BIWABIK — The Stillwater girls’ alpine ski team earned a repeat trip to the state meet, but this time they will have familiar company as the Ponies also qualified for the boys’ state meet with a matching runner-up finish in the Section 7 Meet on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at Giants Ridge.
This marks the first time since 2013 that both Stillwater teams will compete at state in the same year.
“It’s an individual sport, but this whole program is set up for team,” Ponies head coach Kevin Neubauer said. “Everybody would exchange an individual trip to bring the whole team up. We’ve got 60 kids and, if given the opportunity, every one of them would come up because it’s a tight-knit group. They all get along and are all friends. They love supporting each other, so to see the success of both sides of the program, they deserve it.”
There has only been one year in the past three decades where Stillwater did not place a team in the state meet, but even in years where one of the two qualified it felt like something was missing, the coach suggested.
“It’s just not the same thing,” Neubauer said. “I know the girls were excited to be there (last year), but it’s just not the same. It’s kind of like a co-ed team and they do everything together, even outside of skiing they hang out. It’s icing on the cake and if given the opportunity we’d love to do this every year.”
This is the second straight year for the Stillwater girls, but the boys qualified for the first time since 2014.
“I’m happy for all of them,” Neubauer said. “The guys did what they had to do.”
The Ponies posted a score of 355.5, which was well behind section champion Chisago Lakes (396), but 10 points ahead of third-place Cook County/Silver Bay.
Maddie Neubauer led the way for the Stillwater girls with a fifth-place showing in a time of 1:27.55, which was about four seconds behind individual medalist Ellie Frischmon (1:23.71) of Chisago Lakes. Stillwater’s second through fourth finishers were separated by just eight spots, starting with Kirsten Anderson in 18th place with a time of 1:33.29. Hanna Gaertner (1:35.25) and Grace Donner (1:35.99) finished 23rd and 26th for the Ponies.
The Ponies ranked third behind Chisago Lakes and Hermantown after the first run, but received a boost from their remaining skiers to help overtake Hermantown and hold off Cook County/Silver Bay. Ellie Messelt (1:40.67) and Brenna Kahn (2:13.99) did not factor into Stillwater’s scoring, but finished ahead of scorers from other contending teams to push them down in the standings — which can make a big difference with the scores are tabulated.
“We realized after the first run the Chisago girls took off and we were fighting for second,” Neubauer said. “Hermantown had two in the top 10, but two in the 30s so we had to get as close as we can to the top with our third and fourth and have to get as many between fourth and those Hermantown girls. Even though Brenna fell, her and Ellie were so perfect because they wedged between our fourth and their third. We had eight points to make up and we passed them. Their scores didn’t count, but the jobs they did were pivotal to getting runner-up at the section.”
Kahn, and eighth-grader, had a strong second run going before a slip-up late cost her precious time, but the skiers were under orders to ski aggressively.
“This time we said we want you to ski for yourself,” Neubauer said. “We said we want them to go all out and if you want to go to state you need to get there on their own. They understood if we want to be successful at state we have to go all out at sections.
“Brenna had a beautiful run going, she just got a tad late and it bucked her eight gates from the bottom. I’m so proud of the girls. All six really threw everything they had at the last run. We said don’t let this be the last race of your year — or senior career for three of them — don’t let this be the last race where you could have put a little more into that run.”
The Stillwater boys scored 340 points to finish just five points behind section champion Cook County/Silver Bay (345), but well ahead of Mahtomedi (316) — which won a tie-breaker for third over Hermantown (316).
Sophomore Parker Smith set the pace for the balanced Ponies, finishing 13th in a time of 1:20.66.
Stillwater’s balance and depth paid off as not a single team member would have qualified for state had the team failed to finish among the top two. Hermantown, by comparison featured two of the top four finishers and qualified three for state as individuals despite placing fourth in the team standings.
The top 10 individuals not already on a qualifying team earn a state bid.
