Biwabik, Minn. – The wooden stairway that leads up to the veranda at the Lodge at Giants Ridge Ski Area seems pretty ordinary. To Xavier Mansfield, however, standing at the top of that stairway is something he's dreamed of since he began skiing.
The Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony senior made up 20 seconds in the classic-style race to win the pursuit championship — and thus win the boys' individual title — at the Nordic skiing state meet.
Mansfield, who lives in northeast Minneapolis and attends St. Anthony High School, was in third place after the freestyle (skate) portion of the meet. He pulled ahead halfway through the classic race, the result of a winning combination of urgency and good wax.
"Being 20 seconds behind, I was a little worried, but chasing helped a little bit with motivation," Mansfield said.
He went off in the classic race behind two close friends, Patrick Acton of Eagan and William Kerker of Minneapolis Southwest. The three of them ski together for the three-time national champion Loppet Nordic Club. Mansfield caught Acton and Kerker at the top of the uphill portion of the 5K race and, with a slicker wax job on his skis, pulled away to win the overall title in a combined time of 28 minutes, 23.2 seconds.
"Sometimes, it comes down to who works the hardest and who has the fastest skies coming down," Mansfield said. "I had better glide."
Mansfield's move came with 2 kilometers to go. Both Acton, who finished second, and Kerker, who was third, knew the race was over right then.
"My skis had great kick going up but were a little slower than theirs coming down," Kerker said. "I couldn't keep up with them."
Acton won the freestyle portion of the competition but knew holding that lead would be tough. "I'm not that strong of a classic skier," he said. "I hoped at some point I could catch them in the last 1K, but I'm very happy with my skate race. I value that more."
Mansfield said winning the state championship was the culmination of something he's thought of often.
"When you first start skiing, you see all the fast guys and think, 'That'll never be me,' " Mansfield said. "But you just keep training and eventually you get there. It's just a dream to be at the top of that staircase."
Minneapolis Southwest won the boys' team title for the second consecutive year. The Lakers had three top-10 finishers in Kerker, Torsten Brinkema (eighth) and Adlai Sinkler (ninth) and finished with 421 team points. Wayzata was second with 405.
Ely skier, team take girls' titles
Five years of misfortune turned into one perfect day for Ely's Erin Bianco, who won the girls' Nordic skiing individual championship at Giants Ridge.
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 32:20.
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 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 swan song for Bianco, who chose distance running over skiing for her college sport 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 (394) and Minneapolis Southwest third (368, on tiebreaker).
"This is amazing," Bianco said of the Ely sweep. "I'll probably cry again."