Nordic skiing: Haggenmiller, Johnston capture Section 7 titles on perfect day at Giants Ridge

Duluth East’s Gretchen Haggenmiller double poles to a first-place finish in the Section 7 classic pursuit race at Giants Ridge Thursday. Haggenmiller had a combined time of 33:32.9 for the freestyle and classic pursuit races. (Steve Kuchera /

BIWABIK — Duluth East Nordic skier Gretchen Haggenmiller says pressure doesn’t bother her.

The way the senior sees it, in this sport, she’s already a savvy veteran.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt being one of the state’s best classic skiers, either.

Haggenmiller erased a nine-second gap like it was nothing and then pulled away en route to defending her pursuit title at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet on Thursday at Giants Ridge. Haggenmiller covered the combined freestyle and classical races in 33 minutes, 32.9 seconds, 22 seconds ahead of Ely freshman Zoe Devine and 30 seconds ahead of Grand Rapids junior Elsa Viren.

“I’ve been skiing since I was 2 years old, and I’ve been racing since I was 5 or 6, so nothing really affects me because I’ve been doing it so long,” Haggenmiller said of starting the pursuit behind two other competitors. “I just love to do it, so I just try to have fun out there.”


Haggenmiller led the way as East earned a three-peat as girls team champions.

Ely junior Jasper Johnston, meanwhile, dominated the boys race in 28:31.2 as the Timberwolves repeated as boys team champions.

With sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 20s, conditions were about as ideal for skiing as ideal gets. In the timing shack where meet officials and workers meet before and after the races, a tube of Banana Boat sunscreen lotion was even spotted.

East coach Bonnie Fuller-Kask described Thursday as a microcosm for what’s been an idyllic season for skiing, terrific early snowfall followed by ideal temps.

“Everyone has been enjoying this,” Fuller-Kask said. “We’ve had so many Januarys where you could hardly get out and ski, where this has been fabulous. Today was just perfect. The snow was just fantastic. Just great. It’s really fun when it’s like this.”

Haggenmiller’s classic race was just as fast (or faster) than her freestyle race, making her one of only six girls in the top 25 who could say that. Viren had the top freestyle time in the morning and started the classic race in the afternoon with a one-second lead over Devine and a nine-second cushion over Haggenmiller.

Haggenmiller passed the frontrunners in the first kilometer in the flatter field area of the course. Devine eventually got past Viren and held on for second.

Devine, just a freshman, admitted she was in awe of the other girls.


“It’s just so fun to watch them,” Devine said. “When I was skiing with Elsa, I was just seeing what she was doing and trying to do what she was doing. And Gretchen is just a great skier. She’s so cool.”

And cool under pressure.

Haggenmiller is a multisport athlete but Nordic skiing is her favorite. She was the Northland’s top finisher last year at the state meet in 15th and is hoping for a top five next week. The Michigan native moved to Minnesota her freshman year and plans on skiing at Northern Michigan after graduating in the spring.

Haggenmiller is a strong skier who attacks the uphill and is fearless on the downhill.

“I really love the classic course here,” she said. “I really like that it has a lot of hills. I really enjoy skiing up the hills and I’ve always liked downhills. I kind of take them a little risky, which helps me gain a little time.”

Johnston, meanwhile, took the drama right out of the boys race by posting the best freestyle time by 27 seconds and expanding upon his lead.

Johnston said his time in Thursday’s freestyle race — 13:50 — was his best-ever by 20 seconds on the Giants Ridge course.

“Conditions were probably the best I’ve ever skied on here,” he said.


Johnston made it look like a Sunday stroll as he cruised to the finish line to win his first Section 7 boys title after finishing third last year. He wasn’t even wearing a hat.

“Not when it’s warm,” he said. “My parents (Jerritt and Molly Johnston) got a little mad when I frostbit my ears a few times. Now they make me wear a hat when it’s colder like that.”

Section 7 Nordic Skiing Results
At Giants Ridge, Biwabik

1. Ely, 385; 2. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 366; 3. Grand Rapids, 351; 4. Duluth East, 341; 5. Proctor-Hermantown, 303; 6. Duluth Marshall, 290; 7. Mesabi East, 281; 8. Duluth Denfeld, 260; 9. Two Harbors/Cook County, 98; 10. Hibbing, 83.

