By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
MANKATO — When snow blanketed the Mankato area Sunday, there was perhaps nobody happier than the members of Mankato’s four high-school Alpine ski teams.
Actual practice time on the slopes at Mount Kato had been sparse up until this week, due mostly to a lack of snow and less than ideal temperatures. With the opening of the season a week away, Sunday’s accumulation could not have come at a better time.
Mankato East/Loyola senior Caleb Paarmann, who is hoping to qualify for the state meet this year, said the Cougars are poised to have a good year.
“We graduated some good seniors from last year, but we’ll be fine,” he said. “What we don't have in quantity, we’ll make up for in quality. I’m excited to get going.”
Kelsey Klingel, a senior for the Mankato West girls team, believes the Scarlets will also be competitive.
“We lost Emory (Otopalik) and Brie (Watts), and they had been very good skiers in the program for a lot of years,” Klingel said. “But we have some very good skiers coming back, too. We’re going to be young, but we'll be pretty good.”
Jon Andersen, the head coach for all four Mankato ski teams, says the traditional powers in the section should be strong again this year.
On the boys side, Edina and Lakeville North should be among the teams to beat. For the girls, Edina and Bloomington Jefferson should be among the top contenders.
The Big Nine Conference will have a league schedule for the first time this year, and the Mankato teams expect to be among the favorites for the conference championship.
The Mankato teams begin competition Saturday, Dec. 18, against Woodbury at Afton Alps.
East/Loyola girls: Junior Caitlin Clause is the only upperclassmen on the team, but she’s a good one. She qualified for state two years ago and has an excellent chance to go back this winter.
Also figuring in the scoring mix for the Cougars are eighth-grader Morgan Keim-Wolfe, sophomore Amelia Michels and sophomore Breanna Naylor.
Sophomores Becca Friedrichs and Sarah Wendlandt, as well as ninth-grader Makenna Holz, will also contend for varsity spots.
West boys: Two-time state qualifier David Huggins is back to lead the Scarlets. Huggins is one of five seniors on this year's squad. The others are Austin Garcia, Daniel Berry, Marc Aeby and Trace Johnson.
Huggins and Johnson should be among the top point-scorers. Juniors Tyler Kopischke and Johnathon Sachau are also among the team's top returning skiers from a year ago.
West girls: The young Scarlets team should be led by eighth-graders Lauren Colway and Dana Bohks. Both skied well as seventh-graders last season.
Klingel and Caledonia Rice are the lone seniors and the only upperclass skiers. Freshman Greta Schwickert along with four seventh-graders and four eighth-graders round out the team.
East/Loyola boys: Paarmann is the consensus No. 1 skier for the Cougars going into the season and should be joined by juniors Derek Helms and Ryan Baer on the score sheet consistently. They represent all the upperclassmen on the team.
The rest of the varsity spots are pretty wide open. Sophomore Kyle Rekstein and freshman Josh Snapp should be in the mix along with four eighth-graders.