MARQUETTE - The Copper Country Ski Tigers Nordic Team won boys and girls team titles and earned many individual honors at the Michigan High School Cross Country Ski Championship on Friday and Saturday at the Forestville Trails in Marquette.
Led by Houghton High School senior Kai Sharp and Hancock Central High junior Ruth Oppliger, the area-wide team won its fourth overall team title in five years. The Ski Tigers' boys team edged Traverse City Central High School 168-158, while the girls impressed with a 19 point margin over Traverse City on the strength of a 1-2-3 finish in the 5-kilometer freestyle event Saturday morning.
In the sprint event on Friday afternoon, Oppliger placed second in the four-skier final to Traverse City's Hilde Groenvold, a Norwegian exchange student. Oppliger's twin sister Louise, also a Hancock junior, took fourth in the girls' sprint final. In the boys sprint final, Ironwood's Ben Noren narrowly beat Sharp to the win by a ski length, with fellow Ski Tiger Elias Featherly, a Houghton senior, coming through in third. The sprint results gave the Ski Tigers a surprising scoring lead at the end of the first day of racing.
"I had my sights set on second place this year," Ski Tigers coach Mike Young said after Friday's results. "We have a small but very experienced team, while Traverse City brought so many skiers that their depth is impressive. Marquette's boys are young, but strong and hungry to win."
The Ski Tigers started fast on Saturday with Ruth Oppliger, Calumet freshman Evelyn DeLong, and Houghton junior Emily Humes posting the three fastest times in the girls 5-kilometer freestyle race, kicking off the same-day pursuit competition. Oppliger's time of 17 minutes, 22.6 seconds set the standard for the girls. In the boys freestyle, Noren again set the pace at 14:13.9 on the 5-k course. The Ski Tigers had three racers in the top 10: Sharp 8 seconds out in third place, Featherly following in fifth 40 seconds back and Hancock's Alan Toczydlowski ninth another 40 seconds back.
In the final girls' race of the meet, Marquette High School skier Ellen Wiitala passed Ruth Oppliger in the 5-k classic race to claim the pursuit title with a combined time of 35:28.0. Oppliger finished second, Humes third, Delong sixth and Louise Oppliger 13th to round out the Copper Country scoring. Sophomore Nina Karinen of Painesdale finished closely in 15th to help the Ski Tiger girls win their sixth team title since 1996.
In the boys 6.5-k classic race, Sharp topped Traverse City's Ross Williams by 25 seconds and cruised to the combined crown, his first state title, with a total time of 33:04.0. Featherly finished with the third fastest classic leg moving him up to fourth overall, while Toczdlowski jumped from ninth to sixth place. Freshman Hendrick Haataja of Calumet placed 20th to complete the team scoring and Houghton freshman Jake Maise finished 39th on the way to the Copper Country boys winning their third ever state title.
"This win was about quality over quantity," Young said.
"With only 10 skiers, we needed everyone to race at their full potential for us to win, and that's exactly what they did. Alan's sixth place was especially satisfying since a year ago he barely had six weeks of training due to a serious mountain biking injury. He and Elias rediscovered their motivation for skiing and put the hours in during the last year to make this result possible."