Individual State Qualifiers
(Top Two Teams and Next Six)
(5.2K Freestyle, 5.3K Classic)

1. Jasper Johnston, Ely, 13:50-14:41.2—28:31.2; 2. Sam Stertz, GR, 14:17-14:44.9—29:01.9; 3. Benjamin Bauer, CEC, 14:36-15:01.6—29:37.6; 4. Declan Hutchinson, DM, 15:00-15:23.0; 5. Nate Nettifee, Ely, 15:07-15:19.3—30:26.3; 6. Gabriel Pointer, Ely, 15:17-15:22.8—30:39.8; 7. Raif Olson, Ely, 15:15-15:29.9—30:44.9; 8. Aiden Vanstraten, PH, 15:08-16:00.3—31:08.3; 9. Josh Sanders, CEC, 15:21-15:48.8—31:09.8; 10. Ian Morse, DE, 15:31-15:56.8—31:27.8; 11. Ethan Bremner, Ely, 15:32-16:07.1—31:39.1; 12. A.J. Maijala, CEC, 15:54-15:56.3—31:50.3; 13. Josiah Thomas, DE, 15:40-16:10.8—31:50.8; 14. Cale Prosen, CEC, 16:04-15:54.7—31:58.7; 15. Matej Cervenka, GR, 15:58-16:03.7—32:01.7; 16. Jon Hakala, Ely, 15:50-16:38.1—32:28.1; 20. Micah Larson, Ely, 16:22-16:15.0—32:37.0; 23. Spencer Hoeffling, CEC, 16:23-16:29.7—32:52.7; 33. Henry Slater, CEC, 16:39-18:00.4—34:39.4; 42. Miles Fischer, CEC, 18:36-18:08.4—36:44.4.


1. Duluth East, 378; 2. Ely, 360; 3. Mesabi East, 360; 4. Duluth Marshall, 340; 5. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 308; 6. Grand Rapids, 298; 7. Proctor-Hermantown, 297; 8. Duluth Denfeld, 203; 9. Two Harbors/Cook County, 165; 10. Hibbing, 149.

Individual State Qualifiers
(Top Two Teams and Next Six)
(5.2K Freestyle, 5.3K Classic)

1. Gretchen Haggenmiller, DE, 16:46-16:46.9—33:32.9; 2. Zoe Devine, Ely, 16:38-17:16.9—33:54.9; 3. Elsa Viren, GR, 16:37-17:26.8—34:03.8; 4. Lydia Skelton, ME, 17:02-17:28.7—34:30.7; 5. Lily Brown, DE, 17:20-17:13.9—34:33.9; 6. Della Bettendorf, PH, 17:37-17:02.5—34:39.5; 7. Clara Kramer, DE, 17:14-17:31.3—34:45.3; 8. Lucy Campbell, DM, 17:51-18:08.3—35:59.3; 9. Anna Greenlee, ME, 18:09-17:59.7—36:08.7; 10. BellaThomas, ME, 17:57-18:16.5—36:13.5; 11. Phoebe Helms, Ely, 17:41-18:39.2—36:20.2; 12. Brooke Pasmick, Ely, 18:14-18:11.6—36:25.6; 13. Maj-Lis Helmer, DE, 18:06-18:23.3—36:29.3; 16. Kathryn Kirby, DE, 17:47-19:27.7—37:14.7; 18. Jenna Johnson, DE, 18:58-18:23.3—37:21.3; 19. Cedar Ohlhauser, Ely, 18:43-18:49.9—37:32.9; 20. McKenzie Radloff, DE, 18:08-19:35.7—37:43.7; 22. Kalyssa Eilrich, Ely, 18:41-19:21.4—38:02.4; 26. Julia Schwinghamer, Ely, 18:39-20:06.8—38:45.8; 28. Ana Bercher, Ely, 19:34-19:40.4—39:14.4.

Related Topics: ELY
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 or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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