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Brrrr! Lumberjacks host race in subzero temps

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic skiers hosted their one home meet of the year Tuesday at Pine Valley, with sub-zero temperatures for the varsity races. A total of eight boys teams and nine girls teams competed. Cloquet junior Emma Waugh (top left, wearing 144) starts against Ely’s Lilly Beth Nelson.

Every four years, World Cup soccer has a so-called “Group of Death,” considered to be the most difficult group in the field.

In Minnesota high school Nordic skiing, the “Group of Death” is Section 7, which contains Cloquet-Esko-Carlton — and we aren’t talking about freezing to death, which was a definite possibility at Tuesday’s frigid Cloquet Invitational at Pine Valley.

The excellent CEC girls program finished third in the nine-team field and the boys were fifth — but that’s not a reflection on the home team. It’s an example of how strong the northern section is this winter.

“At the last meet we were at, in Ely, there were about 60 teams there and we were sixth in girls but four of the top six teams were from Section 7,” coach Glen Sorenson said. “It’s like the old days when the north had the best hockey teams. Now it’s that way in skiing.”

Nearly 300 competitors braved temperatures that were below zero at the start of the race but around zero by the end, when the middle school skiers raced.

“The rules say six below is the coldest temperature you can have,” Sorenson said. “We got the meet in. It was close, but we were good. Most of the course is in the woods too — it wasn’t too windy in there.”

That said, the skiers got a lesson in cold-weather dressing.

“Some of them are still figuring out how to dress for cold races,” he added. “Some people had a little trouble with their hands and some came back to the finish line with a little white on their earlobes (from frostbite). They have to learn to wear the right kind of gear. We can tell them what to wear but they have to do it.”

In the girls race, CEC finished third behind Ely and Duluth East with a team score of 353, 26 points behind the winners.

Anja Maijala was seventh overall in 18:55.6, two places and two seconds ahead of Erika Fox in ninth, to give CEC two of the top ten positions. Franny Slater skied a very strong race and finished 17th, one second and one place ahead of teammate Silvie Deters. Courtney Gregory was 33rd, Emma Waugh 35th and Erin Turner 41st.

On the boys side, CEC was fifth with 323 points, in a tight contest where the top five teams were separated by only 56 points. Duluth East won, followed closely by Ely and Proctor-Hermantown.

Aidan Ripp was the top CEC finisher, taking 14th place in 16:46.4, with Parker Sinkkonen 20th and Tyler Northey 21st. Isaac Boedigheimer was 26th, Quinn Erkkila 27th, Robbie Sobczak 31st and Lucas Tomhave 33rd for the Lumberjacks.

Sorenson had special praise for the “bib-catchers,” volunteer parents who stood at the finish line in freezing temperatures to help finishing racers.

“Those parents wait at the end of the race to capture the skiers, take off their bibs and cover them with a blanket,” he said. “We had great volunteer help from our parents.”

Times were a bit slow due to temperature.

“Cold snow is slow snow,” Sorenson said. “It’s a slower race, the glide isn’t as good, your skis squeak a little and you know you aren’t moving like you can. Warm snow is the same way, so you like to be between 10 and 20 degrees.”

Those temperatures aren’t in the forecast for awhile yet, so the team will have another frozen weekend ahead.

“Some of our kids are going to the Marshall Sprints on Saturday, while others are racing USSSA events in Wausau,” Sorenson said. “We’re going to split up the team a bit until the conference pursuit race at Snowflake (Jan. 22).”

Find more results from Tuesday’s CEC Invitational in this week’s Scoreboard.