Blaze’s Koch 5th in girls pursuit
Those who follow high school Nordic skiing assumed the boys pursuit champion would come from a group of three skiers who are close friends and compete for the same club team.
The question was, who would have his best race on the big day – Patrick Acton of Eagan, Xavier Mansfield of Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village or William Kerker of Minneapolis Southwest?
Mansfield was third after the morning 5-kilometer freestyle race Feb. 17 at Giants Ridge but had the fastest time in the afternoon classic race. Mansfield made up a 20-second deficit to Acton, who finished second at state for the second consecutive year, and passed Kerker as well to win his first state title.
The three are close friends and teammates at the Loppet Nordic Club, where they combined to win a national relay championship. Last week, each was pursuing an individual goal.
Sometimes when several skiers are considered almost equal in ability, the race can almost be anticlimactic, said Brian Abery, coach of the ISD 196 combined program that includes Eagan.
“What you see sometimes is one skier doesn’t have a good day and the race isn’t as close as you would think,” Abery said. “That didn’t happen at the state meet. All three skied pretty well. It was a fun, interesting race to watch.”
Mansfield pulled away in the final 1.5 kilometers of the classic race to win with a combined time of 28 minutes, 23.2 seconds, nine seconds faster than Acton. Kerker, slowed by a collision with Mansfield on the classic leg, finished third in 28:35.6.
Last year Acton, a senior, finished runner-up to Zak Ketterson of Bloomington Jefferson in a race where the Eagan skier admitted he was racing for second place. This year, Acton led after the freestyle leg – his strongest event – but had the 17th-fastest classic time.
Mansfield credited good waxing for extra glide in the final stage of the classic race. Abery said Acton held on to his lead for as long as he could.
“The last 1.5 kilometers are downhill,” Abery said. “For Patrick to have a chance to win, he needed to be significantly ahead of the others at the top of the hill, but they were bunched pretty closely. Patrick’s about 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, and the other two are much bigger. Sometimes it’s just a matter of leverage and gravity.”
Acton led Eagan to eighth place in the boys team competition, which Minneapolis Southwest won. The Wildcats were hoping for a spot in the top three, but that became unrealistic when senior Ryan Steger fell ill on the day of the state meet. Steger raced anyway and placed 30th in pursuit; he was eighth in that event at state last year. Dylan Schuller (78th), John Martin (100th), Ryan Conroy (124th), Maxwell Marshall (144th) and Andrew Lowder (157th) also raced for Eagan.
Tyler Haroldson of Lakeville South qualified individually and finished 49th. Eastview’s Bryant Ruff and Burnsville’s Nate Blichfeldt were 56th and 57th, and Lakeville North’s Duncan Ince finished 113th.
Burnsville junior Kelly Koch was fifth in the girls pursuit race at Giants Ridge, her best finish in four trips to the state meet.
Koch stood in seventh place after the freestyle leg but had the third-best classic time, allowing her to move up a couple of spots in the overall standings. Her combined time was 32:58.5. Erin Bianco of Ely was first in 32:20.0.
Koch finished 11th at state as a sophomore and 13th as a ninth-grader. She made her debut at state as an eighth-grader, finishing 28th in pursuit.
Bianco also led Ely to the girls team championship. South Suburban Conference teams Burnsville and Eastview finished 10th and 12th.
Blaze senior Krista Holmstrom finished 39th in pursuit. Also skiing for Burnsville at state were Hanna Holmstrom (91st), Kaitlyn Qualley (132nd), Taylor Horner (146th), Danielle Thompson (148th) and Rachel Dobrzynski (155th).
Eastview returned to the state girls team competition despite graduating the top four skiers from a team that placed seventh in the 2016 meet. This year, ninth-grader Gabrielle Kraemer (66th) and senior Ana Brakke (72nd) led the Lightning at state. Also skiing for Eastview were Claire Nack (98th), Kareena Clendening (108th), Anna Schumann (131st), Serena Hall (138th) and Josie Roberts (145th).
Several other South Suburban Conference skiers competed individually at the state meet, including Brianne Brewster of Lakeville South (42nd), Emma Drangstveit of Lakeville North (63rd), Harmony Zweber-Langer of Lakeville South (101st) and Violet Tessier of Lakeville South (116th).