The Southwest High School boy’s Nordic team reached an unprecedented level of success the past two years, winning the first two state titles in school history.
That success was due in part to hard work during the offseason, team members said.
The team did training during the summer three years ago and took a training trip to Colorado early in the 2015–2016 season, a high-altitude training experience team members said paid off later in the season.
“You just feel better,” 10th-grader Henry Hall said. “You basically go faster for working less.”
The team won the Section 2 meet in 2016 to advance to state. It entered the state meet ranked second and won by seven points over Stillwater.
The team graduated just one skier from its 2016 state-championship squad, leading coach Drew Holbrook to predict another state title in 2017. Holbrook also predicted the girls team would place at state, despite not even qualifying as a team in 2016.
The boys team wanted to prove they were a strong team that could repeat as state champions, 11th-grader Torsten Brinkema said. The team took its fall training seriously and made big improvements, according to 12th-grader Adlai Sinkler.
The team stayed healthy throughout the year and won its section meet by a large margin, taking five of the seven top spots. The girls team also won its section meet, earning three of the six top spots.
The boys team was ranked first in state heading into the state meet, and the girls were seventh. Several coaches went up to Giants Ridge a day early to wax skis.
The boys won the meet by “a comfortable margin” over second-place Wayzata, coach Chris Johnson said. Four skiers earned all-state honors: 12th-grader Foss Kerker, Brinkema, Sinkler and Hall.
The girls team finished in a three-way tie for third place with Stillwater and Duluth East but won the tiebreaker with the fastest combined time.
Johnson said he thinks the team’s attention to detail contributed to the third-place finish. He said the coaches’ strengths complement each other, and they are honest with each other and with the kids.
“We’ve done things the right way for the long term,” he said. “The kids are becoming well-rounded people, ultimately, which is why we do this.”
All of the boys said they race for club teams as well as for high school teams, but Sinkler said he gets most nervous before high school races, because his teammates are counting on him.
“Warming up before the state meet, my heart rate is like 20 beats higher than it usually is,” he said.
Team members said they are close with one another, hanging out with each other all the time. Johnson gives each member a nickname according to a different theme. Last year the names had to do with monster trucks. This year, Johnson gave everyone a name focused around thoroughbred horses.
Johnson has been with the team since 2011, when he connected with coach James Dundon at a mountain bike race. He, Dundon and Holbrook helped build the program over the past few years, along with parents Bill and Linda Kerker. They helped the boys team earn its first trip to state in 2015, where they finished 10th.
The program added Leslie Hale this past season as the girls coach. It also added Conlan Olson, a 2016 Southwest graduate who was on a gap year, as an assistant.
Tenth-grader Lily Richmond said the girls team wasn’t expecting to finish third at state. The team will graduate just one of its top seven skiers from this past season, and Hale said she guesses it will be ranked first or second in state to start next season.
“Now we’re on the radar,” she said.