CALLAWAY — Brainerd’s Lily Schaeffer and Little Falls’ Connor Grant won individual titles and both led their respective teams to the state tournament after day two of the Section 8 meet at Maplelag Resort.
Schaeffer won the pursuit portion of the event in 33:07.3. The eldest posted the fastest classic time on Tuesday February 8 and did the same in the freestyle on Wednesday to repeat as section champion by over a minute.
“Tuesday was really wild with the weather and the snow and wax conditions, so she wasn’t happy with her classic run,” Warriors co-coach Mary Claire Ryan said. “He was the closest person to her all year. She wasn’t happy even though she was leading this part, but that’s what drives her to come out and put it all out there. is launched in pursuit #1 and no one has even approached her.
Schaeffer’s best score paired with fourth-place Annelise Baird in 34:32.1 and seventh-place Ellie Brown in 35:02.1 and third-place Addie Ryan and Isabelle Smith in the sprint relay propelled Brainerd to the state tournament for the fourth straight year.
Victory wasn’t in the bag until the Ryan-Smith stint crossed into third place.
“The girls team went down in the last half of the last lap of the relay and we had to be third to win and our relay team pulled it off,” Ryan said. “Ellie Brown and Annelise also improved, so it was a total team effort to achieve that.
“In the first lap of the relay, there is a hill called the Kamikaze. It’s a steep hill with a sharp left at the bottom and Izzy fell on it and went off course. It took 20 seconds or more to unravel and pull through. So instead of walking around the corner, we told them if they needed to swipe to get ahead and do it. It was a bit colder today. These two just have team chemistry.
The Warrior girls won’t be alone as the Brainerd boys also qualified with a second place finish. Eli Knapp led Brainerd’s pursuit team with a fourth-place finish in 29:37.7. Mitchell Neumann was sixth followed by Ben Karlgaard in 11th. Braden Capelle (17th) and Adam Cady (18th) also finished in the Top 20. The sprint relay duo of Noah Schaeffer and Taite Knapp finished third in 16:23.9 leading to Brainerd’s 375 team points .
“It’s interesting with the relay because for both boys and girls, it came down to the last event,” said Ryan. “It was wild and very exciting. Both of our relay teams were third and the boys had to hold on as well. It was very close all the way. Our boys being second is great. We still have two coming back from ‘a disease and not really 100%, but they did what it took to qualify for the state.
“We had the five guys in the top 20 and that was the key to our success. Ben Kaarlgard had a great race in the classic and he even broke his ski and was still able to finish. It’s been two wild days.
Grant won the men’s pursuit in 28:05.0. It was followed by third place Ethan Yorek in 28:44.5. Alexander Oberton placed 14th, Angus Rustad 16th and Grant Yorek 20th. The Flyers sprint relay tandem of Elliott Obeton and Edward Sobich placed second, leading the Flyers team score of 381. It’s the fifth straight year the Flyers have achieved an official birth, but it’s their first section title since 2011.
The Flyers’ Beth Ahlin was 16th in 35:59.6 followed by Aliza Kresha in 17th as the Little Falls girls finished sixth.
The top two teams will advance to the state meet, which has moved to a two-day format Feb. 16-17 at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
The top four individuals not on state qualifying teams and the top stint not on a state qualifying team also advanced.
Section 8, which awarded Ryan and fellow head coach Chris Hanson Section Coaches of the Year, was the only Section to use the two-day format similar to what the state meet will be. The other sections completed their tests in one day.
“It was an entirely different section race,” Ryan said. “It just seemed like an eternity. Downtime is great for resting, but downtime when things are so tight works on your head. Since we have moved forward, it has been very good for us in how we deal with the time gaps we had.