McBride (19:28) closed out the scoring for Stillwater in 19th and 20th.
“After Vessa, out next four skiers were clustered together within 15 seconds. The all skied very solid, but everyone looked a little squirrely at some point in the race. When the terrain changes so little, you start to wear down certain muscles from repetitive use. Strengthening those, so you can hold together the technique and the power comes with time.
Senior Sean Bjork tied Steve Hokanson of Mounds View for individual honors as they posted matching times of 14:11, but the Ponies totaled 427.5 points to finish third behind No. 2-ranked Forest Lake (462) and No. 5-ranked Roseville (456). Mounds View was also not far behind in fourth place with 421.5 points.
“Sean had a great race up front,” Ponies coach Torry Kraftson said. “He skied with Lucas Mason of Roseville and Steve Hokanson most of the race. He rides a flat ski nicely and took advantage of the gentle terrain.”
Kellen Wessels was Stillwater’s second finisher in 12th place with a time of 15:45 while Sam Hanson (16:41) and Shad Kraftson (16:47) placed 20th and 21st. Just 31 seconds separated the next six Ponies, led by Seth Cattanach (17:06) and Linder Wendt (17:11) in 23rd and 25th place.
“Kellen skied a solid race for us, just on the heels of the Forest Lake pack,” Kraftson said. “I think he’s capable of closing that gap as the season progresses. Our younger group had excellent racing. Sam (ninth grade), Shad (eighth), Seth (ninth), and Linder (10th) really stepped up their performances. They all skied with a high level of intensity. They show tremendous promise both for the remainder of this season and for years to come.
“Rookie Matt Fronczak is climbing through our ranks. We also had some great skiing from some of our younger skiers who tried the longer race this time, most notably Nolan Noer. He showed his fitness and passion (on Tuesday).”
The Ponies are scheduled to compete at Saturday’s Mesabi East Invite, which is the large prep race in the midwest. Stillwater spent a few days training at Giants Ridge over the holiday break and are looking forward to Saturday.
“We’re really looking forward to heading back up to Giants Ridge for the Giants Ridge Invite this weekend,” Hansen said. “Giants Ridge is our home away from home for skiing and the terrain is very familiar to us, so it will be fun to race. Pretty much every single high school team in the Midwest will be there, so we’ll have to share ‘our’ trails with about 1,400 athletes.”
Girls team standings
1. Stillwater 453.5; 2. White Bear Lake 451.5; 3. Roseville 450; 4. Forest Lake 430; 5. Mounds View 344; 6. East Ridge 322; 7. Hastings 314; 8. Woodbury 166; 9. Park 113.
1. Rocci Wohlk (FL) 16:00; 2. Allison Ternes (WBL) 16:39; 3. Vessa Pearsall (St) 16:41; 4. Anna Nelson (Ros) 17:07; 5. Hanna Torvi (Ros) 17:12.
3. Vessa Pearsall 16:41; 10. Cela Peterson 17:55; 11. Megan Weaver 18:01; 13. Shelby Ahrendt 18:04; 14. Haley Beech 18:09; 19. Siri Brochman 19:22; 20. Morgan McBride 19:28; 24. Emma Rettner 19:41; 29. Maria Kalambokidis 19:58; 30. Kristen Diederichs 20:02; Anya Nelson 20:06; 38. Rana Kraftson 20:39; 40. Hannah Beech 20:41; 55. Sammi Potts 21:55; 58. Paige Aschenbrener 22:13; 64. Christine Corcoran 22:50; 67. Sintra Nichols 23:24; 79. Carly Johnson 24:56.
Boys team standings
1. Forest Lake 462; 2. Roseville 456; 3. Stillwater 427.5; 4. Mounds View 421.5; 5. Hastings 343; 6. East Ridge 329; 7. White Bear Lake 315; 8. Woodbury 75.
1, tie, Sean Bjork (St) 14:11 and Steve Hokanson (MV) 14:11; 3. Lucas Mason (Ros) 14:23; 4. Wilson Pietruzewski (Ros) 14:37; 5. Leo Hipp (FL) 14:54.
1. Sean Bjork 14:11; 12. Kellen Wessels 15:45; 20. Sam Hanson 16:41; 21. Shad Kraftson 16:47; 23. Seth Cattanach 17:06; 25. Linder Wendt 17:11; 27. Luke Richie 17:16; 30. Ries Jones 17:20; 32. Davis Gray 17:35; 33. Matt Fronczak 17:37; 37. Matt Trumper 18:10; 39. Nolan Noer 18:20; 40. Mike Gilleo 18:27; 44. David Ross 18:47; 60. Stefan Nelson 20:11; 67. Quayd Korman 21:21; 69. Ben Wicklund 21:40; 71. Carl Bohacek 21:45; 73. Erik Nelson 21:51; 76. Erik Jones 23:23; 78. Jack Gilleo 24:41.