Following an extremely successful season, the Hodag Nordic skiing teams are back. The Hodags are looking forward to continuing their progress and establishing themselves as a powerhouse program. With an ample supply of veteran leadership in hand with new training opportunities, this season has the potential to be remembered.
With five returning senior girls coupled with two extremely talented junior boys, the teams are heavy with veteran leadership. However, this program is still budding. With no freshman girls on the active roster and practices set to begin Thursday, Coach Karen Cook is still focusing on growing her program as a whole.
"I don't have any freshmen this year, which is hard," explained Coach Cook. "But these girls have skied together and are used to pushing each other. They are good with pressure and they just get faster. We are still focusing on building this as a grassroots program. We have kids on skis in the middle school, and Chris Schotz is coaching down there and helping build the program."
But with the team she does have, Coach Cook is confident this can be a breakout year. Finishing so close to the top last season has stoked a fire in these athletes' hearts, one that can only be fueled with continuous progression toward the upper echelon of the sport. When discussing goals for the upcoming winter, Coach Cook has high expectations for her talented crew.
"I would love for both teams to finish in the top five at state," said Cook. "I think we were sixth last year for the girls, just barely on the outside of the top five. I would like to see us either in the top three, or at the very least, fourth. I think we can do that for both men's and women's."
When elaborating on the athletes that will help lead this team to the promised land, Coach Cook points to the aforementioned upperclassmen who give this team its core.
"We have five senior girls returning: Claire Tracy, Kiah Sexton, Lindsey Lieck, Taylor Preul and Hillary Wall. They have been in the program since middle school, so I expect them to be able to support each other and really take us to that next level. "
Coach Cook goes farther, explaining a unique situation regarding one of her senior girls, and how it can have a positive impact on the team.
"Taylor Preul has been in Sweden as an exchange student for the last year, and even though she missed last year with us, she still has that experience and we are really excited to have her back."
When discussing the boys team, Coach Cook is just as optimistic, going on to speak about two juniors along with two sophomores she expects to help step up and lead the team.
"Lou Bassette and Drew Stafford are our returning juniors this year and I expect them to be a strong force on the guys' side. We have a couple sophomores we are looking to step up for us as well in Kody Blacyki and Bobby Powers. They were just freshmen last year, so having that experience and getting their feet wet, along with an entire year of competition, is really going to help them make a step up."
When looking ahead to the actual season, there are several events that make this year one to follow. One exciting aspect is that the Hodags are hosting the state competition at the Northwoods Golf Course on Jan. 8 and 9. There are also renovations at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom that will allow this team to grow that much more. Coach Cook goes on to explain how much this means to her team.
"There are just so many exciting things happening this year," smiled Coach Cook. "We are hosting state and there are going to be over 400 athletes here. CAVOC has a new building and new ski trails, and we are going to be practicing there. That is just going to make us that much better because that is a really difficult trail. To be able to practice skiing downhill and turning corners fast, we are just going to become that much better."
So when planning your winter schedule, make sure you clear up a little time to follow Hodag Nordic skiing. With top returning athletes, enhanced practice facilities and the home state competition to look forward to, the motivation is there for this team to ski into the history books.
Editor's note: For more coverage of local sports, visit StarJournalNOW.com and HodagSports.com.
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