BIWABIK — Jasper Johnston entered the starting gate for the afternoon classical pursuit race in sixth place at the Nordic ski state meet at Giants Ridge.
Just two seconds ahead of him in the same gate was Zachary Nemeth of Sartell-St. Cloud Cathedral.
But Nemeth broke a pole coming across the starting line and fell to the ground, potentially causing a big problem for the Ely junior.
Johnston, however, deftly avoided trouble at the start and finished strong five kilometers later to place fourth for the two-race, 10K meet in 29 minutes, 2.1 seconds.
“My goal was top five and I got that,”Johnston said. “Last year I came home disappointed after I came in 11th and my goal was top 10. This time I got under my goal.”
It might not have been possible had Johnston run into the fallen Nemeth at the start.
“His pole was hanging out in my track so I hopped out a little bit, but I was mostly able to get around him,” Johnston recounted.
The Section 7 champion then caught up to Wayzata’s Colin Freed, third after the morning freestyle race, and outraced him down the final straightaway to get fourth.
“I could hear people yelling, ‘He’s right behind you,’ ” Johnston said. “I had caught (Freed) about a (kilometer in) and we skied together the whole way. I broke away on the downhill but on one of the last little uphills, he caught up to me.”
Mounds Park Academy’s Henry Snider, 12 seconds behind first-race leader Roger Anderson of Robbinsdale Armstrong, caught up and claimed the boys individual title in 28:24.2.
Grand Rapids’ Sam Stertz was 17th overall, followed among Northland skiers by Duluth Marshall's Declan Hutchinson in 20th and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Benjamin Bauer in 23rd.
Forest Lake won a tiebreaker with Minneapolis Southwest to win the boys team title with 401 points apiece. Ely was fourth with 335 points and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton was eighth.
After the meet was postponed a day due to cold temperatures, the afternoon classical races were delayed an hour or so due to timing issues. The later start meant temps dipped to 16 degrees for the boys race and the wind kicked up fiercely in stretches of the course.
Johnston had no problems handling the difficulties.
“It got colder and some of the sections (of the course) that were straight were pretty windy,” Johnston said. “You could tell the trail was blown over in some spots. Overall, it was really fast and downhills were insanely fast, faster than last week.”
Ely’s Devine finishes 12th
Ely freshman Zoe Devine showed her future promise a week earlier when she finished second in the Section 7 meet.
She continued that ascension by placing 12th in the state meet, finishing in 35:04.7. She was in the 60s in her first state meet in 2019.
St. Paul Highland Park’s Molly Moening captured the girls title in 32:16.1, overcoming a 12-second deficit to Stillwater’s Elizabeth Tuttle, who won the morning freestyle.
Devine, who was 10th in the 5K freestyle, pushed hard down the stretch in the pursuit despite a strong headwind.
“It was really difficult coming into the finish, but I knew I didn’t have any more meets so I had to give it my all,” Devine said.
Skiers came into Friday’s races worried that the course would be too icy to navigate in the morning skate. But Devine said it was in good condition.
“It was faster than I expected but not too fast,” she said. “The corners were really nice, some of those corners can get really icy.”
Devine finished behind only Duluth East senior Gretchen Haggenmiller in the section meet. But an illness kept Haggenmiller from contending Friday. She didn’t stay in the same room with her East teammates Thursday night so as to not infect anyone else.
Battling a sinus infection, Haggenmiller was 117th in the skate race and considered not starting the classical event.
“The morning race, being as cold as it was and me not feeling 100 percent, it just took me down,” said Haggenmiller. “I tried to move past that in the afternoon and was able to pass quite a few people, so I was happy that I came back out even though I was considering dropping out. I’m glad I came back out and raced the course that I love so much one last time.”
The East girls came in fourth overall with 356 points, 52 behind team champion St. Paul Highland Park. Ely was ninth.
The Greyhounds’ highest finisher was senior Clara Kramer, who was 14th in 35:42.1.
Kramer, a veteran of Giants Ridge, found the course manageable.
“It was nice and easy to ski the downhills,” she said. “I’ve been here so much, the Cities teams ahead of me looked really tippy on the course.”