More than an honor for Irondale junior Mattie Watts, being ranked No. 1 among the state's Nordic skiers by completed a unique circle.

Years ago as a seventh-grader running a cross-country race, Watts caught the attention of Margaret Adelsman. Her husband, Bruce, maintains, a trove of local Nordic skiing information.

Margaret contacted Watts' mother and suggested that the athletic youngster try the sport.

"I had never even heard of Nordic skiing," Watts said.

These days, Watts' friends and teammates never hear the end of her enjoyment for the sport.

"It's like her life," said junior Sarah Tokos, a teammate of Watts for the past four years. "She's very motivated. It's all she talks about, and that's awesome. That's something to admire."

Watts leads Irondale into Wednesday's Section 5 race at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, looking to reach the state meet Feb. 14 at Giants Ridge in Biwabik for the third consecutive time. She qualified for the past two state meets, taking 25th as a freshman and improving to 14th as a sophomore. Both of those finishes earned her all-state citation, but Watts hopes for greater glory this year.

"I want to be on the podium at state, which is top three," Watts said. "But there are about 10 different girls that could get those three spots."

Tokos knows Watts won't be outworked.

"Lots of the girls practice and have fun, which is good, because it's supposed to be fun, but she's in the zone," Tokos said. "She's got a different mentality. Seeing her work harder gives us all a little different mentality. We try to keep up."

Watts' Nordic skiing preparation has her on roller skis during the summer with Irondale teammates at nearby Long Lake Park, and with her SISU club team around the metro area.

Her abilities have taken her nationwide. She raced last May in Utah in a junior nationals event and qualified to compete in a junior national event in March in Alaska. She hopes to go a step further into the realm of international.

"I want to go skiing on a glacier this summer in Canada," Watts said. "My SISU team might be making a trip up there. If I can convince my mom ..."

Watts and her mother visited earlier in January to get a look at the rankings. Coming off a strong second-place finish at the Mesabi East Invitational, Watts felt confident about her place near the top. A No. 1 ranking validated those feelings.

"We saw it and screamed," Watts said.

Bruce Adelsman said he and his wife often encourage young athletes to try Nordic skiing. But Watts is the first to take that advice all the way to No. 1.

"I wouldn't want to overstate our position in terms of Mattie's success," Adelsman said. "A lot of this is Mattie's own talent."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574