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Nordic skiing: Miatke a late bloomer for Greyhounds

Duluth East boys and girls look to contend at this week’s state meet at Giants Ridge.

Skiers at the Section 7 Nordic meet.
Duluth East’s Oliver Miatke starts the 5-kilometer pursuit race with a commanding lead at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge. He won the race.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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BIWABIK — As the snowflakes started coming down last week at Giants Ridge and conditions got blustery at last week’s Section 7 Nordic ski meet, Duluth East junior Oliver Miatke was prepared.

Overly prepared.

“The start was pretty windy but once you got into the woods, honestly, I was pretty hot,” Miatke said. “I actually forgot to take my ski pants off, so that wasn’t great … my legs were pretty toasty. I only had about 30 seconds to go before the start, so I was like, ‘I guess they’re staying on.’ That’s the first time that’s ever happened actually.”

That little snafu didn’t keep Miatke from cruising to victory in the boys pursuit race in 32 minutes, 49 seconds, with teammate Paavo Rova coming on strong for second in 33:02 and Proctor-Hermantown’s Aiden Vanstraten third in 33:11.

The pursuit combines a five-kilometer classic race followed by a 5K freestyle race.

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Miatke had a 48-second lead after a strong classical race in the morning, meaning everyone was chasing him in the freestyle pursuit in the afternoon.

Miatke said he’d rather be the hunter than the hunted.

“I honestly don’t like starting that far ahead,” he said. “It’s hard mentally and it’s a little scary, too, because it’s like you gotta go but you know that someone can catch you at any moment. I try to imagine like there’s someone ahead of me but it’s more fun when you have someone to catch ahead of you.”

Miatke was asked if he ever looked back. He said once.

“I could hear them cheering on my teammate, Paavo, so I knew he was on my tail,” Miatke said. “He did great. I couldn’t see him but I knew he was there. Every time I got to the top of the hill he was at the bottom, and it’s really exciting because our team was just building off each other the entire season. It was really fun.”

Next up, this week’s state meet at Giants Ridge.

With the addition of sprint relays this season, the state meet is being held over two days this year.

The meet kicks off with the boys 5K classic race at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, followed by the girls 5K classic at 3 p.m.

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The forecast for Thursday, Feb. 17, in Biwabik is chilly, with a high of only three degrees, so the schedule was adjusted.

The revised schedule has boys sprint qualifying beginning at noon Thursday, with girls sprint qualifying beginning at 1:30 p.m. After a break, the boys freestyle pursuit is at 3:40 p.m. and the girls at 4:10 p.m.

Miatke said he is hoping for a top 10 finish this week, which is pretty remarkable given he finished 66th last season.

Miatke was asked, “What’s been the difference?”

“A lot of training, and just the mental, spiritual and physical balance of it all,” he said. “I feel like I’m starting to lock it in, and the technique. There’s a lot of factors obviously and it’s really exciting to put it all together this year. I’m just going to do my best and whatever happens, happens.”

And he is still learning.

“There’s lots to learn,” Miatke said. “I didn’t start skiing until ninth grade, so I’m pretty new to it. I think it’s more about the drive. You have to just want it.”

Brown holds off Bettendorf

Duluth East senior Lily Brown was all smiles last week after making a late pass to beat Proctor/Hermantown freshman Della Bettendorf to win her first Section 7 pursuit title in 35:53, with Bettendorf finishing seven seconds behind in 36:00.

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Bettendorf had a five-second lead going into the freestyle pursuit.

“I kind of left it up to the last minute,” Brown said, laughing. “I’m really happy with how I played my strategy. It was to draft and have it come down to the end. Last year it was really back and forth between us. She’s a really good skier, a really good racer. She got me (at sections) last year.”

Brown, however, got the last laugh at the state meet with a career-best finish of seventh while Bettendorf was 12th.

This will be Brown’s fourth state meet.

She smiled when asked her goal for this year.

“To win,” she said.

NORDIC SKIING
Northland State Qualifiers
Boys

Duluth East: Carl Morse, James Kyes, Oliver Miatke, Paavo Rova, Ian Morse, Colin Willemsen, Liam Snihurowych; Duluth Marshall: Riley Hutchinson; Ely: Gabriel Pointer, Jon Hakala; Proctor/Hermantown: Braden Mehle, Joshua Knight, Aiden Vanstraten, Elijah Wozniak, Luke Bettendorf, Santiago Lenz, Hendrick Hicks.

Girls

Duluth East: Liesl Cope-Schaeffer, Rowan Bixler, Lily Brown, Anna-Britta Helmer, Greta Hendrickson, Lydia Kraker, Jenna Johnson; Ely: Graci Pointer, Sydney Durkin, Zoe Devine, Phoebe Helms, Ava Skustad, Anna Dunn, Ely, Claire Blauch; Grand Rapids: Ella Karkela, Sanny Gangi; North Shore: Olya Wright; Proctor/Hermantown: Della Bettendorf.

Nordic skier.
Duluth East’s Lily Brown nears a come-from-behind victory in the 5K pursuit race at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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