The Stillwater alpine and Nordic ski teams are sending a large contingent of athletes to Giants Ridge for this week’s state meet in Biwabik.
The Section 4 champion Stillwater boys’ alpine ski team is hoping to improve on its third-place finish after not graduating anyone from its state lineup of a year ago. Seniors Jake Allison, Steig Peterson and Will Raedeke lead the way for the Ponies, who finished 36 points in front of runner-up East Ridge at the section meet.
Stillwater and last year’s state runner-up Edina are the only teams in this year’s field who also competed a year ago. The rest of the field includes East Ridge, Orono, Blake, Eden Prairie, Hermantown and Cook County/Silver Bay.
Eden Prairie would appear to have strength up front with last year’s apparent individual state champion Bjorn Halvorson and eventual state champion Jack Post leading the way. Halvorson competed for Minnehaha Academy and was crowned champion a year ago before later returning his gold medal after admitting to an undisclosed “eligibility issue”.
The Stillwater girls, meanwhile, are making their first trip to state since 2010. Natalie Gjermo and Story Schwantes led the Ponies while placing sixth and seventh at the Section 4 meet.
Five of the eight qualifiers competed at state a year ago, led by runner-up Minnetonka with five of its six skiers returning this season. The rest of the field includes returning qualifiers Blake, Mounds View, Bloomington Jefferson and Minneapolis Southwest along with newcomers Mankato West and Duluth East.
The alpine skiing state competition is slated for Wednesday while the Nordic skiers hit the trails on Thursday.
The Stillwater girls, who are ranked fifth in the state, cruised to a 14-point victory at the Section 4 championships to collect the program’s 33rd section title since 1976. The Ponies have placed first or second at state in 18 of those previous 32 trips to state, but that might be a tall order for a team that graduated its top three performers from a team that placed fourth at state a year ago — including individual state champion Nora Gilbertson.
Duluth East has won each of the past two state titles, but many consider Wayzata the favorite in the girls’ race. Suburban East Conference rivals Stillwater and Roseville are among those hoping to land in the top three. Lakeville North is the only newcomer this year as seven of the eight teams competed at state a year ago.
The Stillwater boys will be represented by three individual entries after placing second behind No. 2-ranked Forest Lake at the section meet. The Rangers are expected to battle Eden Prairie for the team title.
Sean Bjork finished 26th at state a year ago and sets the pace for Stillwater’s state trio. Paul Larson also competed at state a year ago and placed 56th while fellow senior Kellen Wessels will be making his state debut.