Both on the course and off, this weekend's Hodag Nordic Challenge went about as well as the Rhinelander High School Nordic ski team could have hoped for.
The Hodags finished fifth out of six teams in the boys' JV division of the two-day pursuit event Saturday and Sunday at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom. The Hodags did not have enough finishers to factor into the team standings in the girls' JV pursuit.
Cold temperatures were a factor both days. Saturday's freestyle race was delayed one hour and shortened to 3 1/2 kilometers due to cold temperatures. Sunday's classic race was delayed 30 minutes before the mercury begrudgingly climbed into positive digits.
Despite the cold, and CAVOC's challenging terrain, coach Charil Reis said the weekend went well for her squad.
"I was pleasantly surprised to see how the freshmen did for both skate and classic," Reis said. "I have a couple of rookies who were tentative about getting out there and kind of putting themselves on the line ... but I was pretty proud of them for having their second race on one of the toughest courses the league will race this season."
Three freshmen - Breckin Younker, Levi Smith and Daniel Ritchie - led the Hodag boys over the weekend. Younker finished 17th in the two-day race with a cumulative time of 46 minutes, 11.7 seconds. He was 21st in Saturday's freestyle race and posted the 20th fastest time in Sunday's JV classic race. Smith was 21st overall (49:18.0) and Ritchie finished 23rd (50:28.0).
Junior Alec Lowry was the last finisher for the Hodags, taking 24th in the pursuit (50:58.6).
Two girls competed both days for the Hodags, one shy of the minimum number required for a team score. Jenna Younker finished 16th (1:00:03.0) and Carleen Morien was 18th (1:00:40.0).
"They were close in their times both days and traded the lead with each other quite a bit throughout the race today and helped each other out that way," Reis noted.
Senior Gracie Quinn made her first start of the season for the Hodags in Sunday's classic race, completing the six-kilometer course in 44:36.8. Allie Fugle was 28th in Saturday's JV freestyle race (24:28). Nicholas St. Pierre finished 26th in Saturday's JV boys' race (17:36).
Reis said skiing at home in its first official event of the season played to the Hodags' advantage.
"They really enjoyed the fact that their had their home course advantage, so to speak, and were able to ski the course all week long," she said. "We skied on it Monday through Thursday. Even when it was below zero, we still had practice. We were pretty climatized to the cold and to the very hard track."
It was the fourth time at least part of the Hodags' annual invite was held at CAVOC, and first time since 2015. Last year's event was canceled due to a lack of snow. The team, the Northwoods Nordic Ski Club and the School District of Rhinelander had the opportunity to show of the recently-updated trail system at CAVOC, which Reis said was met with rave reviews.
"The race itself was a huge success, both for Northwoods Nordic Ski Club and I got a lot of feedback from the coaches who had time to talk ot me on their way out the door who wanted to thank us for a job well done," she said. "I say kudos to all the volunteers. We probably had about 40 volunteers helping us to pull of this event. It was not their first rodeo, but it had been a couple of years so there was some concern that everything would go off well, but it really did.
"I really want to thank the school district for letting us use this top-notch facility and for putting the effort and time into making it so great and welcoming."
The Hodags return to action Saturday at the Snekkevik Classic Race at Nine Mile Forest in Rib Mountain.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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