Nordic skiing: Condition perfect, numbers strong for 'Jacks
Coach Maijala: 'We’re off to a good start'
It wasn’t the best of days for Nordic skiing — it was cold and new snow couldn’t quite be groomed into the ideal track — but Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Arne Maijala enjoyed the day anyway.
“This is the best year I’ve been around in terms of having early snow and having decent conditions for racing,” he said. “We have a lot of kids out. We’re off to a good start and I’ve never seen such good snow this early.”
There are 56 skiers out for the team in grades 9-12 on both the boys and girls sides, and another 12-14 middle schoolers on the way up. Those numbers are extremely strong in the sport and Maijala is a worthy successor to longtime coach Glen Sorenson in getting skiers to come out for the sport.
“Glen did a great job of getting people to feel welcome and wanted and I think we’ve continued that,” Maijala said. “The numbers seem to bear that out, anyway.”
The teams started their season at the Proctor-Hermantown invitational meet held at Snowflake in Duluth on Tuesday. CEC took part along with the home team, Duluth East, Grand Rapids, Mesabi East, Ely and Duluth Marshall among others.
Sophomore Harmony Tracy finished first among C-E-C entrants, taking 22 nd place in the 4K freestyle event in 23:43.4. Freshman Charlotte Ripp (25 th), senior Hannah Zuck (28 th) and freshman Megan Chopskie (29 th) followed, with junior Anna Carlson (34 th) rounding out the top five.
On the boys side, junior Ben Bauer cruised to a third-place finish overall, covering the 4K course in 15:37.5. Junior Josh Sanders gave CEC two finishers in the top 10 by taking ninth, with senior Spencer Hoeffling (13 th), junior A.J. Maijala taking 24 th, junior Henry Slater 27 th and junior Nate Bong 35 th.
Maijala hopes the family atmosphere will continue to build.
“We have such good people helping, all volunteers. Having extra assistance through the volunteers is important since it means that everyone gets some individual attention and that’s important, especially for the beginning skiers.”
So, too, is the first CEC Ski Swap, held Nov. 16 at Pine Valley.
“Our goal is to get every first-year skier some free equipment,” Maijala said. “We’ve had terrific support from Sons of Norway, Continental Ski Shop and others, and we have proceeds from our own invitational to help, but we want to give something to the kids that will keep them skiing. We’ve always talked about doing something like this. Well, we finally did it.”
For the season ahead, Maijala expects his boys team to be strong.
“Ben (Bowers) is an awesome leader and so much of what he does flows back into his skiing,” Maijala said. “He runs cross-country in the fall, skis in the winter and runs distance in the spring for track (where Maijala is the distance coach). That kind of thing spreads to others and now we have people like Josh Sanders and Spencer Hoeffling doing the same thing.”
Maijala believes the sky is the limit for the girls, once they grow into their surroundings.
“We have people like Charlotte (Ripp), Harmony Tracy, and Halle Zuck, who had her first competitive meet yesterday, and we think they can get better as the season goes on,” he said.
That’s the big thing for the program — individual improvement.
“Watching them grow up is great,” Maijala said. “The most rewarding thing for me as a coach is getting to say, 'Awesome job; I can’t believe how well you have done through the years.' Some kids, when they come to us they are beginning skiers, and by the time they leave, they are posting times for us at the section meet.”
“We have lots of seventh and eighth graders out there who are working through it and finishing their first races,” he added. “We can tell those kids that they will see the benefits if they keep working and when they look around them, they know that’s true.”