Highland Park girls win Minnesota’s nordic skiing state championship

By: Abby Altman

Winning is not a new thing for the Highland Park nordic ski teams. Earlier this season, the girls team won their 8th consecutive conference title, while the boys won their 6th. Both teams then won their respective section races, qualifying once again, for the state meet in Biwabik, MN. 

The girls team has had an incredible history at the state meet. In the 3 seasons prior to 2022, Highland’s girls took 2nd place, 1st place, and then 2nd place again. With recent year’s results in the back of their minds, the Highland girls were excited and ready to race. “The team energy was very high,” said junior skier Chloe Koch. 

The state meet is split over 2 days, with the classic pursuit race on day 1, and the relays, followed by the skate pursuit, on day 2. 

After day 1, with the classic races behind them, both teams were looking ahead to day 2. The boys team was sitting in 6th place, led by junior Davis Isom. Isom had a great race and was sitting in 5th place for individual results. 

The girls team was in 1st place, just 3 points ahead of Duluth East, perhaps the team’s biggest competition. “A few of us had less desirable races,” said Koch. She stated that, “The mood dimmed a little,” after day 1. The girl’s top racer, senior Molly Moening, finished her race in 3rd place. Moening had won the individual state championship 2 years in a row, in 2020 and 2021. 

The morning of day 2 started with the boys relay sprint. The boys relay team was made up of senior Alex Pfankuch and junior Max “Shaggy” Reemstma. The relay team took 6th overall, adding 147 points to the boys team’s total score. 

The girls relay consisted of 2 seniors, Rayna Axelson and Silja Earl Tornianian. The girls raced hard for a 4th place finish, behind both major competitors, Duluth East and Forest Lake.

After the relays, the girls team was in 2nd, 6 points behind Duluth East. The boys were in 6th. 

“Everyone was more nervous going into the second race because we knew that we were a few points behind,” said Koch. 

The skate race was pursuit style, meaning the entire race is a game of catch-up. Moening, starting 3rd, was unable to pass the top 2 finishers, finishing with a 3rd place finish in her senior year state championship. 

For scoring, the top 3 finishers point total is added to the team’s score. Moening finished 1st for the team, 3rd overall, followed by Hanna Koch in 12th and Chloe Koch in 20th. Duluth East’s top 3 scorers finished in 14th, 18th, and 23rd overall.

The end of the state meet came down to the wire for the Highland Park girls. “Everyone was cold and I think most people didn’t think we won,” Koch said of the team’s spirit immediately following the final race. “We went into the tent to warm up and that’s where Coach Moening told us we won.” Brad Moening is the Highland Park Nordic and Cross Country coach.

When it came down to it, Highland Park edged out Duluth East by a slim 3 points, claiming their 2nd state championship in 3 years. “We all started to cry and hug each other,” said freshman racer Alex Pundsack. “It was happiness, relief, tiredness, and plain joy.” 

The boys team finished in 5th place, meeting their goal of a top 5 finish. 

3 skiers on the girls state team will be graduating this spring, but Highland houses a strong, young varsity lineup, ready to fill those spots and try to bring home another state trophy next year. The boys team is losing just 1 senior to graduation, and hope to come back even stronger next season. 

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