Molly Moening is very aware of where she stands. Not only in Nordic skiing state meets but within her own household.
The youngest of three children, Moening always has looked up to her oldest sister Erin — a junior skiing for Northern Michigan University — as the benchmark for success, constantly comparing her own results to where her sister was at her age.
This week the sophomore skier from St. Paul Highland Park, who has qualified for every state meet in cross-country, Nordic skiing and track and field since seventh grade, heads into another skiing state meet Friday as one of the favorites to do something neither of her sisters have done: win a state championship.
"That is something I could top her with," Moening said with a laugh. She finished sixth in the state meet a year ago.
Defending individual champion Mara McCollor of Wayzata graduated. Stillwater senior Elizabeth Tuttle, who took third, is the highest returning individual.
After finishing 18th in the state meet two years ago as an eighth-grader, Moening's joy of earning all-state honors quickly subsided when she realized sixth was one spot worse than Erin had finished in eighth grade. On the flip side, Moening was quick to text her sister following her first-place finish in the section meet last week, her third section title in four years, one more than her sister.
"Molly's been tagging around since Day 1, always trying to keep up with her bigger sister," said Brad Moening, the girls' father and 19-year coach of the boys' and girls' Nordic teams at Highland Park. "They keep tabs on each other pretty closely."
Not only does Molly Moening have an individual state title on her mind, she's hoping to see her team win its first title in school history. The Scots finished second last year behind Armstrong but return their top six finishers while the Falcons graduated their top five.
"Immediately after the state meet last year, we had our eyes set on winning it this year," Molly Moening said. "We are just so hungry for that title this year."
The Highland Park boys' team also returns to the state meet after finishing eighth last season. It's eyeing a top-three finish and is led by senior Cole Johnson. Johnson, who finished 72nd in the state meet last year, could crack the top 10 this time after winning the section meet by nearly 40 seconds.
He finished second in the Mesabi East Invitational at Giants Ridge in January.
"I stuck him in the classic race figuring we might see how good he really was," Brad Moening said. "It told me he could handle the hills. I'm pretty excited to see how he does at state."
The top eight boys' teams are all back. Last year's champion St. Cloud Cathedral/Sartell returns five skiers but individual state runner-up Alex Nemeth graduated. Nemeth's brothers Will and Zach — both juniors — are the team's top returners. They finished 18th and 19th last year, respectively.
The only top-10 individual finishers returning are Mora senior Cooper Lennox, third, and Mounds Park Academy senior Henry Snider, sixth.
The meet was moved to Friday amid concerns about skier safety because of subzero temperatures forecast for Thursday.
Girls' Alpine skiing champ back
Lakeville North junior Peyton Servais looks to defend her crown in the girls' Alpine skiing state meet. Two other top-10 individuals also return: Orono's Cordelia Sherwood, seventh, and St. Paul Academy's Isabelle Wolpert, ninth. Orono, the runner-up in 2019 by just one point, looks to move up a spot. Last year's champion Lakeville South failed to qualify.
In the boys' competition, Edina is the favorite to repeat, returning three skiers with state meet experience. One is third-place finisher sophomore Adam Berghult, one of the individual favorites. t Luke Conway of Minneapolis Washburn and Eli Quist of Minnetonka, who finished second and fourth last year, respectively, also will race.
Paul Hodowanic (email@example.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.