Nordic: Lumberjacks feel the love at state
February 21, 2020
At a fiercely competitive Minnesota State Nordic ski meet Friday, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys Nordic team skied their way to eighth place out of 18 teams ... with each team member skiing his hardest for team and self. While only the top four finishers for each team contribute to the team score, the other three skiers ski to displace competing skiers so they don't earn as many points.
As he has all season, Cloquet junior Benjamin Bauer led the team individually, taking 23rd place following both legs of Friday's pursuit-style race, which began with a 5K skate race at midday, followed by a 5K classic ski race several hours later. That finish also made Bauer an all-state skier, an honor awarded to the top 25 finishers. Other Lumberjacks skiers finished as follows: junior Josh Sanders, 46th place; sophomore Cale Prosen, 71st; junior AJ Maijala, 91st; senior Spencer Hoeffling 128th; junior Henry Slater, 141st; and freshman Miles Fischer, 154th place.
It was the first time at State for everyone except Bauer and Sanders, who qualified individually last year. Alternate skiers were Bennett Hille and Jordan Chopski.
"This is awesome," said head coach Arne Maijala. "We had a goal of top 10 and made that, and then some! I'm very happy with the boys' overall performance. They beat many very talented teams."
For a sport that depends on individual times, Nordic skiing certainly spawns a lot of team spirit. The atmosphere at the meets, or on the trails and in the chalet at Pine Valley is supportive, even with more than 70 skiers in grades 7-12 making up the entire Nordic team.
Former Cloquet skier and current Cloquet Ski Club coach Pat Marciniak hypothesized that because it really comes down to the skier versus the clock, it is easier for team members to both push each other and be supportive in sports such as cross country running and skiing.
But it's not just the team members who share the love.
When the Minnesota High School Nordic ski meet was postponed to Friday because of frigid temperatures Thursday, the CEC team lost its hotel room at Giants Ridge resort, the site of the state meet.
No problem. Former Nordic team skier Tyler Northey's family let the team and coaches stay at their cabin, only 15 minutes away from the resort in Biwabik and all nine boys each got a bed to sleep on.
"It was nice having quality time as a team prior to the big race," Maijala said. "And the kids were also able to eat a proper breakfast. We had some French toast for most of them."
When asked what he thinks has made him successful as a Nordic skier, Bauer points to hard work, grit and determination, but he also credits a long list of other people.
"I've had so many people impact my skiing over the years. My mom started me off skiing at Glen and Mary Jane Sorenson's Nordic program at the top of Spirit Mountain," Bauer said. "Later when I joined the Nordic team, Glen and Ben Croft started coaching me. Ben has helped our team so much over the years, from bringing some of us to JNQ (Junior National Qualifier) races to teaching us technique at practice and getting us canoeing in the summer. Dr. Ken Ripp and Aidan Ripp have also been great sources for information on technique, and otherwise."
Coach Maijala also stressed that the team's success goes beyond the team and even the program.
"I think all the people involved - the parents, the volunteer coaches, the city of Cloquet staff, our administration here - all those people play a role in making this happen, making it as positive as it's been," Maijala said, giving kudos to assistant coaches Tim Stark and Ann Gustafson. He also pointed out the volunteer coaches, such as Bob Fox, Chris Gustafson and Ben Croft, who spent all day waxing skis the day before sections and State, and again on much of the race day too.
And there were plenty of fans at Friday's meet, including parents, friends, classmates, siblings, past and current teammates, avid skiers and even former coaches.
Glen Sorenson, who stepped down as head coach two years ago, was there, skiing to more difficult parts of the trail with other supporters to cheer on the skiers when they needed it most.
Going back even further in the ranks of CEC coaches, Brent Smith was also there.
A 1974 Cloquet grad, Smith was a top skier in high school.
"I think I skied in four state meets, and they were all in Cloquet," said Smith, taking a quick break from volunteering at Friday's state meet.
He went on to coach the Lumberjacks two different times, for six years each time, and he's been a volunteer coach off and on since then, one of a core group of folks who give time and effort to keep Nordic skiing (and ski jumping) strong in the Cloquet area.
Still an avid and highly competitive skier himself, Smith said it was really fun to see the Lumberjacks get to State as a team again.
"There's been a real push with Dr. Ripp and Pat Marciniak and some of the folks as far as the Sunday ski program, so the numbers are way up compared to when I coached," Smith said. "I just see real good things coming in the future."
He's not the only one.
With Hoeffling the only top skier to graduate this spring, odds are good this won't be the last trip to State for this particular Lumberjacks team ... and there are more coming up the ranks behind them.