BIWABIK, Minn. – One started with extra warmth on her feet. The other finished with a bow.
Seniors Zak Ketterson of Bloomington Jefferson and Margie Freed of Eastview concluded their prep Nordic skiing careers with a vengeance Thursday, with Ketterson winning the boys’ title for a second time while Freed won her first girls’ crown while.
The start of the meet at frigid Giants Ridge in Biwabik was delayed one half-hour to reach the minimum allowed temperature of minus-4.
“This is a little bittersweet,” Ketterson said after taking a bow as he crossed the finish line with an overall time of 27 minutes, 53.4 seconds. “It’s sad to be done. This state has been so good to me the last six years.”
The state meet consists of a 5K freestyle and 5K classical race to determine the pursuit champion. Ketterson became the first skier in the history of the event to double pole (a technique using just both arms and not striding) the second leg of the event. He posted a classical race time of 14:24.4, more than 20 seconds faster than the next-best time.
“I see him at a whole different level,” said Stillwater coach Torry Kraftson, who won three consecutive state championships from 1989-91. “Zak’s the whole package. That’s why he’s one of the top skiers in the world.”
Ketterson selected the technique to present a challenge to himself.
“I don’t think it was a bad decision,” Ketterson said. “My arms are really burning though. It was really hard going up the course, but once I got to the top it was a breeze coming down.”
Easy decision for him
Ketterson was making his first trip back to Giants Ridge since winning his initial championship in 2014. He skied on the U.S. national team last season instead of at the high school level.
“It was a no-brainer to come back for my senior season,” Ketterson said. “The only reason I didn’t race last year was because I couldn’t.”
He was competing in Sweden at the time of the state meet.
Ketterson didn’t waste any time showing way he was the overwhelming favorite. He covered the 5K freestyle course in the morning in a course record time of 13:29.
“That was a lot harder than I remember,” said Ketterson, who collapsed in a heap after crossing the finish line. I think because it’s shorter [5K] than I’m used to that it’s going to be easy, but it was a different kind of harder. It was a mixture of normal tired, plus your limbs are so cold.”
That is where the returning skiers to the state meet had an advantage over Ketterson. They competed last year when the state meet was delayed two hours due to blustery conditions.
“I was wearing more clothes than normal,” Ketterson said.
Eagan junior Patrick Acton turned a superb opening run, too, but found himself 39 seconds behind Ketterson. That lead was nearly doubled on the second run despite Ketterson double pulling the entire course.
“That was one of my better races of the year,” Acton said. “There was more competition with Zak coming back. But it’s like everybody else is competing for second and third.”
Grand finale for her
Freed, like Ketterson, entered the event ranked No. 1 and, coming off a third-place finish in 2015, didn’t disappoint her following.
“I ski better when my feet are warm,” Freed said. “I wore two pairs of socks with heat warmers this morning. I also wanted to finish quickly because my face was getting really cold.”
Freed got off to a flying start in the morning, too. She covered the 5K freestyle course in 16 minutes, opening up a 25-second lead over St. Paul Highland Park junior Erin Moening. Freed dropped to one pair of socks for the warmer afternoon race. She won the title by nearly 15 seconds, clocking in with an overall time of 32:44.6.
“I was more determined this year,” Freed said. “I just treated it as another race in the past.”
Moening finished fourth a year ago, right behind Freed.
“I skied a pretty good race last year, and wanted to do the same today,” Moening said. “I had really fast skis.”
Every time Moening made a run at Freed in the 5K classical race, the eventual state champion would widen her lead going uphill.
“It was nerve-wracking at the beginning because a person can make up 25 seconds,” Freed said. “I took it out pretty hard. I didn’t want to leave anything on the table.”
Two first-time team champs
The Armstrong girls’ team continued the march of favorites to the top spot on the podium. After back-to-back second-place finishes, the Falcons won their first state title with 414 points, 16 more than runner-up Wayzata.
“We were really going for it this year,” said Armstrong senior Hannah Rudd, who led the way for the Falcons with a fourth-place finish. “We have a family atmosphere on our team, so this is really a proud moment.”
Minneapolis Southwest followed Armstrong’s lead and won its first boys’ crown with 377 points. The Lakers only have one senior, Conlan Olson, on their six-member team.
“It was a little tense at lunch because it was too close to call,” said Olson, the epitome of a student-athlete. He registered a perfect ACT score last year. “We pulled it together this afternoon. It’s a great way to end my career, as a state champion