When it’s time to run long distances, they do, better than any other team in the nation.
When it’s time to ski over trails and through the woods, they are the best Minnesota has to offer.
And when it’s time to dance ... well, they do so with gusto.
Members of the Wayzata girls’ Nordic ski team, including many who also ran for the Trojans’ state and national champion cross-country team, are facing their first major test of the season Saturday on the biggest stage one can offer in high school Nordic skiing, the Mesabi Invitational.
It will be the defending state champs’ first time racing together on snow this season. With their history together, the Trojans should come together as smoothly as wax on a ski.
“It’s part of the cycle,” said junior Anna French, who has ranked among the top 10 in the state in both running and skiing. “It’s what we’re used to. We train hard and at the end of the season, there’s a big meet. Right after that, we get back into the next sport.”
Wayzata won the Class 2A state cross-country team championship in November. Then team shocked most observers, including themselves, by winning the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., one month later. French, senior Alayna Sonnesyn, sophomore Michaela Keller-Miller and freshman Annika Lerdall comprised four of the six members of the national champs and also make up the core of the Nordic team.
“We have a team that’s really, really good friends,” French said. “We enjoy training with each other and encouraging one another.”
And with the change of seasons comes a change in the pecking order. As runners, French and Lerdall paced the cross-country team. As skiers, leading the way are Sonnesyn — who has yet to race with the ski team this season due her training for national junior competition — Keller-Miller and French.
Each is good enough, however, to push the others.
“They’re really amazing girls,” Wayzata Nordic skiing coach Larry Myers said. “They did a tremendous job in cross-country running and they’re just as good in skiing. If there was a national [high school] championship in skiing, these girls would be right up there.”
The reasons are nothing surprising. When asked, everyone involved with both teams talks about dedication and motivation, along with a healthy helping of natural ability.
“They’re so good, they supply their own motivation,” Myers said. “Sometimes I have to kick them off the course.”
There is one factor, however, that sets the Wayzata girls apart. They know when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to lighten up. They take care of business but are not ALL business.
“It’s like a second family to me,” said Sonnesyn, taking time out of her busy U.S. National Junior Championships schedule to call from Utah. “It’s an honor to be with the girls on those teams. It’s incredible what we’ve been able to accomplish together. We enjoy each other so much.”
Wayzata’s exuberance came through in Portland, where the unexpected thrill of winning the national championship manifested itself in an infectious dance routine. It charmed race organizers so much that a video of it was placed on the race’s official website.
‘‘That’s my favorite memory,” Lerdall said. “When our name when up on the board as being first, we were all screaming.”
The dance, casually nicknamed the XC Pop, evolved from a dance move by Annika Halverson, one of the more creative cross-country team members, and became the official team celebration. Whatever the mostly swinging of hips and arms might lacks in refinement, it makes up for in spirit.
“We have so much fun with each other,” Sonnesyn said. “It’s just another one of the fun parts of our team relationship.”