By Ron McGown
Fresh off a strong performance in January’s Conference Meet, the Mound Westonka White Hawks Nordic skiers were eager to test themselves against the perennial powerhouses of Armstrong, Wayzata and Hopkins. The Section 6 Classic Pursuit gave them that opportunity Feb. 6 at Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley.
The section race was also the state qualifier, and the top two teams and next six individual skiers would earn a trip to the state meet in Biwabik, Minnesota this week. Since the inception of the Nordic team, Mound Westonka had never failed to send a representative to the state meet, and hopes were riding high that they would continue the remarkable streak.
The day’s races followed the classic pursuit format whereby each skier completed the 5K course on skate skis in the morning and then on classic skis in the afternoon. The afternoon racers started in the order in which they finished the morning’s race, separated by the time by which they trailed the skiers ahead of them. The order of finishers in the second race determined who won a trip to state.
The White Hawks girls got out to a strong start but were stymied by the depth of the top three teams. After the first race, the top White Hawks skier, senior captain Kate McGown, was in 20th place and needed to make up six spots in the second race against the top skiers in the section. Junior captain Carly McGown, sophomore Anna Elliott, eighth-grader Anna Wood, senior Grace Hanson and eighth-grader Averie Zealley all had fast times for the course, but none were in contention for the top spots.
Somewhat disheartened, the girls spread out on the course to cheer on the White Hawks boys team and were treated to an electrifying lap by rookie phenom sophomore Lance Nemecek. He completed the 5K course in a blistering 12:49 to put him in eighth place overall and easily in the state qualifying group. Junior Nolan Hanson and senior captain Robby Brustad were less than 20 seconds behind Nemecek and well within reach of state qualifying finishes as well. They were followed by junior Roman Fenzl, sophomore Max Epsky, junior Dylan Osborn and ninth-grader Ashton Demmer.
Anticipation ran high for the afternoon classic technique races. The hilly course was exhausting after the hard skiing of the morning, and the stress of trying to pass skiers ahead while holding off skiers behind added to the challenge. McGown passed one skier and finished two spots out of qualifying. The girls’ team finished seventh overall before attention shifted to the boys race.
Nemecek started with a pack of boys who jockeyed for position up and down the hills. No one seemed to have an advantage as they passed the viewing spots along the course. The skiers were so tightly packed around the final turn in into the straightaway that four skiers finished within three seconds of each other. The order they crossed the line mattered, as one skier was from Wayzata and would earn a team qualifying time. The coaches and the crowd speculated with increasing intensity as subsequent finishers sprinted to the line. Not until 20 minutes later when the final results were posted, amid White Hawks cheers, was Nemecek assured the final state qualifying spot and a 13th-place finish overall. The streak stands! The boys team finished a satisfying fifth overall.
Due to the extreme cold weather expected for Thursday, the state meet has been delayed one day and will run instead on Friday, Feb. 14. The boys and girls teams will travel to Biwabik to cheer on Nemecek and celebrate a great season.