Five years ago, when coach Tom Dooher started the Moorhead High School Nordic ski team, he never could have imagined the trajectory the squad would take. It seems unreal to him that so quickly after the team’s founding, he is sending a team to the state meet.
But the Moorhead girls team is on its way to the Minnesota Nordic ski racing state meet on Friday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., after winning the Section 8 championship last weekend.
“I wrote (a letter to the school board in support of starting a ski team) five years ago and never would have dreamt of where we’ve gotten,” Dooher said. “I thought it would be long after I was gone before something like this would happen.”
The Spuds placed four skiers in the top 10 and five in the top 16 at the section meet and had their first individual section champion. Freshman Abbie Ishaug finished first with a pursuit time of 31 minutes, 30 seconds. Kennedy Olson was eighth, Siri Overturf was ninth and Olivia Watson was 10th. The Spuds also had one boy qualify for state, senior Jack Lee, who took sixth. He is making his second trip to the state meet.
“It’s pretty indescribable to give the right impression of what it’s like to bring the whole team,” Dooher said. “These things are like dominoes. When this happens, it builds such confidence and then all of a sudden kids get interested and it builds momentum. They see themselves doing this, and they believe they can become better skiers and then the younger kids see them and they believe they can become better skiers.”
The skiing program has nearly tripled in size from its first year, from 22 skiers up to 60 between the high school and middle school teams. And the middle school didn’t even exist when seniors Lee and Octavia Nerguson first joined the team. The first time either of them ever skied was as freshmen.
“It was pretty different,” Nerguson said. “The first time I’d ever been on anything like this was in the fall when we didn't have snow yet, we roller skied. And that was kind of like rollerblading, so I had an idea of what I was doing. But getting the poles into it and learning the technique and how much the technique impacts the speed — the better you get at the technique, the faster you can go.”
Lee compared skiing to ice skating and said it came pretty naturally to him after seven years of playing hockey.
“It was just a matter of a longer glide and having floppy things on your feet,” he said. “That was pretty easy. But the classic part — getting the stride and kick down was still a challenge. That can take quite a number of years to master.”
Ishaug, on the other hand, has been skiing for most of her life. She says she’s been skiing with her family since first grade and is in her third year of skiing competitively. Also a swimmer, Dooher says she came into Nordic season already well-conditioned and ready to go fast, which was a major factor in her section title.
“Abbie has a huge base of training,” he said. “She has her heart rate up a lot as a young person. A lot of things happen to the human body when you train. So she is coming out of the pool already fit endurance-wise and you’ve just got to get her arms and legs back and she’s ready to go. She’s got a really big motor and a great competitive spirit.”
Ishaug is happy to have her teammates coming with her to the state meet. She says the group is a “true team” and has built great relationships.
“It makes me feel better that I’m not going through it alone,” Ishaug said. “Skiing by yourself and not having anybody else with you is challenging. And now the team gets to go and it’s a team sport, so I’m glad we get to go as a team.
“We’re all really really close. That makes it a lot more fun. Coming here every day is the highlight of my day. If I’m having a bad day, I know coming to practice is going to make me feel better.”
Nerguson says each of the girls bring something unique to the table, which pushes them all to get better.
“We all have our own little strengths as a team," she said. “Siri is a fireball. She is so fast. Doing these two laps, she can do them so fast. Olivia is silent, but she gets around those girls during the race. Abbie is so strong-minded and backs down to nothing. She backs down to no competition and is so great. Jamie (Raske), her technique is so amazing.”