Five years of misfortune turned into one perfect day for Ely’s Erin Bianco, who won the Girls’ Nordic Ski Racing individual championship Thursday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
Bianco was in second place behind Cloquet-Esko-Carlton’s Anja Maijala after the freestyle race but caught Maijala in the classic race and finished in a time of 32:20.7.
Maijala took second. She skied with an injured shoulder that hampered her in the classic race, which requires more effort with poles. St. Paul Highland Park’s Erin Moening was third.
Bianco was making her sixth consecutive state tournament appearance but had never before finished higher than 17th. Something always seemed to go wrong.
“I never really thought this would happen,” Bianco said. “I’d think about it and then put it out of my mind, like ‘No, no, no.’ I was always sick or I’d fall.”
But Thursday broke sunny and warm and Bianco, by her admission, felt better than she ever had in previous state meets.
“I just felt super fast and my skis were fast,” she said. “But I was shocked when I saw my [freestyle] time. I thought I’d be, like, 10th at best.”
Still, Bianco dared not let herself think she could actually win until she hit the final straightaway on the course.
“I never wanted to get my hopes up. It didn’t hit me that it was real until I saw my dad at the end,” she said. “I just started crying.”
The result proved to be a fitting swansong for Bianco, who chose distance running over skiing for her college career at St. Olaf. What makes it more special, she said, is that Ely won the team competition, giving northeastern Minnesota a sweep of the girls’ titles.
Behind Bianco, Ely’s Emma Terwilliger was 11th, Ryne Prigge 18th and Laura Pasmick 29th, finishing with a team score of 413. Armstrong finished second and Minneapolis Southwest third.
“This is amazing,” Bianco said of the Ely sweep. “I’ll probably cry again.”