Skiing: Talent does the talking at Duluth East

Two Duluth East powerhouse winter teams -- Alpine and Nordic skiing -- don't always get recognized for achievement. It's inherent with each sport. East's girls won Minnesota high school team titles in both last year, which hadn't been done by a N...

Two Duluth East powerhouse winter teams -- Alpine and Nordic skiing -- don't always get recognized for achievement. It's inherent with each sport.

East's girls won Minnesota high school team titles in both last year, which hadn't been done by a Northland school since Cloquet in 1977.

"A lot of people underestimate skiing," East junior Amy Sienko, an Alpine skier, said. "They say, 'You just go downhill and then ride up on a chairlift. How tiring can that be?' But there is a lot of physical and mental work. There is technique. There is going through gates."

"I hear from kids at school who say, 'You're walking slowly through the woods on two boards.' They just don't know," East senior Bria Kask, a Nordic skier, said. "To be really good, you have to spend a lot of time doing a lot of training, or you're never going to be fast."

The Greyhounds have a history of success on skis:


* East's boys and girls won consecutive state Alpine team titles in 1994 and 1995.

* East's boys and girls won consecutive state Nordic team titles in 1998 and 1999.

* Anders Osthus won consecutive state Nordic pursuit titles in 2000 and 2001.

* Sonja Jennings won consecutive state Alpine individual titles in 2005 and 2006.

If East's girls teams advance from Section 7 competition (Feb. 5 for Alpine and Feb. 7 for Nordic), they'll be at Giants Ridge in Biwabik on Feb. 14-15 -- the Alpine team going after a third straight state team title, and the Nordic team shooting for two in a row.

Other than lacrosse, in its second year, Alpine and Nordic skiing are Minnesota's only remaining one-class varsity sports.

east girls Alpine

East junior co-captain Anna Kohlhaas says she was on skis at age 3 and has been ski racing since age 5 at Chester Bowl.


"This sport is fun, that's what attracts you. But it's also serious and it's a lifestyle," Kohlhaas said. "We have a very competitive group on our team. No one is lazy."

Most of the top skiers in the area are members of the Duluth-Superior Alpine Club and compete in U.S. Ski Association Central Division events. There are only a handful of high school races before the section and state meets.

Jason Baumgarth, 30, a former Greyhound skier in his fifth season as East's coach, says his job is made easier because East's skiers often already have a racing background.

"Every year we have some skiers who have never raced before, but through the USSA program we have skiers who have been racing for as long as they've been able to walk," Baumgarth said. "They're used to the pressure, they know what it's like to be dedicated. Most of our team is on the ski hill six or seven days a week."

The Greyhounds have 26 skiers this season, boys and girls combined. Co-captain Sienko leads the girls. Also back is junior Kayla Wieczorek and sophomore Bridget Duffus.

Sienko said she's been inspired to excel by watching the Winter Olympics while growing up, although there's much more to the sport than racing. The East girls can be found at Spirit Mountain during the summer hiking up and down hills to improve their endurance.

"Once you try the sport and see how exciting it is," she said, "you want to stay with it."

east girls NORDIC


Hillary Boyce only had to look at home to see her skiing future. Her sister, Kaitlin, a 2000 East graduate, and brother, Jake, a 2004 graduate, were on the school's Nordic team. Her parents, Mark and Sherry, are recreational skiers.

"I tried hockey and skiing in seventh and eighth grade, then stayed with skiing because it is such a tight community and we have so much support," said Hillary Boyce, an East senior who will follow her siblings to St. Olaf College this fall. "Our coaches are amazing."

Duluth couple Bonnie Fuller-Kask and David Kask, Bria Kask's parents and East coaches since 2002-03, conduct practices at Snowflake Nordic Ski Center, including Mentor Mondays when older skiers bond with younger skiers.

Fuller-Kask says there are about 35 skiers on this season's team, boys and girls. The East girls are ranked No. 4 in Minnesota.

"If our young skiers have a good experience with being mentored, the more likely they are to stay with the sport," Fuller-Kask said. "And when they come back the next year, they might bring along some other good athletes."

The Greyhounds were ranked No. 3 last year before edging No. 1 Stillwater for the 2007 state title with the help of then-seniors Ericka Sell, Steph LaFrance and Ingrid Skantze.

Among the leaders in 2008 are Kask, Boyce, junior Alena Tofte and sophomore Marian Lund. All had brothers on East's 2004 boys state championship team. And like the Alpine team, winter success has come from summer conditioning.

"We roller ski, bike and run. Some runs are 2½ or three hours, and some of us row," said Bria Kask, who plans to ski at Michigan Tech next school year. "During the season our training plan is really good. We work as hard as we can in a wonderful atmosphere."

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