Nordic teams face great success
The cold air creates wisps of breath. There is only 100 feet left to the finish line across a flat course of white snow. In the distance there is the cheers of people. This is how the skiers of the Stillwater Nordic Team feel at every one of their races this year. Even with the lack of snow early in the season, the team has been able to pull through.
The Stillwater Nordic team was ranked 1st and 3rd in state after the Mesabi East Race up at Giants Ridge on Jan. 11. Even though the boys’ team was fourth and the girls’ team second overall, the experts still rated the teams as first and third. On Jan. 26, the team raced at their annual Conference race against the teams in their section. The boy and girls teams both were able to pull away with first place wins.
Recently the boys and girls team got first place at their conference race that took place at Battle Creek on Jan. 26 of this year. This only helps support the teams’ ranking in the state even more.
“Obviously, it’s a pretty nice recognition for the team, but it doesn’t mean a lot right now. If we can win state on the 11th and back up that ranking, it’ll feel a lot nicer,” senior captain Seth Cattanach said.
The state race is on Feb. 11, and if the team gets first or second at their sections race on Feb. 4, they will be able to make it to the state race as a team.
“Honestly, I don’t put any stock in the rankings. We have a short, dynamic season and anything can happen, especially when it all comes down to one day. I prefer to focus on the things we can control as a team rather than on speculation from others,” girls varsity coach Kris Hansen said. “Stillwater has the most dominant Nordic ski program in the history of the state. People usually expect Stillwater to be a contender almost no matter what.”
The team has not just been able to get these results through the races alone; the coaches of the team were very influential with the development of the team.
“Our coaches have been fantastic – they have given up a lot of extra time to help our team out, including driving to and from practices and races when we’ve had to travel to find snow,” Cattanach said. “Personally, I’ve gotten to know our head coach, Torry Kraftson, really well over the last six-plus years. He gives up a lot of his time to work with each skier individually, and while he expects us to train hard, he’s understanding about other conflicts [music, school, etc.].”
The racers are the main reason for doing so well during the year by training hard and sacrificing a lot of their personal time for the team.
“They are extremely focused and hard-working. In spite of a tough snow year, they have kept their attitudes positive. They all have their own strengths and unique personalities. Everyone plays an important role and we have a lot of fun when we come together,” boys varsity coach Torry Kraftson said. “As a coach I wouldn’t trade places with any other team. I believe our ranking is deserved, but I also know that anything can happen in sports. We are all working to make it to the state meet and compete at our best at the State meet on Feb. 11.”
It will take a lot of hard work for both the teams to fulfill their predictions. Some think that the ranking is not very reliable.
“I think we’ve earned it, but that doesn’t mean a lot at the moment. Last year, St. Louis Park was ranked first almost the entire year, until the state meet, where I think they placed 4th,” Cattanach said. “It’s been a pretty bad year for snow, so we haven’t had a lot of chances to compete with a lot of the top teams, but I think our results so far have been really solid.”
Even with setbacks, like lack of snow early in the season or illness of racers during the season, the team has still been able to pull through.
“We have battled through a lot of sickness and injury this season. As some of our skiers faced setbacks throughout the season, others stepped in with great performances. We have a depth that exceeds most teams and that enables us to keep battling back when we face setbacks. I’m proud of the character the team has shown throughout the season,” Kraftson said. “The top several teams in the state are very competitive. We will need to race at our best to win. A lot of it will depend on whether we can get all of our athletes healthy and ready to compete at their best. I am cautiously optimistic.”
The coaches are hopeful that the teams’ character this year will help them prove to fulfill their ranking this season. But it will take a lot hard work this season to be able to pull through for both the boys and the girls.
“I love our team. Every year the team has a different personality and this year’s team is characterized by humility and hard work. This team is not built on the back or one or two skiers, it’s a strong committed group and everyone works together,” Hansen said.
“I’m proud of the character the team has shown throughout the season,” Kraftson said.