(Houghton) - For more than a decade the state Nordic skiing state title has moved back and forth between Marquette and Traverse City with other schools scrambling behind. Over the weekend the Copper Country Ski Tigers finally broke the two city domination by an impressive 100 point margin over Traverse City Central and Marquette. The two perennial powers had to settle for a second place tie with 294 team points. The Ski Tigers were led by Christina Mishica and a deep girl’s team and some season-best races on the boy’s side. Mishica won the girl’s classic, pursuit and sprint races to lead her team in defense of their 2005 Girls Team championship. The pursuit win, determined by the combined time for the classic and freestyle races, gave Mishica the Michigan individual girls state championship. Teammate Olivia Orr won the freestyle race and was second in the classic and pursuit, giving the Copper Country girls a sweep of all events and the girl’s team state title. Copper Country girls dominated the 1.1 kilometer classic sprint race by taking the first six places. Mishica won every qualifying round en route to her A-final victory. Mariah Featherly's continuous improvement throughout the season paid great dividends in the sprint as she skied a strong final 100 meters to finish second, edging teammate Amber Young who earned the final podium spot.
In the boy’s events, Keith Helminen of the Copper Country and Jesse Smith of Traverse City Central brought their season-long epic battle to a close. The two skiers finished the classic portion of the pursuit with Smith leading Helminen by 5 seconds. He was able to defend his lead in the skate portion to claim the pursuit and Michigan individual boys state champion title. Helminen, not ready to yield, put his own stamp on the State Championship in Sunday's sprint event. He controlled the race from the gun to pull away on the long final uphill and power through a fierce headwind into the stadium to claim the A-final victory. The Copper Country boy’s team showed great improvement over their 2005 campaign by scoring over six times as many points on the weekend. This year's haul of 164 points was second only to Traverse City Central's 171. Helping Helminen propel this year's squad were Kai Sharp and Jay Woodbeck, finishing 5th and 9th in the pursuit race and coming back on Sunday to claim 7th and 6th, respectively, in the sprint event.
“When we set team goals at the start of this season, the state championship was clearly on everyone's list,” said Coach Mike Young. “We have been getting closer and closer each year since 2003. The girls team has become perennial contenders, but the boys team stepped up to the task this year to push us over the top.” Young explained the team championship is determined by the combined scores of boys and girls squads. “The boys team is growing in numbers, strength and size and there is great potential for our future.” The girls demonstrated just how deep their talent runs by placing all of their four scoring skiers in the top ten of Saturday's pursuit and taking every spot in the A-final of Sunday's sprint. “It was a difficult race to coach because I couldn't choose who to yell at as all six went by at once,” Young commented.
The state meet is also the final qualifying race for the 2006 Junior Olympics to be held March 4 through 12 at the Michigan Tech Trails in Houghton. The Junior Olympics brings together over 400 of the best cross-country skiers in the United States, ages 14 to 19. The Copper Country Ski Tigers qualified nine skiers to represent the Great Lakes District at this year's national championship. Kai Sharp (90 of a possible 90 qualifying points) and Jay Woodbeck (85) will compete in the boys J2 (ages 14-15) category. In the J2 girls, Olivia Orr (90), Ruth Oppliger (61), Louise Oppliger (60), and Madelyn Shoup (55) all qualified for the team. The J1 (ages 16-17) girls are Christina Mishica (85) and Amber Young (63), and Keith Helminen (66) is the only Copper Country skier in the boys J1 division. Two other local skiers have been named to the Great Lakes Team, former Copper Country Ski Tiger and current MTU skier Karen Jarvey and MTU skier Laura Kangas.
Girls Pursuit 1. Mishica CC 43:50 2. Orr CC 44:08 3. Holway MQT 44:39 4. Young CC 45:00 5. Hemming TCW 45:24 6. Fjeldheim MQT 45:39 7. M. Featherly CC 46:21 8. Graci MQT 46:31 9. Gulledge Roscommon 46:55 10. R. Oppliger CC 47:48.0
Boys Pursuit 1. Smith TCC 34:44 2. Helminen CC 35:17 3. McFadden MQT 35:27 4. Endicott TCC 37:54 5. Sharp CC 38:01 6. Ward TCW 38:32 7. Baic Char 38:43 8. Putman TCC 38:49 9. Woodbeck CC 39:34 10. Nienstaedt Iron Mtn 39:42
Girls Sprints 1. Mishica CC 2. M. Featherly CC 3. Young CC 4. L. Oppliger CC 5. R. Oppliger CC 6. Orr CC 7. Holway MQT 8. Graci MQT 9. Shoup CC 10. Fjeldheim MQT
Boys Sprints 1. Helminen CC 2. McFadden MQT 3. Smith TCC 4. Baic Char 5. Mattioli MQT 6. Woodbeck CC 7. Sharp CC 8. Endicott TCC 9. Gougeon MQT 10. Ward TCW Team Scores Girls Boys Total Copper Country 232 164 396 TC Central 123 171 294 MQT 144 150 294 TC West 44 47 91 Charlevoix 0 75 75