BIWABIK — With eventual champion Blake taking charge on Wednesday, the battle was for second place at Giants Ridge and Stillwater was pleased to slip past Orono and Eden Prairie to collect silver medals.
Following a conservative first run, the Ponies were crisp to finish out the meet with 139 points to finish two points in front of Orono (137) and three ahead of Eden Prairie (136). Blake finished with 159 points to capture the title with room to spare.
“It was a little bittersweet,” said senior Jake Allison, who finished 15th overall to earn all-state honors. “We kind of wanted the top spot, but we were happy with second. It was pretty close with Orono and Eden Prairie was pretty close, too, so it was a good feeling.”
It has been baby steps for the Stillwater boys the last three years — finishing fourth in 2011, third a year ago and second on Wednesday — but now the pressure is really on.
“I told the boys coming back next year we have to get first,” Ponies coach Mary Parcheta joked.
The Stillwater girls were also back in the state field this year after a two-year absence and the Ponies placed sixth 100 points. Minnetonka claimed the top spot with 172 points while Blake (155) and Minneapolis Southwest (145) followed in second and third.
“We had some bobbles in there that set the girls back a little bit,” Parcheta said. “It was good to get back to state for the girls and I was happy with their performances. I’m really proud that they made it this far and did so well. They were determined, but nervous, and they pulled it off in getting there, back where we belong.”
Allison posted a two-run time of 1:18.55, which was eighth for the purposes of team scoring. Michael Murray of Bloomington Jefferson captured the individual state title with a time of 1:13.67.
“I kind of wanted to be closer to the top 10, but at the end of the day you can’t really go for it, you have to ski for the team,” Allison said. “I’m happy with all-state and 15th place, it’s a lot different for the kids that don’t have a team there.”
That sense of team comes partially from Stillwater’s senior trio of Allison, Will Raedeke and Steig Peterson, who have been with the program for six years — and primary contributors each of the past few. Raedeke placed 24th overall in a time of 1:20.81 and Peterson was 36th at 38:44 — 13th and 16th on the team card — to close out their prep careers.
“We’ve all skied together more than six years, but high school together for six years and it’s been a great time and it’s great to finish the last two with a second and third,” Allison said.
“I’m going to miss them,” Parcheta said. “They have been key to the team for the last four to five years and they all seem to have grown together in their abilities and talents. The three have come along really great and have been so equal. It’s fun to watch them because they’ve had this really fun competition between them.”
The other leading contenders might be stronger up front, but the Ponies feature enviable depth even from among the several capable skiers who were not part of the six-person state lineup. Sam Skaret completed the scoring for Stillwater in 42nd place (20th for scoring) in a time of 1:23.34 while Zach Raven (1:24.10) and Cory Carlsen (1:26.28) were not far behind in 46th and 53rd.
“We could have easily gone eight deep,” Allison said. “I wish the state tournament went that far because I have no doubt we’d walk away with the gold medal if it went to eighth or ninth. We have a ton of depth and we have six other guys who could have stepped in and filled those last three spots and done well at state and performed admirably and done well for themselves and the team.”
Orono was in a strong position after the early run, but its third fastest skier was disqualified for using profane language during his second run.
The Ponies overcame one of their biggest challenges earlier this season when Raedeke was able to return from a torn pectoral suffered during a weight-training class.
“Early in the season it was kind of unknown whether he’d be back in time,” Allison said.
“He came back and healed really well,” Parcheta added. “He healed fast and surprised his doctors and physical therapists on how fast he healed.”
Story Schwantes set the pace for the Stillwater girls with a 25th-place finish in a time of 1:24.01, which was good enough for 12th on the team card. Unlike their teammates in the boys’ competition, the Ponies had some missteps on their second run to take them out of contention for the top three.
Claire Weber finished 47th in 1:29.18 and Sydney Evensen was next for the Ponies in 62nd place with a time of 1:33.88. Belen Mora missed a gate on her second run to finish 65th in a time of 1:38.42 as Stillwater’s final scorer.
Natalie Gjermo was Stillwater’s top finisher at the section meet, but she took a fall and finished 71st overall on Wednesday. Ashley Ludack was Stillwater’s final competitor and did not finish.
“Natalie really felt terrible, but she did well this year and had a great season,” Parcheta said.
Mora, a foreign exchange student, is the only member of the girls’ team not expected to return next season so the Ponies are hoping for better days ahead.
“They’re a young team and at the start of the year they didn’t really expect to get this far,” Parcheta said. “I think it’s a great achievement for them.”
This marked the first time in six years both teams have qualified for state in the same season.
“I just feel so fortunate to have such great talent,” Parcheta said. “We are so fortunate in Stillwater to have such great kids to work with and the talent is unreal — and, of course, they work so hard.”
Boys team standings
1. Blake 159; 2. Stillwater 139; 3. Orono 137; 4. Eden Prairie 136; 5. Cook County/Silver Bay 124; 6. Edina 112; 7. East Ridge 109; 8. Hermantown 78.
1. Michael Murray (Bloomington Jefferson) 1:13.67; 2. Jack McNeill (Blake) 1:14.26; 3. Jack Post (Eden Prairie) 1:14.87; 4. Nik Damberg (Mounds View) 1:15.42; 5. Tommy Anderson (Eagan) 1:15.51.
Team finish (overall)
8. (15) Jake Allison 40.07-38.48—1:18.55; 13. (24) Will Raedeke 41.18-39.63—1:20.81; 16. (36) Steig Peterson 43.78-38.44—1:22.22; 20. (42) Sam Skaret 42.21-41.13—1:23.34; 23. (46) Zach Raven 42.71-41.39—1:24.10; 27. (53) Cory Carlsen 41.39-44.89—1:26.28.
Girls team standings
1. Minnetonka 172; 2. Blake 155.5; 3. Minneapolis Southwest 145; 4. Mankato West 124.5; 5. Mounds View 122; 6. Stillwater 100; 7. Duluth East 95; 8. Bloomington Jefferson 71.
1. Elizabeth Koprucki (East Ridge) 1:15.52; 2. Savannah Stone (Brainerd) 1:17.27; 3. Rosie Hust (Orono) 1:17.36; 4. Madison Danelski (Hermantown) 1:17.61; 5. Megan Greiner (Minnetonka) 1:17.76.
Team finish (overall)
12. (25) Story Schwantes 45.79-38.22—1:24.01; 18. (47) Claire Weber 47.57-41.61—1:29.18; 32. (62) Sydney Evensen 49.86-44.02—1:33.88; 34. (65) Belen Mora 58.46-39.96—1:38.42; 40. (71) Natalie Gjermo 1:10.1-37.83—1:47.96; Ashley Ludack, DNF.