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Nordic skiing: Greyhounds capture first sprint relay titles at Section 7 meet

Duluth East sophomore relay tandems lead the way as Greyhounds defend their boys and girls team titles at Giants Ridge.

Skiers at the Section 7 Nordic meet.
Duluth East’s Liesl Cope-Schaeffer reaches out to tap teammate Rowan Bixler during the sprint relay finals at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge, as Mora’s Annelise Moe waits for Nora Kerr. East won the event.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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BIWABIK — Duluth East cross country skier Carl Morse first heard that the Minnesota State High School League was considering adding a sprint relay event at the end of last season, but he didn’t think too much about it until right after the Greyhounds competed at the Marshall Sprints Jan. 14 at the Grand Avenue Nordic Center in Duluth.

“That’s when we heard rumors that Carl and I were maybe going to be doing the sprints for sections, and we both got really excited,” teammate James Kyes said.

Morse and Kyes, fast friends on and off the trail, combined forces to win the first Section 7 Nordic sprint relay Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.

Each two-person team alternately did two 1.3-kilometer loops around the stadium at Giants Ridge, so 5.2K altogether. Morse and Kyes cruised to victory in the finals in 15 minutes, 56 seconds, saving their best for last, while Mora’s Tanner Berry and Alex Williams were second in 16:19 and Proctor-Hermantown’s Braden Mehle and Joshua Knight were third in 16:27.

“I really like the relay, which makes it more of a team thing because cross country can really be an individual sport, where it’s just about me,” Morse said. “When you have a relay, it really makes you go harder because you have somebody else who is relying on you.”


Another Duluth East sophomore tandem, Liesl Cope-Schaeffer and Rowan Bixler, were even more dominant in winning the girls sprint relay finals in 18:45, with North Shore’s Jocelyn Carr and Emma Crook second in 21:40.

While the MSHSL sponsored state Nordic relay championships from 1991-98, they were three and four-person relays and were no sprint, with each competitor skiing either 3 or 5K depending on the year.

“It was cool to have a new thing instead of before, when it was just pursuit, and now it’s pursuit and sprint,” Cope-Schaeffer said. “It brings more depth to the team, since we have so many good people on our team, and it brings more strategy … who are you going to put on what and how are you going to get the most skiers to state?”

The state meet is over two days this year, Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 16-17 at Giants Ridge, and East will be well represented after the Greyhounds defended their Section 7 boys and girls team titles. East has now won five straight Section 7 girls team titles.

Cope-Schaeffer will make her first state meet appearance next week while Bixler will be skiing in her second straight state tournament after finishing 41st in the pursuit last March as a freshman.

“I think it’s exciting,” Bixler said of the relay. “I’m sure this is something they’re going to do for years and years. It was a great experience to do the first sprint relay ever at sections.”

Now the question is, is it here to stay?

“I think so,” said Bixler. “They are planning to do a classic relay next year and so on. To be on our section team in general is hard enough because there are so many good skiers on it, so this provides more opportunity.”


Morse chimed in on the topic earlier.

“I don’t know if it’s here to stay,” he said, smiling, “but it was fun today, and it’d be fun to see it in the future. I’m sure not everyone loves it, but it was fun today. It’s just cool that we can start a new thing for Minnesota.”

The Duluth East girls team was asked if they would be back to defend their title, but these two are team first all the way.

“The coaches are really the ones who decide that,” Cope-Schaeffer said. “They put us wherever they think is best and we just go with it.”

While Cope-Schaeffer and Rowan Bixler have known each other since kindergarten, Morse andKyes have been skiing together since they were four. Those friendships have gotten even stronger over the last month as sections closed in.

“It’s really surreal,” Kyes said. “We’ve been kind of dreaming about this for a month or two and now it’s finally here. Now we’re really excited, ready to go to state and see what we can do there.”

Miatke, Brown capture girls pursuit titles

Duluth East junior Oliver Miatke won the boys pursuit title while Greyhounds junior Lily Brown won the girls pursuit title.

The pursuit consisted of a 5K classic race followed by a 5K skate, with the racers staggered based on their classical times.


Miatke had a 48-second lead after a strong classical race in the morning and finished the pursuit with an overall time of 32:49, with teammate Paavo Rova coming on strong for second in 33:02 and Proctor-Hermantown’s Aiden Vanstraten third in 33:11.

“This feels great,” Miatke said. “It’s been a long road to get here, with a lot of hard work on the way, and our team is doing really well, so it’s really fun, really exciting.”

Miatke talked about the headwind at the start, with gusts upwards of 20 mph.

“The start was pretty brutal, actually,’ he said. “It’s hard to feel like you’re moving fast when there’s this — swoosh — this wind coming right at you.”

