A teammate’s text message alerted Osseo Nordic skier Sarah Bezdicek of her latest milestone — a top-10 ranking on skinnyski.com.
After seeing her name at the No. 5 spot, Bezdicek turned her attention to the other names. Doing so helped her grasp the full meaning of her notoriety. Eight of the top 10 skiers placed ahead of Bezdicek at last season’s state meet. But now she races among the peers who last year were just out of reach.
“It was kind of surprising at first, to be with all these other girls I’ve been racing with the past three years,” Bezdicek said. “It was like, ‘I’m finally getting to the point where I can ski with them.’ I proved to myself that I can be at the top with them.”
Bezdicek has gained ground on the elite faster than expected in a sport in which progress is typically incremental. She began skiing as an eighth-grader. She reached the state meet as a freshman. As a sophomore last season, Bezdicek earned all-state honors with a 19th-place finish.
“It’s been a pretty rapid ascent,” Osseo coach Brad Rosch said.
But Bezdicek has remained grounded.
“I’m trying not to focus too much on rankings,” Bezdicek said. “As cool as it is, they can switch every day. You can’t be like, ‘Oh, I’m safe because I’m ranked.’ You have to keep working hard because you don’t want that spot taken away.”
Rising into the top 10 started long before the first snowflake fell. Bezdicek intensified her training with her club team, Loppet Nordic Racing, through roller skiing, running and skiing-specific strength training. She sacrificed cross-country running at Osseo last fall to focus on skiing.
The payoff came early this season. Bezdicek won the first two meets of the season, including a head-to-head victory against No. 7 Hannah Rudd of Robbinsdale Armstrong. Bezdicek also posted the fastest sprint qualifying time at the Junior Olympic qualifiers in mid-December in Wausau, Wis., and took second in finals to Irondale’s Mattie Watts, ranked second on the skinnyski.com top 10.
“I was pumped,” Bezdicek said. “It was like, ‘These are the girls I’ve been looking up to and now I get to race with them.’ ”
Her performance in the remaining three Junior Olympic qualifiers will determine whether she makes the Midwest team and advances to junior nationals in Vermont. Last year she was the second alternate.
Bezdicek’s success is due in large part to a richer understanding of competition. Her physical gains are a product of her sharper mind.
“That’s been a big thing this year,” Bezdicek said. “During races you have to keep focused on what you’re doing. Some races have interval starts so you don’t know where the other girls are. So you have to keep control of your technique and stay smooth and powerful through your whole race. You have to really push yourself. Whenever I’m struggling I tell myself, ‘Every second counts.’ ”
Shaving precious seconds starts with good technique. Nordic skiers compete in two events, freestyle (or skate) and classic. Bezdicek has done well in the former but struggled at times with the latter.
“It’s taken more time to refine the classic,” Bezdicek said. ‘‘This year I’ve been doing more classic skiing than skate skiing. I’ve got to get it down and I think it’s getting there.”
A high-profile proving ground awaits this Saturday as Osseo takes part in the Mesabi East Invite in Biwabik, the nation’s largest high school race. More than 1,000 skiers from more than 80 schools in Minnesota and nearby states are expected to compete in boys and girls’ races at Giants Ridge, which is also the site of February’s state meet.
Bezdicek hopes to return for the state meet and extend her run of success.
“Top-10 would be awesome; top-five would be ideal,” Bezdicek said. “But it comes down to the day. There are so many really good girls. The top 10 is really tight and it’s kind of anyone’s game up there.”