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NORDIC SKIING: New relay event adds strategy, lineup shuffling for Bemidji

A brand new event is already forcing the Bemidji High School Nordic skiing teams to convert from checkers to chess.

121521.S.BP.BHSSKI Molly Matetich and Elena Harmsen.jpg
Bemidji sophomores Molly Matetich, left, and Elena Harmsen take off from the start of the 5K in the Bemidji Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bemidji High School’s Lumberjack Trail. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- A brand new event is already forcing the Bemidji High School Nordic skiing teams to convert from checkers to chess.

New to the trails this winter is a relay event, which pairs with the traditional pursuit event and adds a whole new dynamic to meets. That was evident on Saturday at BHS, when the Lumberjacks hosted a bevy of skiers with more strategy at play.

“It’s going to be a juggling act between dividing the talent within the team -- which is all part of the interesting aspect (of relays),” Bemidji head coach Mark Walters said. “We’ll have to play with these combinations as the weeks progress and see who we should put on which side.”

The relays showed out on Saturday, as the Jacks took top honors in both the boys and girls heats. Overall, the BHS girls placed second and the boys third in the eight-team fields.

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121521.S.BP.BHSSKI Brent Nistler and Paul Louvar.jpg
Bemidji seniors Brent Nistler, left, and Paul Louvar take off from the start of the 5K in the Bemidji Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bemidji High School’s Lumberjack Trail. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Mary Beth Mathews and Kate Martin joined forces to win the girls relay race for Bemidji, while Louis Morrissey and Seth Lindgren won it for the Lumberjack boys.

“We were really pleased with the results,” Walters said of the relays. “You’ve got to have enough strength in the pursuit part, and you need a balance in the relay. It’ll be interesting down the road to see what can happen.”

The new caveat was adopted when the Minnesota State High School Nordic Ski Coaches Association brought forth the proposal to the MSHSL. It was approved by the league and implemented this winter.

In the new format, a team’s top three skiers in the traditional race contribute to the team score. The top finisher among a team’s two relay pairings also contributes to the score.

121521.S.BP.BHSSKI Ella Simula.jpg
Bemidji junior Ella Simula races toward the finish line of the 5K in the Bemidji Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bemidji High School’s Lumberjack Trail. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

For the BHS girls on Saturday, that all added up to 216 team points. Ella Simula placed fourth individually in the traditional race with a time of 15:19.0, while Anna Renn (12th, 16:05.0) and Molly Matetich (20th, 17:23.0) also factored into the team score.

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On the boys side, Bemidji also tallied 216 points. Jack Mueller (8th, 13:43.0), Reed Kuzel (10th, 13:52.0) and Cooper Kuzel (14:55.0) all chipped in on the team score within the traditional pursuit.

“It was a positive look. We realize that the section is very competitive,” Walters said of the meet. “We’ve got five huge teams in our section: Alex, Brainerd, Bemidji, Moorhead and Little Falls. We’ve got some tough competition out there, and we know we’ve got a little bit of (work to do).”

121521.S.BP.BHSSKI Jack Mueller.jpg
Bemidji junior Jack Mueller races toward the finish line of the 5K in the Bemidji Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bemidji High School’s Lumberjack Trail. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Brainerd swept the team wins, including a medalist win for Liliana Schaeffer (14:17.0) in the traditional girls race. Connor Grant of Little Falls won the boys race in 12:33.0.

TrekNorth also competed, placing seventh in the boys standings and eighth in the girls standings. Caitlynn Wittner led the Sundog girls with a 25th-place showing of 17:57.0. Josh Godding was TrekNorth’s top boys finisher with a 26th-place time of 15:24.0.

Bemidji’s next chance to tinker with the lineup comes on Thursday, Dec. 16, at the Fergus Falls Invite.

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121521.S.BP.BHSSKI Camille McDermott.jpg
Bemidji senior Camille McDermott races toward the finish line of the 5K in the Bemidji Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bemidji High School’s Lumberjack Trail. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

121521.S.BP.BHSSKI Reed Kuzel.jpg
Bemidji sophomore Reed Kuzel approaches the finish line of the 5K in the Bemidji Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at Bemidji High School’s Lumberjack Trail. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Boys Team Results

1-Brainerd 236; 2-Little Falls 222; 3-Bemidji 216; 4-Moorhead 199; 5-Fergus Falls 171; 6-Alexandria 164; 7-TrekNorth 105; 8-Detroit Lakes 91.

Girls Team Results

1-Brainerd 237; 2-Bemidji 216; 3-Moorhead 214; 4-Alexandria 205; 5-Little Falls 183; 6-Fergus Falls 166; 7-Detroit Lakes 160; 8-TrekNorth 40.

Related Topics: BEMIDJI LUMBERJACKS
Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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