Brown, meanwhile, had to get past Proctor-Hermantown freshman Della Bettendorf, who had a 5-second lead to start the pursuit. Brown passed Bettendorf in the last 500 meters and finished first in 35:53, with Bettendorf second in 36:00 and Ely’s Zoe Devine third in 36:16.

Brown was visibly spent afterward but smiling.

“It was really fun to ski together,” Brown said of racing with Bettendorf. “Some of that was strategy. I drafted off of her until the end, and it worked out.”


Section 7 Meet

At Giants Ridge, Biwabik

Wednesday’s Results


1. Duluth East, 394; 2. Proctor/Hermantown, 375; 3. Mora, 370; 4. Ely, 366; 5. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 330; 6. Mesabi East, 296; 7. Duluth Denfeld, 177; 8. Duluth Marshall, 172; 9. North Shore, 153.

Sprint Relay

State Qualifiers

1. Carl Morse and James Kyes, DE, 15:56

2. Tanner Berry and Alex Williams, Mora, 16:19

3. Braden Mehle and Joshua Knight, PH, 16:27

Individuals (Top Two Teams and Next Four Individuals Advance to State Meet)

1. Oliver Miatke, DE, 16:03-16:46—32:49

2. Paavo Rova, DE, 17:03-15:59—33:02

3. Aiden Vanstraten, PH, 17:05-16:06—33:11

4. Gabriel Pointer, Ely, 17:03-16:15—33:18

5. Ian Morse, DE, 17:13-16:26—33:39

6. Tommy Mulford, Mora, 17:28-16:20—33:48

7. Elijah Wozniak, PH, 17:32-16:31—34:03

8. Jon Hakala, Ely, 17:21-16:47—34:08

9. Riley Hutchinson, DM, 17:39-16:30—34:09

11. Luke Bettendorf, PH, 17:43-16:39—34:22

15. Colin Willemsen, DE, 18:05-17:26—35:31

18. Liam Snihurowych, DE, 18:14-18:13—36:27

25. Santiago Lenz, PH, 19:13-18:21—37:34

32. Hendrick Hicks, PH, 19:57-19:43—39:40

Girls Teams

1. Duluth East, 390; 2. Ely, 369; 3. Grand Rapids, 360; 4. Mora, 341; 5. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 316; 6. Mesabi East, 294; 7. Proctor/Hermantown, 199; 8. North Shore, 173; 9. Duluth Marshall, 173; 10. Duluth Denfeld, 139.

Sprint Relay

State Qualifiers

1. Liesl Cope-Schaeffer and Rowan Bixler, 18:23

2. Nora Kerr and Annelise Moe, Mora, 18:52

4. Graci Pointer and Sydney Durkin, Ely, 20:18

Individuals(Top Two Teams and Next Four Individuals Advance to State Meet)

1. Lily Brown, DE, 18:05-17:48—35:53

2. Della Bettendorf, PH, 18:00-18:00—36:00

3. Zoe Devine, Ely, 18:10-18:06—36:16

4. Olya Wright, NS, 18:50-18:16—37:06

5. Anna-Britta Helmer, DE, 18:59-18:31—37:30

6. Greta Hendrickson, DE, 18:58-18:36—37:34

7. Lydia Kraker, DE, 18:42-18:53—37:35

8. Jenna Johnson, DE, 19:07-19:12—38:19

9. Phoebe Helms, Ely, 19:22-19:10—38:32

10. Ella Karkela, GR, 20:19-18:40—38:59

11. Sanny Gangi, GR, 20:14-19:12—39:26

12. Ava Skustad, Ely, 20:21-19:32—39:53

22. Anna Dunn, Ely, 20:44-21:23—42:07

26. Claire Blauch, Ely, 21:35-21:29—43:04

Skiers at the Section 7 Nordic meet.
Duluth East teammates James Kyes, left, and Carl Morse hug after the pair won the boys sprint relay finals at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Skiers at the Section 7 Nordic meet.
Duluth East’s Lily Brown raises her hands as she crosses the finish line in a come-from-behind victory in the 5K pursuit race at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Skiers at the Section 7 Nordic meet.
Duluth East’s Oliver Miatke starts the 5K pursuit race with a commanding lead at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge. He won the race.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Nordic skier.
Della Bettendorf of Proctor/Hermantown begins the 5K pursuit race at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Ski 6
CEC’s Miles Fischer nears the finish line in the 5K pursuit race at the Section 7 Nordic ski meet Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, at Giants Ridge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Nordic skiers.
CEC’s Jazlyn Gunderson, 121, and Harmony Tracy begin the 5K pursuit race Wednesday, 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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