Growing up in Houghton, Mich., Gretchen Haggenmiller had little choice but to strap on a pair of cross-country skis at an early age.
The snow-rich Upper Peninsula provided a haven for Haggenmiller to hone her craft until moving to Duluth before her freshman year.
Her father, Joe Haggenmiller, was the Nordic ski coach at Michigan Tech University.
“Watching (their) races, I wanted to grow up and be like them,” Gretchen said.
She will get that chance in college as she plans on attending Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., on a full academic scholarship and, after a redshirt year, will ski at her father’s alma mater.
Until then, Haggenmiller will try to help the Duluth East Nordic girls team reach next month’s state meet.
The Greyhounds, with seniors Clara Kramer and Haggenmiller and sophomore Lily Brown going 1-2-3, captured the Korkki Classic Invite on Tuesday in Two Harbors.
East, ranked fourth in the most recent state poll on skinnyski.com, likely will be favored at the Section 7 meet Feb. 6 at Giants Ridge.
“I think sections should be pretty good for us,” said Haggenmiller, who also skis in Junior National Qualifying events around the Midwest. “We have a really good chance at winning there, and hopefully we can do well at the state meet, too.”
Kramer agreed: “It’s looking really good because we didn’t lose any of our top four scorers from last year. We’re really strong this year.”
Haggenmiller was 15th at state last year and is hoping for a top-five finish this time around.
Likewise, Kramer wants to be All-State (top 25) for a third year in a row. She showed off her skills in the classic discipline Tuesday by winning the Korkki race in 23 minutes, 36.6 seconds, finishing 8.8 seconds ahead of Haggenmiller in the individual start race.
Unlike Haggenmiller, who says she prefers classical courses, Kramer enjoys the freestyle, or skate, competitions more.
“I definitely prefer skating a lot better,” Kramer said. “It’s faster and I would say I am much better at that. There are times when I just go for it and give it all I can. Then it can get a little scary if I am going really fast.”
Giants Ridge, however — where the section and state meets will be held — has a more risky classical course, Kramer says.
“The skate course is up and down and rolling,” she said. “The classic course is about 3K up and 2K down, so the first half of the race is just hammering up a hill for about 10 minutes and then the downhill is weaving down Giants Ridge. You really get flying down those tracks.”
East coach Bonnie Fuller-Kask is excited to see how the seniors will fare in their final season.
“They’ve been skiing strong all season; they have been 1-2 in most of the races they’ve been in,” the coach said. “They are both solid in (classic and freestyle). I don’t see a weakness in either.”
Kramer, a swimmer in the fall, has been skiing on the high school Nordic team since seventh grade.
She hopes to attend the University of Utah — she finds out today if she gets accepted — but will only ski there recreationally.
“I’m just going to keep it fun,” Kramer said. “If I had to do it on a college team, they are so intense these days that I think I would lose my drive for it. I’d rather keep it as something I really enjoy doing.”