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Esko senior planned low key approach to state meet

Alex DeRocher rides the Gandy Dancer lift at Spirit Mountain, Monday, while training for yesterday’s state meet. Brady Slater/Pine Journal

DULUTH—It takes about 3 minutes, 45 seconds to ride the Gandy Dancer ski lift at Spirit Mountain.

It was enough time to catch up with Esko senior Alex DeRocher — who gave an interview and posed for a snapshot for this story — all before unloading onto yet another training run.

“That’s pretty cool,” DeRocher said when he was asked to do an interview on the ski lift.

Cooler still is DeRocher making the state alpine ski meet for the third straight year. Skiing for Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, DeRocher is the skier Coach Ryan Zimny calls the fastest he’s ever worked with. DeRocher finished 68th at last season’s state meet, toggling one sluggish run with one burner. It’s the same formula he used last week to peel out of the Section 7 meet with a ninth-place finish despite starting 21st after the first of two runs. The top 12 individuals advanced to state.

“That section race was pretty stressful for me, actually,” he said. “I made a mistake on that first run, but on that second run I knew to throw down a good run and ended up finishing third and moving up 12 spots. It was a pretty exciting day and I was happy. It wasn’t exactly the result I wanted to get at sections, but I still made it to state.”

He bobbled and lost precious time on his first run at sections, but collected himself just as quickly. In keeping his composure, he preserved his shot at state.

“Midway through that run I thought, ‘Oh, this is not good,’” he said. “I needed to finish hard and I ended up 21st, so I knew I’d really have to ski fast and pull off a nice second run.”

He did it, showing the mental toughness of an athlete who trains harder than you might expect for an alpine skier. It’s not just gravity the sport requires. Rather, the sport asks its participants to harness gravity. That takes an athlete.

“I spend a lot of time in the weight room just trying to get bigger, faster, stronger every day,” said DeRocher, who also has stamps for soccer and track-and-field on his sports passport. “I am a three-sport athlete, but this is my No. 1 sport. I just love it. Being outdoors. It’s really awesome.”

DeRocher’s approach to the state meet will be simple: don’t make it too big. You can imagine that’s what he did as a sophomore at state, when he didn’t finish his second run. Now, two years later, DeRocher sounds all the wiser.

“I’m going to approach it like a training day, just two timed training runs,” he said. “Don’t overanalyze it. It’s just another race, that’s my mindset. I’ve been doing it at sections and other races throughout the year and it helps keep me calm. I’m excited but I’m not over-amped.”

DeRocher likes that the state meet is being echoed worldwide with the Sochi Winter Olympics going on simultaneously.

“The general public and people who aren’t really familiar with the sport get a little taste of it and get to see what I like to do with my pastime,” said DeRocher, who plans to continue racing in the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association after high school. “It’s club skiing, but it will be fun to still be around racing and competing. It’s pretty laid back and I like that.”

Then, just like that, 3 minutes, 45 seconds later, DeRocher disembarked from the lift and was gone with a handshake — the fastest skier in Carlton County leaving crystals of snow in his wake.

DeRocher takes seventh

“The snow was really good,” said Cloquet-Esko-Carlton’s Alex DeRocher, the Northland’s top male finisher at seventh place.

DeRocher struggled at the section meet and thus was seeded way back at No. 35 Wednesday, but he combined speed and strategy to push his way up the leaderboard, picking off competitors one by one and eventually finishing with a time of 1:11.38. He was in ninth place entering the day’s second run and, after watching his competitors get gobbled up by a tricky patch in the final third of the course, adjusted his approach.

DeRocher said the plan became simply to “ski smart and just finish.”

“My goal coming in was to be top-10,” the Esko senior said. “In sections, I didn’t ski where I wanted to be, so I qualified later and ran later in the runs today. But I knew I could still be top-10, and I ended up being seventh, so I was very happy with that.”

~ Forum Communications