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CEC boys eye state; girls team 'reloading'

Esko senior Tyler Northey double poles toward the end of the Korkki Classic Nordic ski race near Two Harbors on Tuesday, Jan. 16. Northey was the top Lumberjack finisher, taking fourth place with a time of 20:52.7 for the 6K course. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal1 / 2
Cloquet freshman Benjamin Bauer climbs a hill near the beginning of the 6K Korkki Classic race Tuesday, Jan. 16, near Two Harbors. Bauer took ninth place and was the second-fastest Cloquet boys varsity skier. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal2 / 2

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic ski teams were in action Tuesday, Jan. 16, in Two Harbors' Korkki Classic, which brought out some of the top teams in Section 7, and, by translation, Minnesota.

The CEC boys took third place in a loaded field that also featured section powers Grand Rapids and Ely.

"If I had to pick, I would say Grand Rapids is the favorite," coach Glen Sorenson said. "But Ely is very good, too, and we aren't too bad."

CEC took third place even while giving star skier Aiden Ripp what amounted to a day off.

"He was showing signs of overtraining," Sorenson said of the do-everything performer. "So we just had him ski at the back of the pack, touring the course. It was a light day for him because we don't want to burn him out."

Ripp has been busy, working in Nordic Combined training — which combines ski jumping and Nordic skiing — for national competitions as well as cross-country ski training.

"He works very hard," Sorenson said. "We need to keep him fresh. If he skis hard, well, he hasn't finished lower than third this season so we are right in the team mix. But keeping him fresh is more important."

Even with Ripp slowed down, the boys' team still did very well. Tyler Northey took fourth place overall and Ben Bauer was ninth. A.J. Maijala was 14th, Josh Sanders was 18th and even skiing at a comparatively pedestrian pace, Ripp still finished 28th in the boys' varsity race.

In the girls' race, Andrea Hille was 22nd overall, with Franny Slater two places behind her. Hannah Zuck was 28th, and Erin Turner and Elise Pickar finished 35th and 36th, respectively.

The race was noteworthy in that it was the first classic-style race of the season.

"We finally have enough of a snow base to groom trails so the kids got a chance to use the classic style," Sorenson said.

The finish was, according to Sorenson, an eye-opener for Slater, the girls' team leader.

"Franny worked very, very hard, but she saw she had some extra work to do in the classic style, so that was a little disappointing for her," he said. "But she's such a good leader, she'll do what she needs to do."

Sorenson described the girls' team as reloading after losing Anja Maijala and Erika Fox to graduation.

"What we're seeing is the next group coming up and they're going to be a fun group," Sorenson said. "They enjoy skiing and they had a ball (on Tuesday)."

Sorenson got a chance to watch every skier in his program compete Tuesday, which boasts 70-plus kids total from the three different schools. He said he got the most happiness out of seeing the junior high skiers racing in the classic style for the first time.

"They've come so far in only six weeks," Sorenson said. "These were kids who could hardly stand up on skis when the season started and now they're double-poling and making diagonal strides. You can see it on their faces."

And, one presumes, on the face of their coach.

"That's the reason I do this," he said. "I love to teach and to see how happy the kids are when they get it right. Well, that's the best part of it for me."

But for now, the goal is to get the boys' varsity team to state — and Sorenson believes it's possible.

"It's Grand Rapids, Ely and us," he said. "I think we're on a par with Ely and probably with Grand Rapids if everything goes right. I think we are on track for where we need to be in our development and we're ready to give it a run."

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