By PATRICK SLACK
There wasn’t much suspense going in.
And if there was any left after the morning classic competition, it evaporated completely as the afternoon skate unfolded.
For the eighth year in a row, the Little Falls girls Nordic ski team claimed a trip to state by winning Tuesday’s Section 8A championship at Camp Ripley, outdistancing runner-up Brainerd 387-359.
Also joining the Flyers girls team at the state meet will be junior Mathew Massmann, who placed 10th in the boys race to advance individually.
“It’s certainly still very special,” Little Falls head coach Terry Wasland said. “It’s changed somewhat in the fact that early on we were going against some city squads in a different section and it was pure adrenaline to beat them.”
“Now, we’ve established ourselves and I think sometimes it’s a little more of a relief to perform well,” he said. “But you look at the girls’ faces and it’s still very exciting to become a section champ and know you’re going to the state meet.”
Hauer wins overall title
Junior Maria Hauer made up enough ground after starting in the 12th position in the classic to build a 19-second lead heading into the skate.
From there, Hauer maintained a convincing lead from start to finish, finishing with an overall time of 38:09.
Hendrickson was faced with the tall task of starting first in the classic, yet sailed by along to the third-best time.
In the afternoon, she climbed from third to second, closing with a time of 38:22.
“Maria skied a very solid race and Mattia had just an outstanding day,” Wasland said. “We put her in a tough position starting out (first in the classic race) and she came through like a champion.”
Senior Chelsea Rutz followed in sixth place at 39:35 and junior Kaitlin Geisenhof took eighth in 40:15 to also count toward the team score.
Eighth-grader Kendal Hendrickson (42:42) and freshman Claire Gammon-Deering (42:53) finished back-to-back in 17th and 18th place, respectively, and senior Josie Lange earned 30th in 44:46.
“Even though we were the odds-on favorite, nothing is guaranteed,” Wasland said. “Anytime you go into a big competition, your body gets a heightened awareness, the adrenaline is pumping. I’m sure the girls would tell you they had some butterflies.”
“I thought we raced very well,” he said. “We were prepared physically and emotionally. The girls went out and established themselves in the classic race. In the afternoon we probably didn’t push as hard, but that’s part of being cautious (with a lead).”
Flyers boys finish fifth
Massmann qualified comfortably with a combined time of 34:57, closing with 28 seconds of breathing room over the first non-qualifier, to lead the Flyers boys to a fifth-place finish.
“Matt had an outstanding classic race and a real solid skate race,” Wasland said.
Senior Brian McNamara was the next finisher for the Flyers in 14th place in 35:44, with freshman Gunner Kleinschmidt (36:25), junior John Gottwalt (36:31) and senior Isaiah Korver (36:41) also finishing in the top 25.
Sophomore Ethan Crocker earned 38th place in 38:57 and sophomore Michael Carll took 45th in 40:02.