HOUGHTON — In the program’s first year as a combined team, the Vasa Nordic High School team won the overall team state title in the nordic skiing championships in Houghton Saturday.
The Vasa team — a team with athletes from TC West, TC Central and TC St. Francis — won five out of seven possible titles Saturday.
The boys team won its state title with 301 points and the girls team came in second behind the Copper Country Ski Tigers, giving Vasa the overall team title with 593 points. The Ski Tigers were close behind with a total of 586. The teams tied last season.
Although the girls team came in second, one skier found herself at the top of the podium. Arielle Jean was the leader of the day, winning both the pursuit and sprint races. It was her second straight title in the pursuit and her first in the sprint category.
The pursuit race was split into two 5K races. The freestyle skate portion took place on Friday and the classic style and sprint on Saturday.
“I was really excited to get to do a classic sprint this season after not doing any of them at all,” Jean, a TC West senior, said. “I didn’t really go in with any preconceived notions of what was going to happen, I just wanted to see how hard I could rip it.“
Jean’s effort was nearly matched on the boys side when William Haapala took home the pursuit title for Vasa. Haapala won the pursuit by 30 seconds and Jean won by 73 seconds.
Annie Paulson was right on Jean’s heels and earned second place overall after a second place finish in the pursuit and a third place finish in the sprint for Vasa.
The Ski Tigers placed the next seven finishers to take the girls’ title. The Vasa boys had four top-10 finishers to earn the team title.
Haapala took first, Ryan Miller had a podium finish in third, Noah Robitshek placed seventh and Josh Kerr finish ninth in the pursuit.
“It was awesome because this was our first year we combined, there used to be West, Central and St. Francis separately,” Haapala, a TC Central junior, said. ”For us to come together in our first year as a whole team and go out there and win states on their turf was pretty cool.”
Haapala said he put in extra work in the offseason with roller skiing the past two years to get to the top of the podium. He said the win came as a surprise but he knew he could do it after taking an 18 second lead into the classic portion of the race on Saturday.
“I’m not a number one finisher all of the time but it’s not super out of the blue for me to be up there,” Haapala said. “It was different for me to win for sure.”
The Vasa club took home the boys pursuit, girls pursuit, girls sprint individual titles and the boys pursuit and sprint team titles.
“I thought going into the weekend we had a pretty good shot since we tied with Copper Country last year but it‘s always super exciting to win,” Vasa head coach Ruth Oppliger said.
Oppliger said the temperatures was four degrees below zero at the start of Saturday’s race and racers were unsure they would start do to subzero conditions.
Vasa took 20 skiers to the state championships and saw a smaller number of participants this season because of COVID according to Oppliger.