Joe Weber (1:21.14) and Patrick Allan (1:21.56), the only two seniors in Stillwater’s lineup, placed 16th and 17th while Adam Gaertner completed the scoring in 30th place with a time of 1:26.72.
There was plenty of pressure for the Ponies on the second run after Bailey Helke (1:32.49) and Karl Gaertner (1:41.33), had issues their first time down the hill. Helke and Gaertner finished 46th and 69th overall.
“Bailey had hiccup on the first run, as did Karl,” Neubauer said. “We didn’t know it at the time, but we could have used Bailey’s time and still gotten us runner-up. We told Patrick and Allan that people are forcing too much out of the hill and they needed to knock it down to 80 percent. We thought we were going to win the section if they could back off and don’t force an error. Two completed runs were going to get us the section title, which we missed by five points. I know Patrick held back and he had a lot more in the tank and could have gone for it, but he sacrificed individual performance for the benefit of the team.”
Allan, the only returning state meet veteran for the Stillwater boys, made a successful return after missing much of the season with an injury. Allan is no stranger to pressure, however, because in addition to his previous state experience in skiing he was one of the top performers for the Ponies’ state championship soccer team in the fall.
“He sprained his ankle pretty bad the day before the first conference race and was on crutches and out three to four weeks,” Neubauer said. “The plan was that if Patrick comes back, it’s a bonus. We saw him ski and did fantastic.”
The coach was initially going to place Allan at the top of the lineup, but he was talked out of it — by Allan.
“He said don’t put me up front,” Neubauer said. “He said those guys deserve it because they’ve been here all season so we said let’s run Patrick fifth. He’s also a kid that’s been there enough and is mentally prepared that he could handle the pressure of one of the first four falling.”
Stillwater was also third after the first run, but was able to move into the top two without taking too many risks in Round 2.
“We make a point to not let the athletes know,” Neubauer said. We tell them to go out and do your job, that’s what they did. We ask the parents not to tell where they’re sitting. We didn’t need anything special.”
Girls team standings
1. Chisago Lakes 396; 2. Stillwater 355.5; 3. Cook County/Silver Bay 345.5; 4. Hermantown 344; 5. Forest Lake 340; 6. Duluth Marshall 303; 7. Centennial 297; 8. Mahtomedi 273; 9. Duluth East 272; 10. White Bear Lake 268; 11. Hibbing 266; 12. Virginia 224; 13. Coon Rapids 204.5; 14. Mounds View 204; 15. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 171; 16. Blaine 142; 17. Andover 140; 18. Irondale 99.5.
Individual state qualifiers
2. Tessa Trettel (Cen) 1:25.63; 3. Ashley Winberg (Her) 1:26.63; 4. Reilly Wahlers (CC/SB) 1:26.73; 5. Cierra Karels (Cambridge-Isanti) 1:27.11; 8. Kendra Winberg (Her) 1:28.07; 9. Avery Plude (DE) 1:28.98; 10. Mallery Lind (Hib) 1:29.16; 11. Ana Thickens (DM) 1:29.76; 13. Sela Backstrom (CC/SB) 1:30.98; 14. Tara Dalman (CP) 1:31.76. Medalist: 1. Ellie Frischmon (CL) 1:23.71.
5. Maddie Neubauer 44.66-42.89—1:27.55; 18. Kirsten Anderson 47.55-45.74—1:33.29; 23. Hanna Gaertner 48.03-47.22—1:35.25; 26. Grace Donner 49.38-46.61—1:35.99; 38. Ellie Messelt 51.07-49.60—1:40.67; 79. Brenna Kahn 49.86-1:23.53—2:13.39.
Boys team standings
1. Cook County/Silver Bay 345; 2. Stillwater 340; 3. Mahtomedi 316; 4. Hermantown 316; 5. Duluth East 315; 6. Forest Lake 314; 7. White Bear Lake 311; 8. Mounds View 288; 9. Hibbing 280; 10. Chisago Lakes 261; 11. Blaine 231.5; 12. Anoka 222; 13. St. Croix Preparatory Academy 216; 14. Centennial 184; 15. Andover 178; 16. Coon Rapids 169.5; 17. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 161.5; 18. Champlin Park 139.
