They may be smaller in numbers but their talent stacks right up there against the best in NorWOSSA competition.
The six-member contingent that represented the Muskie Nordic skiing team all put in solid showings at their annual home meet on Friday at the Rainy Lake Nordic Ski Club trails at Rocky Inlet.
It was also the first race of the NorWOSSA season.
“While Nordic skiing always rewards the fastest skier, there is a small advantage to knowing the course well, as you can anticipate hills and corners and work the transitions between these features more intelligently,” said Muskie coach Jordan Baird.
"This may make a difference of seconds, but not minutes. It is very nice to start at home though because it is a comfortable, supportive environment for our racers, which can aid them in performing their best.
“It has also provided us with a great opportunity to train race strategy leading up to the race,” he noted.
“We have taken a lot of time on the course discussing how to work transitions and maximize efficiency, with the race to look forward to and provide motivation. They can carry this knowledge through the rest of the season and apply it to other courses.”
Tori Toriseva had the top showing for the Muskies on Friday, snaring a second-place finish in the senior girls' 5.6-K race with a time of 26:48.
She was followed by Emma Toriseva in third (27:54), Kayli Machura in fourth (28:46), Angie Redford in fifth (30:46), while Jaida Norris wound up seventh (34:40).
Ray Calder was the lone Muskie to compete in the senior boys' 7.8-K race, placing seventh with a time of 42:10 to round out the finishes for Fort High.
The other members of the black-and-gold who didn't compete on Friday include elementary girl Brooklyn Machura and junior boys Mike Redford and Kaleb Richards.
“We have a relatively large senior girls' squad this year, which will hopefully enable us to put together a strong four person relay team for OFSAA,” Baird said.
"Returning OFSAA 2019 skiers Emma and Tori Toriseva and Kayli Machura will likely be strong competitors for OFSAA spots in their respective divisions again this year. As always with this group, team spirit and drive to practice is high, which should see them all through further improvements this season.
“Our senior girls did extremely well on Friday,” he lauded.
“For extra competition in this race, Emma Toriseva raced up in the senior division, giving us five racers out of eight. Our girls placed 2 ,3 ,4 ,5 and 7. The winner was a club skier from Kenora and a national-level racer, Shayna Hensrud (Broncos). Tori Toriseva was only one minute off her time and nearly even with her in the final lap. Emma Toriseva was just another minute back while racing up a division.”
Baird said that the team has been practising since October, doing dryland up until the snow fell. Since November, they have held three practices a week and did a two-day camp and time trial over the Christmas Holidays.
“It proved fruitful as skiers were well-prepared for their first race,” he enthused.
“Conditions were challenging on race day, -18 degrees and slow snow,” he admitted.
Our 4x1.5-K fun relays were shortened to 4x600M in the afternoon, but the distance races in the morning went ahead as planned."
The Muskies next will be in action at the NorWOSSA championships tomorrow in Kenora.
NWOSSAA then will follow on Feb. 6 in Atikokan with OFSAA set for Feb. 19-21 in Huntsville.
“Nothing too quantitative, but I always have goals on every scale, for each individual skier at each training session, for the team, for the whole season, and long-term goals for the team over the years,” Baird noted.
“My main focus right now is building foundations and playing to our strengths in order to expand the team.”
Baird noted that almost all of the Muskier skiers are—in absolute terms—still new to the sport. The foundations of technique and fitness are his primary concern, as well as his athletes enjoyment of the sport so that they can continue with it for as long as they so choose, even at a competitive level.
“I would like them to see what is possible in skiing; the fun that can be had traveling and training with the team and the personal boundaries that can be overcome with regard to fitness and pushing oneself to the limits of endurance, the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a new skill,” he remarked.
"I would like them to have an enjoyable experience and to travel with the sport, to see better skiers and bigger clubs that might motivate them to ski after high school and in other places.
“Of course, for this to happen, we need to go to OFSAA, and so that must be a priority goal,” he stressed.
"Our strong senior girls' squad and Emma Toriseva's potential to win both NorWOSSA and NWOSSAA in the junior girls' category should see us there this year with more racers than ever before.
“Individually, this is excellent race experience and a trip that can be remembered for a lifetime, but, just as importantly, in the long term such results may also inspire other skiers to join the program,” Baird reasoned.
“We need more young skiers on our team if the program is to last through the next few years. Cross-country runners and track athletes in particular should consider joining the ski team. It is excellent cross-training for the winter months, and another opportunity to pursue competitive endurance sport outdoors.”