Senior Roger Anderson was always going to be in the mix for a 6A section title Feb. 6 at Theodore Wirth Park, but he wasn’t the only skier who excelled for the Falcons.
Anderson claimed the individual section title, and three other Armstrong boys finished in the top 11 to help Armstrong leap Wayzata and Hopkins to win the section title and advance to state for the fourth straight season.
The Falcons, which ended the four-year section title streak of Wayzata, finished with a 380. It was the first section title since 2008, when Armstrong won the 5A section.
“It was definitely the best team race of the year for us,” coach Steve Hopke said. “Everybody stepped up. It was just a great day.”
And it was done with just two of the top seven skiers back from last season – Anderson and senior Tommy Brandes.
But Hopke said that being healthy was key, but the focus of the guys to accomplish their goal was what really made the difference.
And with Brandes as the only senior in the top seven, this looks to be the beginning of this group’s success.
“We were basically on a rebuilding mode this year, and actually now going into next year, it is a young group,” Hopke said. “I know we basically have another couple of young kids, freshmen, who are skiing JV that will probably move into that area next year. So looking ahead, it is looking very good.”
The Trojans came into sections as favorites and still made state with a 372, 10 points ahead of third-place Hopkins. But they were no match for the speed of Armstrong’s top four.
Anderson claimed the title in 23 minutes, 55.7 seconds, beating out Wayzata junior Colin Freed (24:28.1). Anderson was ranked second after an 11:14 time in the 5K freestyle skate, but he dominated the 5K classical pursuit with a time of 12:41.7.
Brandes was right behind in third. His time was 25:47.2, and he jumped up a spot after his 12;14 time in the freestyle. Brandes finished the pursuit in 13:33.2.
Wayzata had the fifth-place finish in sophomore Noah Kaster (25:48.7) and the 10th-place finisher in senior Alex Pemberton (27:06.1).
But freshman Alex Omodt’s ninth-place finish and junior Leif Sicora’s 11th-place finish clinched the title.
Omodt finished in 26:59.4 with a freestyle time of 12:54 and a pursuit time of 14:12.1 to jump two spots. Sicora’s finished in 27:12.2 with a freestyle time of 12:53 and a pursuit time of 14:19.2.
Freshman Noah Breker and sophomore Thomas Whitehouse also had nice races despite their times not counting toward the final team score. Breker was 16th in 27:32.7 (13:08 freestyle, 14:24.7 pursuit), and Whitehouse was 17th in 27:37.6 (13:14 freestyle, 14:23.6 pursuit).
Senior Grant Juaire was 25th for the Falcons in 28:31.5 (13:19 freestyle, 15:12.5 pursuit).
Now the Falcons will try and continue the success Friday, Feb. 14, at the state meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
Anderson looks to have a shot at the top three or four, Hopke said. And a run at an individual state title is not off the books, though nothing is going to be easy.
“There is always a possibility of a state title, but again it is a pretty good field coming in,” Hopke said. “There are some good skiers that we haven’t skied against this year so far. Definitely, Roger can be in the mix at the top.”
As for the team, Hopke said that finishing in the top half of the field would “be a really good accomplishment.”
The teams expected to be in the mix for the state championship are all strong, and a team like Wayzata can also move up at a state meet with a different mix of skiers than at sections.
But in the end, Armstrong is looking to just enjoy themselves on the biggest stage.
“Now that we’re there, the pressure is kind of off coming through the section, and now it is just time to go out there, ski well and have fun,” Hopke said.