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Icy invite is a CEC ski success

Anja Maijala, an eighth-grader in her first varsity season with the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic ski team, skis to a 28th-place finish at the CEC Nordic Ski Meet at Pine Valley Tuesday. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

Sheeted with ice Tuesday afternoon, a slick Pine Valley Ski Area served more as a Cloquet skating rink rather than a ski venue.

Perfect conditions for Anja Maijala.

Maijala, a Cloquet eighth-grader, has been a member of the Duluth Figure Skating Club since she was in first grade. And although she replaced her skates with skis at Tuesday's Cloquet Nordic Ski Invitational, the 13-year-old said figure skating helped ease her into a fun - and first-ever - varsity ski season.

"When I first skied, a lot of it came natural to me," Maijala said Tuesday. "I enjoy it so much. The snow is so pretty - it can be so beautiful. And it has a lot of the same motions I use on my skates."

Maijala skated Tuesday's 5,500-meter ski course in 19 minutes, 25 seconds, good for 28th place overall. The cross country and track runner said she had skied recreationally for a couple of years, until choosing to ski competitively.

Maijala still skates when she can. Cloquet-Esko Carlton ski Coach Les Martin said each sport complements the other.

"A lot of skating carries over to skiing," Martin said. "And [Anja] is strong. She's got a real motor. There are times she looks like a first-year skier, but she has cardio to go out and ski well."

Maijala isn't the only youngster skiing well for CEC. Second-year varsity member Erika Fox, a Carlton eighth-grader, is also fast on skis. Tuesday, Fox placed just ahead of Maijala, in 25th at 19:04.

"We'd have a pretty good eighth-grade team," Martin said with a chuckle.

Unlike her teammate, Fox has been skiing since she was 2 or 3 years old, skiing on the Jay Cooke State Park trails along with her senior brother, Duncan.

"Basically since I could walk," Fox said. "I've been doing it so long. Being in the woods, alone, pushing myself - I just like it."

Fox said she enjoys skiing alongside her new teammate, as well.

"It's fun to ski with [Anja]," she said. "It's good to have someone my own age and own speed to hang out and work together with."

Esko's Molly Meysembourg finished 21st at 18:49 to help carry CEC to a fifth-place finish.

Duluth East senior Anna Kubek won in 15:30 to lead the Greyhounds to the title.

Mesabi East junior Sam Johnson was the top boys winner in an absurd 14:37, while East won the team title in a Greyhounds' sweep.

Josh Carlson took 29th at 16:39 for seventh place CEC finish, followed by Duncan Fox in 32nd at 16:57 and Matt Rengo at 37th in 17:28.

"It was really icy today," said Rengo, an Esko junior now in his fifth season with the program. "I didn't ski really well, but Pine Valley is a fun course to ski. It's hilly - one of my favorite courses."

Martin said the course was kept up by a team shoveling party last week, and he praised the city of Cloquet for maintaining the paths until Tuesday morning - the city used a snow gun to fill in some bare spots last week - before some 350 fans and 11 teams arrived.

"I've skied that course for 30 years and have never gone that fast," Martin said of the icy track Tuesday. "Some of the times were like ones you'd see at the World Cup. We had a few falls - and a few in the woods - but the kids were really, really, flying out there today."

Much like Maijala on her skates, now turned skis.