State Alpine preview: Cook County-Silver Bay a small program up for big challenge
Reilly Wahlers began skiing at Lutsen Mountains when she was just 5 years old.
She wasn't alone.
When you grow up in nearby Grand Marais, skiing for many people is not just a sport, but a way of life, with a per-capita interest for downhill that probably rivals anywhere in the state.
That would help explain the fact that tiny Cook County-Silver Bay continues to compete with the biggest Alpine programs in Minnesota.
Wahlers will lead the Vikings' girls team into today's state Alpine meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. The senior has qualified for state all six seasons and is looking for a top-10 finish after a Northland-best 17th place last season.
"It's pretty nerve-wracking," Wahlers said. "The first run, you've just got to get that one done, and the second run, it's even more nerve-wracking. You've just got to stand for the second run. If you have a good solid first run, that gives you confidence."
Cook County-Silver Bay, meanwhile, has advanced as a team two of the past four years, just missing the other two years.
"It's definitely a lot more fun and exciting to have more teammates here racing with you," Wahlers said in a phone interview Tuesday from Giants Ridge.
The challenge Tuesday was just getting to Biwabik, with snowy conditions throughout the region making travel difficult. The Vikings' drive from Grand Marais, which normally takes 2 1/2 hours, took 3 1/2.
"We took it easy, but yeah, it was totally ice-road trucking," Vikings coach Charles Lamb said, in reference to the reality television series.
Today's forecast for Biwabik calls for a high of 24 and partly cloudy skies with little chance of snow, so great for spectating, but conditions might be challenging.
"At the coaches meeting they were saying it's not perfect conditions, with a layer of soft snow coming from this last dumping that is still happening," Lamb said.
Ashley Winberg, the two-time defending Section 7 champion, will look to stick both her runs today after going for the win last year at state only to fall on her second attempt. Her twin sister, Kendra, Duluth Denfeld eighth-grader Margaret Duncan and Hibbing senior Sydney Jolowsky also are coming off top-10 finishes at sections.
Last year, Hermantown's Austin Danelski made a little history, becoming the Northland's first boys Alpine state champion in 35 years. Hermantown senior Thomas Borash, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton senior Thomas Heren and Duluth East junior Bren Elleson all were similarly top-10 section finishers.
"Thomas Borash should be right up there," Lamb said. "To have back-to-back champs from this area would be something — there'll be some heat coming from the metro — but they all definitely have top-10 potential."
Speaking of the metro, Stillwater — enrollment 2,595 — won both the boys and girls Section 7 team titles last week, with Duluth East boys and CCSB girls coming in second.
The Vikings feature 14 boys and girls skiers, with all but one from Cook County, enrollment 155, making it safe to say, Lamb said, the smallest school in Minnesota Alpine.
It's something the Vikings take pride in.
Wahlers, who is also a two-time volleyball state qualifier, will attend Minnesota State-Mankato, where she will study dental hygiene. She plans to continue skiing, whether on a club team or not, because growing up in the shadow of Lutsen, after all, skiing is part of life.
"I just picked it up right away, kept working at it and now here I am today," Wahlers said. "I've grown up doing that my whole life, and I'll really miss that going off to college, but I want to keep skiing, at least for fun. It's definitely my favorite. It's a lot different than any other sport. You want to do the best you can, and the better you do, the better your team does. All the pressure is on yourself, to have two good runs."
Nordic state meet on Thursday
Grand Rapids senior Garrett Beckrich looks to defend his boys individual title at the state Nordic meet Thursday at Giants Ridge.
Beckrich won last week's Section 7 meet by 38 seconds over CEC senior Aidan Ripp, with Ely sophomore Jasper Johnston finishing third to lead the Timberwolves to the boys team title.
Duluth East junior Gretchen Haggenmiller, the Section 7 champion, is among the girls contenders and leads a strong Greyhounds team.
Beckrich is ranked second to St. Cloud Cathedral-Sartell senior Alex Nemeth in the latest skinnyski.com state rankings, with Ripp eighth.
Ely is ranked seventh among boys teams, and the Duluth East and Grand Rapids girls are sixth and seventh, respectively.
MINNESOTA STATE SKI MEETS
At Giants Ridge, Biwabik
Today's Alpine schedule: Boys and girls first run, 10 a.m.; second run, 1 p.m.
Thursday's Nordic schedule: boys 5K freestyle, 10 a.m.; girls 5K freestyle, 11:15 a.m.; boys 5K classical, 2 p.m.; girls 5K classical, 3 p.m.