NORDIC SKIING: Walters 'proud' of Bemidji's showing at state meet

The BHS Nordic team had four skiers at the state meet in Biwabik. Head coach Mark Walters was excited with their finishes, including Reed Kuzel and Jack Mueller's second-place sprint finish.

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Bemidji's Louis Morissey leads a crowd of skiers around the final turn of the boys pursuit race at the state Nordic meet Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
Jamey Malcomb / Forum News Service

BIWABIK – Louis Morrissey and Mia Hoffmann capped an impressive two days for the Bemidji High School Nordic skiing team at the state meet at Giants Ridge.

The Lumberjacks' two pursuit qualifiers notched top 50 finishes on Thursday, Feb. 16, in fields of 112 skiers.

"Both Louis Morrissey and Mia Hoffmann put themselves in that front third of the entire pack in the classic," BHS head coach Mark Walters said. "The pursuit start can be quite jammed. If you're the 70th, 80th or 90th skier, or anyone in that range, you're really in a pack. They got in front of the bell curve. Louis sat in 42nd place, and Mia was in 51st. They were just in front of the big wave."

Both Jacks improved on their classic positioning. Morrissey finished in 40th among the boys with a pursuit time of 28.52.4 (14:56.8, 13:55.9). Hoffmann landed in 50th place in the girls race at 34:04.6 (17:41.6, 16:23.3). The conditions were ripe for Bemidji's two representatives to have a big day.

"As ski racers, today is what they want," Walters said. "They want classical racing in the mid-to-high single digits. You love to skate in the teens because it's stable. The conditions hold up better. At Maplelag, we lost the course in the afternoon for sections. It turned into slush. There were bits of puddles in places. We couldn't ask for more superb conditions today, and it hasn't been like this for a couple of years."


Morrissey and Hoffmann followed up Jack Mueller and Reed Kuzel's photo finish a day earlier. The BHS duo edged three other teams for the runner-up spot with a time of 14:27.00. Jack Bode and Wes Sumner of Minneapolis Southwest were less than a half a second behind at 14:27.27.

The sprint relay event includes three preliminary heats. The top team in each heat and the following five fastest teams qualify for finals. Mueller and Kuzel earned the sixth spot and made the most of it.

"Once you get into the top eight, it's a whole new ballgame," Walters said. "I encouraged them to get a little aggressive out there and hold their spot. It was kind of like a roller derby out there. The boys were stumbling and tripping. They were so amped up. The opportunity came for them around the last corner. They were going for second place with three other teams, and Reed Kuzel just punched it out. He actually won by a foot throw, meaning he stretched his foot out across his body. It's an awesome move."

Four teams had a chance to finish in second place, including Section 8 rival Brainerd. The Warriors' team of Lance Hastings and Tatie Knapp were less than two seconds behind the Jacks in fourth with a time of 14:28.44. A late stumble near the finish line opened the door for Mueller and Kuzel.

"It says a lot about how competitive our own section is," Walters said. "(Mueller and Kuzel's) expectation was to sandwich themselves between Little Falls and Brainerd in the team sprint. We thought if we could beat out one of them it would be cool because all three teams are so tight. We feel bad for Brainerd. It was an unfortunate stumble on Brainerd's behalf coming into the stadium. … Brainerd probably had it clean before they stumbled. It was just an unfortunate thing, and I think he just gassed himself out. Unfortunate things can happen out there, and the opportunity came for us."

Wayzata's team of Fergus Kragenbring and Ronan Leonard also finished less than two seconds behind Bemidji at 14:28.55.

"As a coaching staff, you couldn't be more proud," Walters said. "You've got four kids that show up every single day and put in the work. You try to emphasize not making the races anything more than how they practice. You get out of it what you put into it. Train hard and stay dedicated, and these are the kind of results you get."

Walters believes this was the first year in his 20 years with the program that a Bemidji representative brought home hardware.


"The hardest part of the entire season is sections," Walters said. "Without sections, you can't get to state. It sounds so simple, but you know kids set their goals. They want to go to state. Before you go to state, you have to go through these steps we have to take. You have to peak at sections and make it out of a really tough group of teams. We're just as happy as we can be for these kids."

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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