Individual state qualifiers
1. Anders Brown (CL) 1:15.34; 2. Austin Danelski (Her) 1:15.56; 4. Tyler Winberg (Her) 1:15.72; 5. Kaarl Damberg (MV) 1:17.14; 6. Ryan Nordin (DE) 1:17.40; 7. Ricky Tweden (Mah) 1:18.32; 8. Thomas Heren (C-E-C) 1:18.42; 9. Trygve Myers (Mah) 1:18.79; 10. Sam Bissen (SCPA) 1:19.25; 11. Thomas Borash (Her) 1:19.89. Medalist: Brown (CL) 1:15.34.
13. Parker Smith 39.64-41.02—1:20.66; 16. Joe Weber 39.72-41.42—1:21.14; 17. Patrick Allan 39.71-41.85—1:21.56; 30. Adam Gaertner 42.12-44.60—1:26.72; 46. Bailey Helke 50.50-41.99—1:32.49; 69. Karl Gaertner 59.81-41.52—1:41.33.
Ponies sweep SEC titles
At Taylors Falls, prior to punching their tickets to the state meet, the Stillwater boys’ and girls’ alpine ski teams closed out unblemished Suburban East Conference campaigns with the final conference meet of the season at Wild Mountain on Thursday, Feb. 2 at Wild Mountain.
The Stillwater boys swept all five conference events this season to win their 12th consecutive league title. The Ponies outscored East Ridge 684-621 in the finale while Forest Lake followed in third with 617 points.
Parker Smith, Joe Weber and Patrick Allan finished fifth through seventh to lead the way for the Ponies, who also received a ninth-place finish from Adam Gaertner.
“For the guys, we have so much depth,” Stillwater coach Kevin Neubauer said. “We’re going to lose two seniors, but we have so many seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade boys coming up. Making a conference lineup is very difficult to put the top 10 in because we have 15 or 16 guys capable of being slotted in and being successful.”
The Stillwater girls also cruised through the conference unscathed this season, including a 701-612 victory over runner-up Woodbury and the rest of the field at Wild Mountain.
Maddie Neubauer and Hanna Gaertner placed third and fourth while Kirsten Anderson followed in sixth to pace the Ponies. Grace Donner, Ellie Messelt and Brenna Kahn were also solid while placing 11th through 13th for Stillwater.
“The women are equally deep,” Neubauer said. “We call it carpet bombing. We don’t have any ones or twos that get up in the top five, but it’s the even keel and they’re all close. It’s almost like we have a bunch of clones on the team.”
Boys team standings
1. Stillwater 684; 2. East Ridge 621; 3. Forest Lake 617; 4. Mounds View 561; 5. White Bear Lake 525; 6. Woodbury 504; 7. Cretin-Derham Hall 336; 8. Park 281.5; 9. Roseville 267.5.
5. Parker Smith 51.06; 6. Joe Weber 51.24; 7. Patrick Allan 51.72; 9. Karl Gaertner 52.54; 18. Adam Gaertner 54.25; 22. Ethan Barclay 55.17; 26. Jacob Helke 55.96; 31. Shamus Boe 55.56; 34. AJ Johnson 56.8; 71. Bailey Helke 1:14.77.
Girls team standings
1. Stillwater 701; 2. Woodbury 612; 3. Forest Lake 577; 4. White Bear Lake 524; 5. Mounds View 521; 6. East Ridge 391; 7. Cretin-Derham Hall 266; 8. Roseville 240; 9. Park 185.
3. Maddie Neubauer 1:08.18; 4. Hanna Gaertner 1:09.2; 6. Kirsten Anderson 1:10.77; 11. Grace Donner 1:12.62; 12. Ellie Messelt 1:13.77; 13. Brenna Kahn 1:14.41; 27. Rachel Allan 1:21.09; 31. Johanna Teagarden 1:22.49; 46. CJ Fredkove 1:33.42.