BIWABIK, MINN. - Both defending individual state champions were beaming with confidence. Their friendly rivals were doing likewise. It provided for a dramatic finish down the slopes of Giants Ridge.
It took two experienced seniors -- Michael Murray of Bloomington Jefferson and Elizabeth Koprucki of East Ridge -- to dethrone the 2012 champions on Wednesday at the Alpine state ski meet at Giants Ridge. The state event consists of two runs, with the champions having the best overall time from their two trips down the hill.
It marked the first time that both genders each had one trip down the Innsbruck and Helsinki courses. In the past, the two runs were on the same course for each -- the girls' run on Innsbruck and boys' on Helsinki.
"It was interesting getting to ski the other side of the hill," Murray said. "It was a cool switch. It worked out really well for me."Murray is money
Murray knew there were as many as 10 skiers who could garner the boys' individual crown. The Jaguars standout was one of them in the mix.
"I figured it was a wide open race," Murray said. "I wanted to ski it smart, and see where I stacked up."
Murray, who finished fourth a year ago, did just that from the outset. He opened up nearly a one-second lead over defending state champion Jack Post of Eden Prairie after the initial run down Innsbruck. Murray posted a time of 36.99 seconds, while Post came in at 37.82.
"You are only happy with your time when everybody else is behind you," Post said.
Post knew he had to make up for lost time on his second run, a trek down Helsinki. The senior turned in a time of 37.05 to put the pressure on Murray.
Post wasn't alone. Before Murray's second run, Jack McNeill of Blake had taken over the top spot with the best run of the day, 36.40.
"I saw Jack fly out of the start," Murray said. "I knew I had to go hard."
Murray's second trip down the slope nearly mirrored his first. He clocked in at 36.68, finishing with an overall time of 1:13.67. Runner-up McNeill's time was 1:14.26, with Post third at 1:14.87.
"I had to ski another smart run if I wanted to win," Murray said. "I had to duplicate what I did on the first run."
That he did.Battling duo
Koprucki and defending state champion Megan Danelski of Hermantown are the best of friends. They have grown accustomed to getting the best out of each other over the years.
"We have been going against each other since we were 7," Koprucki said. "Our times are always close. We go back-and-forth with who wins."
Danelski edged Koprucki in the state meet a year ago. Koprucki was the runner-up, finishing more than one second behind Danelski.
"It's good competition for both of us," said Koprucki, who had the fastest time on both runs this year, finishing with a winning time of 1:15.52.
Danelski had the second-fastest times on both runs, but wound up being disqualified for straddling a gate late in her second run. Savannah Stone of Brainerd wound up in second place.
"I started out really confident," Danelski said. "There was a lot of pressure having won it last year."
Koprucki got off to a good start, posting the girls' fastest time of the day (38.08) on the opening run down the Helsinki course.
"That definitely gave me a boost," Koprucki said. "I still had to go all out on the second run."
Koprucki's victory capped her march to the top. She finished 12th as a freshman and sixth as a sophomore.
"I was really pushing it today," Koprucki said. "It feels really good to finish this way."Team titles
Blake nearly duplicated a feat it was the first school to accomplish in 1978, sweeping the team crowns.
The boys' squad, behind McNeill, finished first, but the girls' team wound up second in the Bears' quest for a rare double. Minnetonka won the girls' team championship.
Neither team champion from a year ago -- the Minnetonka boys and the Hermantown girls -- qualified for this meet.
"Team sports has always been more my thing," McNeill said. "This is awesome. There is nothing better than winning a championship as a team."