BEMIDJI -- Of all the state championships at Bemidji High School, one in particular is truly a hidden gem.
That’s because it’s more of a mystery than all the others. Not only is the winning event now defunct, but the long, impressive and proud hall of state champions at BHS is missing three names: Kristen Knoshaug, Anne Jackelen and Heather Clemenson.
“At the time, I guess I didn’t realize what a big deal it was,” said Clemenson, now Heather Guyan. “I’ve got letters from the governor, I’ve got letters from the school board, the principal. It’s kind of crazy.”
The three received praise for their performance in one of the shortest-lived state championships in Minnesota history, winning a girls cross country skiing title in the 3x3K relay race of 1993.
“We all three were really competitive,” Guyan said. “We were really good friends. And instead of using that competitive drive against one another, it really worked in our favor. We skied really well together. We toggled winnings back and forth. Kristen would win once, Anne would win once, I’d win. So, together, we made a real formidable team.”
The relay race lasted only eight years. The 3x3K structure spanned from 1991-94, and then it evolved into a 4x3K relay in 1995 (the same year the sport changed titles from cross country skiing to Nordic skiing). To compete in the event, skiers had to withdraw their names from individual and team competition and race solely in the relay.
“I do remember that being a big decision that (second-year head coach Angie Nistler) had to make because we were also seeded No. 1 as a team,” Guyan said of the Section 8 Meet. “But Brainerd was our big opponent at the time, and they were a very strong team, as well. So it was more of a gamble to send us as a team to sections, versus sending us as a relay.
“… Angie had a tough decision, but we openly discussed it. I think all of us agreed that it would be a much better memory and the right thing for the program, for Bemidji and for the team to go as a relay.”
The roll of the dice paid off. Brainerd/Pillager won the team section championship at Camp Ripley (eventually placing last at state), but the Lumberjack trio posted all three top-three times among the relay field, waltzing to the section crown and seizing its accompanying state berth.
‘We knew we had a chance’
Guyan remembers the sounds of the state meet.
“Hearing people cheer when I came in, and when the race started, it was just exhilarating,” she said. “… Bemidji had never won a state title in skiing. So it was just a really great experience to be a part of.”
It wasn’t their first time on that stage. BHS won the section championship as a team in 1992, and so they had experience under their belts. Guyan was 11th individually, Knoshaug 33rd and Jackelen 50th a year before joining forces for the relay.
Knoshaug raced the first leg at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, finishing her three-kilometer stretch in 9:42.2. Jackelen was next, timing out at 9:58.4. And Guyan anchored the team, clocking in at 10:04.2 for a combined time of 29:44.8.
“(Twin) Cities teams always tend to be bigger and stronger and place better than the rural towns do a lot of times. That’s just how it goes,” Guyan said. “But we knew we had a really good shot. The three of us were really good skiers individually, and we knew we had a chance.”
They beat the rest of the field by over a minute.
In the 23rd season of the program, Guyan, Knoshaug and Jackelen had become Bemidji’s first state champions. To this day, they’re still the only female BHS skiers with a state title to their names.
Winona Cotter placed second with a time of 30:46.8, and Bloomington Jefferson placed third at 31:01.8.
By 1998, the relay event rode off into the sunset for good. And so only 28 girls can ever stake a claim as a relay state champion.
“Thinking about it that way makes me feel really proud to be part of a group that worked really hard,” Guyan said. “Gosh, that’s a really special legacy. We were good friends and we worked really hard, so it was a great way to not only end our BHS careers, but to leave that legacy for Bemidji and the program.”