Northfield alpine ski coach Johnny Ostberg said he wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, other than it wasn’t this.
Losing a bucketload of seniors from last year’s boys and girls alpine ski teams, including the bulk of last year’s varsity lineup on the girls side, left Ostberg with the impression this might be a season based more around individual growth than team accomplishments.
That was until he saw his numbers actually grow from last year to this year, thanks to a wave of 15 new skiers who have not only replenished the roster but injected it with speed.
“We’re giddy,” Ostberg said. “That’s the only way to describe it, we’re just giddy because the kids are working out so well. They’re skiing well, fitting into the team beautifully and they’re having a blast. We have very few rules, but those rules are to be safe and have fun. If those are both working, we’ll ski fast, and they’re having fun so our jobs are simple.”
At Friday’s Welch Village Invitational, which featured 13 of the top boys teams and 11 of the top girls teams from the metro area, that youth was on full display. The Northfield girls grabbed fourth overall with 343 points behind first-place Stillwater (372), second-place Orono (356) and third-place Eagan/Eastview (349), but ahead of fifth-place Edina (337).
The boys team, meanwhile, finished ninth with a team total of 244 points, while Stillwater claimed the title with a total of 362.
On the girls side, after junior Libby Brust (sixth out of 60 individually) and senior Meaghan Stein (13th) in the two fastest groups, the remainder of the girls race sheet was filled out by rookies in seventh-grader Liv Murphy (19th), seventh-grader Ashley Schaffer (23rd), seventh-grader Clara Wilson (28th) and Camryn Sotalis (46th), who started co-opting in from Red Wing this season.
The boys newcomers were less pronounced Friday, since Ryan Cahoon was off at a Youth in Government conference, but the lineup still featured senior Owen Halls (59th out of 63 individually) as its last skier down the hill after Sam Hegseth (28th), Billy Wilson (43rd), Sawyer Koch (45th) and Lennon Watkins (44th). Halls is in his first year of competitive alpine skiing, but has made an immediate varsity impact.
“We’ve been promoting and working and going to the middle school to talk to kids,” Ostberg said. “We’ve been doing a lot of that preseason work, but we weren’t expecting 15 new kids. I thought we’d end up with 10 or 12 this year after all the seniors graduated last year and we’d start from there. We knew we’d have a few extra, but we went from 11 to 31, which startled us.”
Even after Ostberg realized how effective his recruiting pitch was, he still was unaware of the type of speed the program was inheriting. Even at the top end, he knew Cahoon, Murphy and Schaffer all possessed race experience through non-MSHSL programs, but didn’t realize how much talent each brought until he witnessed them on the course.
“We knew they were going to be quick, but how quick we didn’t know,” Ostberg said. “The first time we saw Ryan and Liv and Ashley rip we were practically dumbfounded because these kids are fast.”
Cahoon has finished as the fastest Raider down the mountain already this season, while Murphy and Schaffer are slotted into the girls team’s third and fourth positions behind Brust and Stein. Brust qualified for the state finals last year, and looks poised to return again, while Stein appears on pace to join her depending on how the section race plays out.
“We do our best not to project,” Ostberg said, “but the future is safe.”Reach Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106. Follow him on Twitter @NFNewsSports. © Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.